Five questions: Miami Marlins

How will the free agent digs fare in the coming years?

Heath Bell signed a three-year, $27 million deal with a fourth year vesting option
Bell is projected by THT’s Oliver forecast to be a 1.4 WAR player, with fine ratio stats of 3.38 and 1.23 in ERA and WHIP, respectively. Bell’s a risky property, however, as he saw his K/9 rate go down considerably in 2011 (more than a 2.0 K/9 drop from career to 2011) and his WAR plummeted as a result. He was worth $2.3 million last year per Fangraphs, and has been worth upwards of $9.0 million only twice in his career.

Mark Buehrle signed a four-year, $58 million deal
Oliver doesn’t love Buehrle, projecting him to put up 2.8 WAR and an ERA above four, likely due to the 20-hit bump projected to occur in 2012. Buehrle is a model of consistency, though, putting up between 3.4 and 4.6 WAR in the last five years, including two years of 3.4 and two years of 3.7. Those four seasons have been worth between $15 and $15.5 million, so Buehrle will have to fare similarly for his contract to be a boon. Unfortunately, Oliver projects him to slip below 2.0 WAR in his final Miami year.

Jose Reyes signed a six-year, $102 million deal

Reyes’ health is a glaring, larger-than-life question mark, and he’s had mixed results because of nagging injuries and slow recoveries. See his WAR for the last four years, the results of which are comparable to dartboard throws: 5.8, 0.8, 3.1, and 6.0. Enigmatic would be the word if he weren’t so darned talented. But the Marlins expected to pay for production rather than raw talent, and Oliver isn’t cheery about the prospects of the deal long term. The elephant in the room, as noted, is that the guy’s been on the field for 98 games, on average, over the last three years. Oliver projects 500-plus at-bats throughout the life of the contract—how could the system account for injury, after all—but a range of 3.2 WAR-2.3 WAR. I wouldn’t expect so much consistency, but rather the sporadic Reyes ways we’ve come to know.

What are the ideal lineup configurations?

The ideal lineup might look differently than the projected one. Assuming Reyes to hit first, Emilio Bonifacio to hit behind him, and the three-four-five punch of Hanley Ramirez, Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison to drive in the speedsters, you’d have a top five that mixes speed, power and superior on-base skills, or an assortment of those traits. RotoChamp does think that the lineup will look as such in the top half, followed by Gaby Sanchez, John Buck, Omar Infante and the pitcher, but perhaps there’s a better makeup.

           RHP                   LHP  

1         Ramirez              Ramirez
2         Coghlan              Reyes	
3         Sanchez              Morrison
4         Stanton              Stanton
5         Morrison             Sanchez
6         Reyes                Bonifacio
7         Infante              Buck
8         Buck                 Infante

This is on the basis of lineup optimization findings by Tom Tango, eloquently stated by “PGP” on a 2011 DRaysBay blog post:

“In a nutshell, Tango’s analysis suggests that the first two slots should go to good OBP hitters (who are also good quality overall), the fourth and fifth are the next most important and should go to good power hitters, and the 3-hole should go to a home-run hitter who might not necessarily have the best OBP. From then on, descending order of hitter quality is a good idea. The general order of hitter quality according to this is something like 1, 2, 4, 5, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9 although obviously there is differing emphasis at different lineup spots.”

Essentially, this lineup revitalization would take away every-day duties from Bonifacio, who is incredibly inept against righties when compared to Chris Coghlan, who gets on base at a 36 percent clip against right-handed pitchers in his career (roughly 4 percent more than Bonifacio does). Coghlan’s wRC+ against RHP is 39 points higher than Bonifacio’s, and his career OPS against righties is over 150 points higher. Sure, this rides heavily on Coghlan’s health, ability, and success in gaining the trust of new manager Ozzie Gullen. And furthermore, Bonifacio plays a better center field than Coghlan; but a time-share could be a worthy exploration, as the former’s .360 OBP in 2011 was largely smoke and mirrors.

The lineup changes would also drop Jose Reyes from the leadoff spot… permanently. “What?” you scream. I know, I know. Let me explain myself. Reyes, despite an on-base percentage of .384, was playing far above his talent level. His career on-base percentage is a relatively average .341, and his walk rate is low at 6.9 percent. Sure, he makes contact, and sure, he beats out a lot of infield hits and bunts, but perhaps his speed should be used elsewhere while the true leadoff hitter regains his rightful throne.

Hanley Ramirez has a career .380 OBP, though you may find that easy to forget after a .333 showing during last year’s disaster. Ramirez has a career triple slash in the leadoff spot of .309/.385/.536, and his slugging percentage is particularly noteworthy as it’s .55 points higher in the leadoff spot than in the three-hole, his other home. Unless you believe Reyes was at his true, sustainable talent level last year (not to be confused with his peak), and that Hanley is truly a different player today than he was in the past, the move makes sense when you consider Reyes’ .294/.344/.447 triple-slash in the leadoff spot.

Is it possible that the Fins will make the playoffs?

