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Marlins outlook from Baseball Primer


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http://www.baseballprimer.com/articles/mal...4-04-03_0.shtml

 

 

Florida Marlins

by Don Malcolm

 

On Prediction and Other Self-Defeating Propositions

 

Several people suggested that my predictions for Florida last year were either tongue-in-cheek or based on the simple device of taking the opposite viewpoint from the burgeoning neo-sabe groupthink. Neither suggestion was true, but sometimes it's best to let people live with their illusions.

 

The truth: despite being the only person outside of the Marlins organization to suggest that the team could be a contender in 2003, I did not do a very good job of prediction. I didn't foresee the loss of A.J. Burnett, and I didn't anticipate the meltdown of most of their bullpen early in the season. I did not suggest that Dontrelle Willis or Miguel Cabrera would be able to step in as solid major league performers, and I was unable to divine that a managerial change would have such a galvanizing effect on a young team that had been languishing in their development.

 

Despite getting so many details wrong, my prediction was correct---which is like having a projection system where the individual results are so all over the place that the aggregate error rate actually looks pretty good. It is possible in this world to take something too seriously while simultaneously not taking it seriously enough; the fact that such is not only possible, but likely, and that this is not paradoxical at all, but simply the nature of things, highlights the paradoxical circularity of "enlightenment."

 

And with those doleful thoughts out of the way, let's move on to...

 

What Happened Last Year In A Nutshell

 

The Marlins succeeded in 2003 because:

 

Four major mid-season additions contributed: Willis, Cabrera, Ugueth Urbina, Chad Fox.

 

Juan Pierre did not stink up the joint, as the neo-sabe cabal had decreed.

 

The Fish got solid offense and excellent defense up the middle (the left side of the defensive spectrum: C-CF-SS-2B).

 

The starting rotation, while not spectacular, was both consistent and deep, especially in the second half of the season. Mark Redman, a mostly unheralded acquisition, turned out to well-suited to Pro Player Stadium (2.88 ERA there as opposed to 4.27 on the road), and was especially effective in June and July, when the Marlins began to jell.

 

The bullpen was retooled over the course of two months from an eyesore into an asset.

 

The team offense finally became solid enough to play competitively on the road (more details below).

 

The Four-Year Home-Road Pythagorean Data

 

One of the main reasons I had continually downgraded the Marlins' chances to contend prior to 2003 was due to their sub-par road performance. As the home-road Pythagorean vs. actual data for 2000-03 shows, Florida developed a sizable home-road performance split in 2001, which actually got worse in 2002. Pythagorean differentials show that the team's 79 wins in 2000 was about five games too high, and that the expectations aroused by their jump were premature.

 

 

Yr W L WPct RS RA PWP difW rg lrg r/l

2000 36 44 .450 372 421 .444 .014 4.65 4.93 0.94

2001 30 52 .366 363 419 .435 -.158 4.43 4.70 0.94

2002 33 48 .407 330 424 .387 .051 4.07 4.37 0.93

2003 38 43 .469 372 399 .468 .002 4.59 4.51 1.02

 

(Acronyms: RS---Runs Scored; RA---Runs Allowed; PWP---Pythagorean WPct; difW---WPct minus PWP (expressed as a percentage); rg---runs/game; lrg---league runs/game; r/l---runs relative to league r/g, road teams)

The key in 2003 was that the Marlins were able to generate a road offense that was actually above league-average, something that they had managed to do only twice before (in 1995, and again in their other World Series year, 1997).

 

 

Yr W L WPct RS RA PWP difW rg lrg r/l pf r/l+ r/l+ ha

2000 43 38 .531 359 376 .479 .109 4.43 5.07 0.87 0.93 0.94 0.94

2001 46 34 .575 379 325 .570 .009 4.74 4.70 1.01 0.90 1.12 1.03

2002 46 35 .568 369 339 .539 .054 4.56 4.53 1.01 0.94 1.07 1.00

2003 53 28 .654 379 293 .616 .062 4.68 4.72 0.99 0.87 1.14 1.08

 

(Acronyms: same as above plus pf---park factor; r/l+---runs relative to league adjusted for park, home games; r/l+ ha: overall runs relative to league, home and away)

At least as important, however, was the additional improvement in run prevention at home, which was about twice as much (-46) as on the road (-25). In the context of their ballpark, the Marlins had a solid little offense; that, combined with the improvement from their pitching, made them a very difficult team to beat in Pro Player Stadium. Their overall adjusted offense (r/l+ h/a) grades out as close to the Blue Jays, who scored a lot more runs, but did so in a park that significantly favored hitters.

