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Baseball Prospectus on the Fish


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c/o baseballprospectus.com

Manager of the Year?: Jack McKeon took over the Marlins on May 11, with the club at 16-22, and promptly saw his new crew lose seven of his first 10 games. At 19-29, the team was in last place with a bullet, the team's vaunted pitching staff was in shambles, and some portraits of the 72-year-old McKeon in the media subtly portrayed him as being somewhat lost and bewildered with his situation. With a week to go and the Marlins fighting it out for a playoff spot, the portraits of their manager have changed. The Marlins are 69-48 under McKeon, and he has to be considered the front runner for the Manager of the Year award. Admittedly, we are a long way from being able to judge the full effect that any manager has on a team. However, the award tends to be given to the skipper of a club that is surprisingly successful, and no National League team has a better claim to that description than the Marlins.

It cannot be overstated how much disarray McKeon inherited. A.J. Burnett was down for the year with a torn UCL, Josh Beckett was out with an ominous "elbow sprain," and Mark Redman had a broken thumb on his pitching hand. The team's abuse of its own pitchers was the fodder for the national media. Most people figured that the team was about to be dismantled, by mid-season if not sooner.


On McKeon's watch, Beckett and Redman returned, and both, along with ex-prospects Brad Penny and Carl Pavano, have pitched the best-sustained baseball of their lives. Dontrelle Willis joined the team a few days before McKeon and has helped give the Marlins the best one-through-five rotation in the National League. Although this all could be a series of happy coincidences, it seems unlikely. McKeon was widely viewed as an interim solution, someone to ride out the disastrous season, but the Marlins now very much want him back for 2004.



The Other Rookie: Florida's offense has been fairly steady all year, even when now-departed manager Jeff Torborg steered the ship. It has also been remarkably stable, with five of the regulars likely to play 150 games, and catcher Ivan Rodriguez on target for 145. Mike Lowell, who had played 129 games with a month to go when he broke his hand, has been replaced in the lineup by Jeff Conine, who has likewise played every day.

The only other position switch during the season took place in June, when the Marlins determined that 20-year-old third baseman Miguel Cabrera had abused the Southern League enough (.365/.429/.609) and boldly handed him the left field job over a struggling Todd Hollandsworth. Cabrera was on every top prospect list before the season, but his entrance in Miami was a year earlier than expected.


Cabrera continues to be a positive development for the franchise. He is already an above-average major league hitter for a third baseman--.271/.323/.486, .275 EqA--though still a bit below average for a left fielder. He's been streaky, but McKeon has stuck by him, starting him in every game but two since his recall. He returned to his natural third base position when Lowell got hurt and, coincidence or not, has hit .343/.380/.612 in September in the midst of his first pennant rate. Comfortably ahead of PECOTA's 75th percentile, Cabrera could soon be one of the biggest stars in the game.

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