Possible: yes; probable: no. The New York Mets of 1968, for example, won 73 games and finished near the bottom of the National League. The next year, the Miracle Mets won 100 games and the World Series title. The Florida Marlins of 2011 sat in the cellar of the NL East with 72 wins. Perhaps there will be an eerie comparison at hand, or perhaps the Marlins will find that their grandiose free agency binge was ill conceived.

Ramirez should vastly improve on his 1.3 WAR showing (he averaged 5.96 WAR over the past five seasons). Perhaps Josh Johnson can stay on the field for a longer time, and provide a boost from his 1.7 WAR total in 2011 (he averaged 5.95 in the previous two seasons). Carlos Zambrano could calm in a new situation, and he could be an extremely valuable asset if he regains control over his attitude. Morrison may have room to improve on his 1.0 WAR campaign last year.

So essentially, with rebounds, health and free-agent success, the Marlins could see incredible improvements. Factor in arbitrary—perhaps meaningless— boosts from what, in theory, would be unfamiliar hometown support, and a new manager, and perhaps—just perhaps—the Marlins could see a historic turnaround.

I wouldn’t bet on it, though.

Is ownership a legitimate concern?

Remember this? When Logan Morrison was demoted for attitude issues (in the same clubhouse that held the perpetual headache of Hanley Ramirez for a number of years prior). President Larry Beinfest, at the time, was quoted as saying, “We thought it was in the best interests of Logan to go down and concentrate on baseball and all aspects of being a major leaguer, and work his way back.” Some of the concerns about Morrison included his Twitter account and his skipping on a meet-and-greet, and though the Marlins were in the midst of a lost season, I’d be hard pressed to find a legitimate argument for mental development time (also known as: demotion) over player development time.

That said, I’d feel comfortable counting the Morrison demotion as a one-time mistake. Sure, the Marlins are an outspoken bunch—Hanley about his managers, Morrison about everything, and well, Ozzie about everything—but owner Jeffery Loria did dole out the dollars to try to build a winning team in a brand-new stadium. I don’t agree with the Morrison demotion, but I have little doubt that Loria is invested fully in winning, because he literally is at this juncture.

Can the Marlins make a run without a healthy campaign from Josh Johnson?

As of Opening Day, a healthy Josh Johnson would be the ace of the following rotation, with a full season being defined as one with more than 180 innings:

Josh Johnson (average of 5.95 WAR over past two full seasons)
Anibal Sanchez (average of 4.10 WAR over past two full seasons)
Mark Buehrle (average of 3.55 WAR over past two full seasons)
Ricky Nolasco (average of 3.00 WAR over past two full seasons)
Carlos Zambrano (average of 2.85 WAR over past two full seasons) 

For comparison’s sake, all five members of the Marlins starting rotation meeting their two-season averages would yield a WAR of 19.45. Only one team’s top five beat that mark in 2011, and that rotation belongs to the Phillies.

Last year, the top five starting pitchers ranked by WAR for the Marlins, were:

Anibal Sanchez 3.8
Ricky Nolasco 3.5
Javier Vazquez 3.2
Josh Johnson 1.7
Chris Volstad 1.3

The newfound depth on the Florida roster means that Wade LeBlanc is the replacement starting pitcher, rather than Brad Hand or Clay Hensley, who ate 100-plus innings and 21 starts with a -0.6 WAR total. LeBlanc, though highly flawed, put up a positive WAR, that, though meager, stands tall compared to the Handsley beast: 0.5 wins above replacement in 80 innings.

The Marlins have some semblance of depth at this point, and though the questions exist in further bunches: Does Zambrano tear apart the clubhouse, literally and/or figuratively? Does Guillen clash with the big personalities and perceived laziness of star Hanley Ramirez? Does Stanton stay healthy? Does Bell crash and burn outside of PETCO? Does Johnson overcome his shoulder woes?

The Marlins have a clue at this point, and didn’t at a similar point just one year ago.

A quick turnaround—nay, historic one—might be in order. Might.

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Comments

  1. ettin said...

    The sentence “Only one team’s top five beat that mark in 2011, and that rotation belongs to the Phillies”, is a little misleading. If you are including Mark Buehrle in your calculations (which you state), the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s staff achieved 21.1 WAR among only 4 starters (Weaver, Haren, Wilson, and Santana). Wilson obviously wasn’t on the staff in 2011, but neither was Buehrle on the Marlins.

  2. Terry said...

    Excellent analysis! Finally someone ready to dig in and deconstruct the big things (lineup possibilities, ownership) and the individual issues (Heath Bell—eye opening).

    Lots of meat here. Will be interesting to see how it holds up after say, 1/3 of the season.

  3. Alex said...

    Don’t ever mistake the Marlins for the Fins. Those are the Dolphins. The team that had been an unhappy landlord to the Marlins for nearly twenty years.

    The Marlins are the Fish.

  4. A Mets fan said...

    Please, Please, Please hit Reyes 7th.

    And Question #6….Is Somebody Gonna Die In That Clubhouse This Year?

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