 

At Last, 2004

 

So what about this year? Some claimed that the Marlins had a mini-fire sale after their World Series upset over the Evil Empire. Five key players departed: Redman, Urbina, Derrek Lee, Ivan Rodriguez, and Juan Encarnacion. However, the Marlins either directly addressed these losses or had existing depth at the affected position; how well they have replaced these players will remain to be seen, but their situation in 2004 bears little or no resemblance to what things were like in 1998.

 

Redman will eventually be replaced by Burnett, who has recovered more swiftly that projected from elbow surgery and is now expected back in the rotation by May or June. In the meantime, the Marlins will go with retread lefty Darren Oliver, a long-time fave of yours truly, especially back in BBBA-the-book days. Oliver has made me look as foolish as anyone over the years, so I know better than to predict anything astonishing from him; however, he has always pitched markedly better in the NL and Pro Player will easily be the most favorable home park he's ever had.

 

The eventual rotation---Burnett, Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Willis, and Carl Pavano---should remain at least as effective as last year's starting corps, assuming that they can avoid injuries.

 

Urbina (and the other departed closer, Braden Looper) have been replaced by Armando Benitez, who has been susceptible to the gopher ball during most of his career. His new home park might help him some, but his inconsistent control and tendency to start slow are potential drawbacks. It should be noted that Urbina had similar issues(though lesser in scope) prior to landing in Miami, where he was sensational, so there's at least some chance that the Fish will find a way to maximize Benitez' value.

 

Lee will be replaced by a platoon of Hee Seop Choi (the player the Marlins received from the Cubs for Lee) and free agent Wil Cordero. Lee's performance on the road in '03 (.979 OPS) is going to be the hardest thing for the Marlins to replace, along with his big performance against lefties (1.062 OPS). Cordero has been pretty good in that role (.844 OPS vs. lefties since 2001), but that's not going to take up the slack. Choi has a better chance of matching or exceeding Lee's output against righties (.810 OPS), and this is especially crucial, as he is expected to get ~70% of the platoon's plate appearances.

 

Rodriguez spurned a strong offer to return to Miami and signed with the Tigers, which opens up the catching slot for Ramon Castro. who had a big season as a reserve in '03, going 9-for-26 as a pinch-hitter. It's a stretch to think that Castro can match Pudge's performance, but he could conceivably exceed his SLG (.474). If he does that, the Fish will be very satisfied.

 

Encarnacion, despite 94 RBI and a serviceable season in right field for Florida in 2003, was expendable due to the Marlins' re-signing of Mike Lowell and the emergence of Miguel Cabrera, who will be the everyday right fielder. He was especially effective in his rookie year against Florida's division rivals (5 HRs, 1.245 OPS vs. Atlanta, 1.051 OPS vs. the Phillies). The Marlins have to be hoping that such a performance will be duplicated in '04.

 

Cabrera mostly played left field last year, but moved to third in September while Lowell was out with a hand injury. Jeff Conine was acquired from Baltimore, and helped Florida down the stretch (and especially in the post-season). He'll be 38 in late June, though, and he could go in the tank at any time. The Marlins have finally gotten one-time neo-sabe heartthrob Abraham Nunez (three years older than first advertisted...) healthy, and the switch-hitter has had a very hot spring (.400+ BA, 9 HRs); they appear to have a reasonable alternative if Conine takes a dive.

 

The rest of the lineup is comprised of holdovers from the '03 squad: Luis Castillo at second, Alex Gonzalez at short, Lowell at third, and Juan Pierre in center. Few will dispute the established value of Castillo and Lowell, but there will be varying levels of suspicion directed at Pierre and Gonzalez. Here's the same OPS+ breakout employed in the Red Sox and Giants previews for the Marlins' lineup (including two key departees):

 

 

Player Age 2003 OPS+ Peak OPS+ Career OPS+

(Rodriguez 32 124 152 114)

Castro 28 144 144 84

Redmond 33 65 111 91

(Lee 28 135 135 115)

Choi 25 101 101 91

Cordero 32 94 119 96

Castillo 28 109 110 92

Gonzalez 27 100 100 77

Lowell 30 132 132 111

Conine 37 113 132 111

Pierre 26 98 98 81

Cabrera 21 109 109 109

 

Castro, Gonzalez, Lowell and Pierre have the greatest distance between their '03 performance and their career levels; the overall sense one gets from this display is that the Marlins are going to have trouble scoring as many runs with this lineup as they did with last year's.

Additionally, there are few options up the middle should Castro, Castillo, Gonzalez and/or Pierre falter or get hurt. Mike Redmond can be a stopgap, but he's not going to bat higher than seventh. Neither Mike Mordecai nor Damion Easley are credible long-term replacements at short or second, and they're just barely viable as role players. Nunez looks to be a reasonable surrogate for Pierre, but he might end up as the everyday left fielder. Brian Banks, who was a solid bench player for the Marlins in '03, is off the roster for at least three months due to a spring training injury. Lenny Harris, the all-time pinch-hit leader, isn't slated to play much in the field. In short, the Fish aren't nearly as deep this year, and any injuries they sustain are likely to have a much greater impact than they did in '03.

 

Thus for the Fish to win 90+ games in '04, they're going to have to see their pitching step up another notch. Is that possible? Yes. Their projected Big Three---Burnett, Beckett and Penny---could still be the significant force that many had predicted (albeit prematurely). If they are humming by mid-season, there will be less pressure on Willis and Pavano, and this could turn into a 50-60 run improvement in runs allowed.

 

However, some of that improvement could be eroded by the bullpen. Behind Benitez and set-up man Fox are lefties Michael Tejera and Tommy Phelps and righty Blaine Neal. Tejera and Phelps are serviceable, but not likely to be much more than that; Neal lost a significant amount of velocity in '03 and wound up in the minors for most of the year. The Marlins are considering keeping rookie Justin Wayne as a reliever, where he's been impressive this spring, but that's due more to their misgivings about Neal and the current unavailability of Tim Spooneybarger, out for at least the first three months of '04 with an elbow injury.

 

That was precisely the problem that the Marlins faced when Jack McKeon took over as manager last year, however; he and GM Jerry Beinfest figured out how to stop the bleeding. The Marlins allowed 5.5 runs per game on the road in April-June 2003; from July-September they allowed only 4.3 runs per game. The Fish also tightened their run prevention at home, but also added offense as they stormed to a 29-10 home record over the last three months of the seaon.

 

As McKeon worked out the kinks in the Florida pen, the team went from a 13-14 mark in close games (those decided by two runs or less) through May 31 to a 29-14 in such contests the rest of the way (11-8 on the road, and 18-6 at home).

 

Such serendipity may be harder to achieve with less offensive depth this year, however. Here's the bottom line for the Marlins in their quest to avoid a return to bottom-feeding: to reel in a similar number of wins in '04, their pitching is going to have to take the Fish upstream.

 

2004 ZiPS Projections

 

Name P AVG OBP SPC G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K SB CS

Lowell 3b .279 .355 .488 145 549 76 153 37 0 26 95 60 82 3 2

Cabrera lf .301 .364 .466 146 549 84 165 34 3 17 80 50 116 7 4

Choi* 1b .246 .367 .441 117 395 63 97 18 1 19 62 71 114 2 2

Cordero 1b .273 .351 .434 114 366 46 100 23 0 12 53 40 73 1 1

Castillo# 2b .308 .382 .379 150 607 91 187 19 6 4 57 67 71 30 19

Banks# lf .254 .339 .443 114 350 52 89 26 2 12 50 42 80 3 4

Castro c .252 .318 .466 88 266 43 67 18 0 13 45 24 55 1 1

Conine 1b .269 .326 .430 134 509 61 137 34 3 14 67 39 73 6 2

Gonzalez ss .263 .320 .439 140 499 50 131 32 4 16 68 33 96 1 3

Colangelo lf .260 .350 .375 96 296 38 77 18 2 4 31 38 69 3 2

Pierre* cf .299 .354 .362 162 665 93 199 25 7 1 56 50 39 55 19

Aguila lf .271 .334 .387 110 413 56 112 20 2 8 47 36 92 6 7

Padgett* lf .249 .319 .404 122 446 56 111 25 1 14 59 41 120 2 3

Redmond c .282 .338 .356 71 188 15 53 11 0 1 18 15 23 0 1

Valdez ss .264 .337 .352 116 375 47 99 20 2 3 35 37 58 10 6

Nunez# lf .232 .324 .386 101 370 50 86 16 1 13 48 47 110 14 9

Wood 3b .250 .303 .389 119 432 58 108 28 1 10 52 29 98 2 1

Medrano 2b .247 .351 .330 105 385 58 95 17 3 3 59 59 80 18 12

Ambres cf .226 .327 .356 129 438 73 99 20 5 9 43 61 88 9 7

Christenson cf .240 .317 .365 104 337 46 81 22 1 6 37 34 66 7 4

Treanor c .229 .307 .359 87 284 33 65 14 1 7 32 29 47 5 0

Easley 2b .230 .305 .380 105 379 42 87 27 3 8 42 32 57 3 4

Jorgensen c .223 .318 .337 60 193 23 43 10 0 4 21 25 50 1 0

Wathan# ss .250 .301 .342 106 368 41 92 17 4 3 31 23 53 10 8

Wilson ss .244 .288 .353 121 431 50 105 21 4 6 41 23 77 5 5

Mordecai ss .230 .294 .333 84 165 16 38 12 1 1 15 14 33 2 2

Hooper 2b .247 .301 .290 124 465 60 115 13 2 1 34 32 64 14 9

Harris* 3b .214 .275 .279 101 154 13 33 5 1 1 11 12 18 2 1

Williams rf .208 .255 .333 105 303 40 63 19 2 5 29 17 47 8 7

 

Name ERA W L G GS INN H ER HR BB K

Willis* 3.47 12 8 30 30 179.0 163 69 12 40 155

Beckett 3.51 9 6 22 21 123.0 100 48 11 45 140

Spooneybarger 3.69 2 2 56 0 61.0 53 25 3 26 55

Olsen 3.74 6 5 20 20 118.0 115 49 10 28 89

Burnett 3.92 11 9 27 26 172.0 148 75 12 77 170

Penny 3.93 11 10 30 30 181.0 175 79 17 51 141

Pavano 3.94 11 9 32 27 169.0 169 74 15 43 118

Neal 3.95 3 3 59 0 66.0 63 29 2 27 44

Borland 4.00 4 4 55 0 72.0 62 32 4 35 67

Benitez 4.06 4 3 68 0 71.0 57 32 9 34 75

Fox 4.06 3 3 49 0 51.0 38 23 4 32 65

Bump 4.10 7 6 32 16 112.0 116 51 7 33 61

Phelps* 4.13 3 2 40 4 72.0 71 33 6 26 52

Neu 4.17 2 2 48 0 54.0 46 25 3 31 50

Wayne 4.50 7 7 28 27 148.0 155 74 12 53 83

Bowers* 4.62 3 4 38 5 76.0 67 39 8 42 76

Tejera* 4.65 6 7 41 17 120.0 120 62 14 46 92

Oliver* 4.71 9 12 29 28 153.0 164 80 14 60 92

Fyhrie 4.77 6 8 28 19 132.0 133 70 12 60 88

Gracesqui* 4.94 3 3 43 0 51.0 41 28 1 44 51

Perisho* 4.97 4 5 50 3 67.0 73 37 7 25 40

Small 5.09 6 8 27 16 106.0 120 60 16 30 56

Flannery 5.34 3 6 65 0 64.0 72 38 1 25 41

James 5.38 3 6 32 18 117.0 139 70 18 34 58

Kent* 5.43 2 3 36 1 58.0 60 35 4 36 32

Manning 5.93 3 7 21 16 91.0 95 60 9 64 55

Florie 5.96 3 6 19 13 71.0 72 47 10 47 55

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Additionally, there are few options up the middle should Castro, Castillo, Gonzalez and/or Pierre falter or get hurt. Mike Redmond can be a stopgap, but he's not going to bat higher than seventh. Neither Mike Mordecai nor Damion Easley are credible long-term replacements at short or second, and they're just barely viable as role players. Nunez looks to be a reasonable surrogate for Pierre, but he might end up as the everyday left fielder. Brian Banks, who was a solid bench player for the Marlins in '03, is off the roster for at least three months due to a spring training injury. Lenny Harris, the all-time pinch-hit leader, isn't slated to play much in the field. In short, the Fish aren't nearly as deep this year, and any injuries they sustain are likely to have a much greater impact than they did in '03.

 

What a putz! I all ready hate this retard. WTH is he talking about, I personally think the bench is just as deep or deeper than '03. BAH whatever, im sick of hearing these "experts" talk crap about the fish. LETS GET THE SEASON STARTED ALL READY!

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I'm not the biggest sabermetrics fan, but I understand what they're saying and post over there a little.

I liked the review. They made some good points:

- We live by our pithing, and our ballpark helps a lot.

- We are counting on a number of youngsters who are nearly impossible to predict

- If things go right we could be as successful as last season, but if we run into the trouble we did with Burnett, Beckett, Redman, Lowell, etc. there's less Miguel Cabreras and Dontrelle Willis to help.

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