If the Marlins Weren’t the Marlins

I’ll admit that I don’t know a lot about the other sports, so I can’t speak to situations more messed up than what we’ve got in baseball. But in baseball — little details aside — we’ve got the A’s, and we’ve got the Marlins.

The A’s consistently try really hard to win, despite the odds being stacked against them. Oakland has a brilliant front office, and they play in a ballpark plagued by sewage leaks in the clubhouse and in the dugout. The Marlins are crooks. Money-hungry crooks. They play in a brand-new ballpark they didn’t pay for — a ballpark they’ve made no effort to fill after a disappointing debut season. The Marlins did what the Marlins do: They got some people excited, then they undid the goodwill and more.

Some baseball teams have reputations. The Yankees are the big spenders. The Dodgers are the other big spenders. The Twins are lovable throwbacks. The Braves are slightly less-lovable throwbacks. The Royals are run by people who shouldn’t be running the Royals. And so on. The Marlins’ reputation is that they’re run by criminals who deceive with every word. Two offseasons ago, it looked like they were trying hard to turn the page, to create a new identity. Two offseasons ago, the Marlins tried to spend to build a powerhouse. But their identity is still their identity. You know how it went. The Marlins are as the Marlins have been.

Which brings us to a fun hypothetical exercise. Dave had his FanGraphs chat on Wednesday, and here is one of the questions:

Comment From Sgt. Pepper
Would the Marlins have been a winning team this year if it wasn’t for the multiple fire sales? Hanley has been very good, Reyes has been very good, Sanchez has been very good, etc. Add Fernandez to the mix and they look better on paper than they did at the start of last year.

In other words, how would the 2013 Marlins be doing if they didn’t shed half their 2012 salary? It’s a hypothetical because these are the Marlins, and they are what they are, and they obviously opted against keeping everyone expensive on the books. But what if the Marlins weren’t the Marlins? What if they stuck to their new identity? How different would their record be, according to really hasty and convenient approximations?

I reconstructed the important parts of the Marlins. I’m not  worried about the bench or depth starters or whatever. They don’t have much of an effect on a team’s WAR profile. And, yeah, we’ll be using WAR, because what else would you recommend? A simulator? I don’t have a simulator. This is good enough. This is probably good enough.

C: John Buck
1B: Logan Morrison
2B: Omar Infante
SS: Jose Reyes
3B: Hanley Ramirez
LF: Christian Yelich (or Emilio Bonifacio)
CF: Justin Ruggiano (or Emilio Bonifacio)
RF: Giancarlo Stanton

SP: Mark Buehrle
SP: Ricky Nolasco
SP: Josh Johnson
SP: Anibal Sanchez
SP: Jose Fernandez

RP: ~same

All these guys have at least somewhat recently been Marlins property. It doesn’t make much of a difference what you do with left field and center field. In one special case, I had the Marlins re-signing Anibal Sanchez, who became a free agent last winter. Maybe that’s cheating, because Sanchez could’ve signed anywhere, but the Marlins of two winters ago demonstrated that they didn’t mind throwing money around, and Sanchez would’ve been comfortable there. Just keep this in mind.

Here is the current, actual landscape of things, by WAR:

teamwar2013

Whoa! The Marlins suck! Not as bad as the Astros, but they’re closer to the Astros than to any other team. This is why they’re probably going to end up with triple-digit losses. The team is not good.

Now, here is the hypothetical WAR landscape. This assumes the same individual levels of performance, and I didn’t bother subtracting WAR from other teams that lost hypothetical Marlins. That would be getting too involved. I also assumed  the Marlins’ non-starters would be replacement-level, and I didn’t change anything about their 2013 bullpen performance. I could’ve done this more carefully, but the point is less about the specific numbers and more about the general idea.

teamwar2013alt

Well, that’s much better. We have a Marlins team just below 35 WAR. For pitchers, I was using WAR, instead of RA9-WAR — use the latter and it barely makes a difference. Give the depth guys two wins and you have a team WAR just below 37. Give the depth guys negative two wins and you have a team WAR just below 33. The comparable teams, then, would be the:

  • Orioles
  • Pirates
  • Cardinals
  • Angels
  • Indians
  • Nationals
  • Rockies

Overall, the Marlins would be somewhere in the upper-middle of the pack. There’s not a perfect relationship between team WAR and team winning percentage, but the Marlins would probably be in the race. They’d at least, probably, be respectable. And, who knows, maybe they’d be giving the Braves a run for their money. The Indians are well behind the Royals in WAR, but check out those wild-card standings.

Of course, Sanchez is critical. Sanchez has been a WAR All-Star, accounting for a sixth of the Marlins’ hypothetical total. Had he not been hypothetically re-signed, the Marlins presumably would’ve given those innings to someone much worse, and then they wouldn’t look so good. So that’s where some of this swings. The Marlins sold Sanchez in a trade, but they weren’t really giving up future value. I’ll let you decide how you want to handle this, since this exercise is purely for fun.

But now we get to where it’s really complicated. Back in the middle of April, Reyes injured his ankle in a game and went on the disabled list for a while. Who’s to say that happens if he’s with the Marlins? Who’s to say Josh Johnson’s season happens as it’s happened this season? Who’s to say Fernandez’s season happens as it’s happened, given the hypothetical roster? Who’s to say anything? How can we possibly know how players would do under different conditions?

This is an important point — a point that’s too often glossed over — and it’s probably worth its own post. But we absolutely cannot say that player performance X on Team A would be the same on Team B. It seems like it should be the case, but we don’t know for sure; in fact, we don’t know at all. Hanley Ramirez has been great with the Dodgers. He wasn’t so great, more recently, with the Marlins. Maybe he would’ve been equally great this year for Miami, had he not been traded. But then, from a Ken Rosenthal article:

“Everything turned around after I came here last year,” Ramirez says. “That passion, all the fans in LA, that turned everything around.

“Pretty much everybody in Miami was young, happy to be in the big leagues. We still competed, but, I don’t know, this is a different feeling. Since I got to the clubhouse here, everyone was focused, happy, together.

“Only I know what I went through in Miami. I don’t want to talk about that… that’s in the past. But I knew that as soon as I left there I was going to be a different guy. When I came here, they just let me play. They said, ‘Play hard and be you.’ ”

Maybe that’s all crazy talk. I don’t know, but the point is that I don’t know. Nobody knows. Maybe, with the Marlins, Ramirez doesn’t re-emerge. Maybe Sanchez pitches worse. Maybe Johnson pitches better. Maybe anything. Baseball is a game of individual showdowns, but between different teams and different rosters, you’ve got so many different variables, and it would be silly to suggest they ultimately don’t matter. Numbers can’t just be lifted from one team and placed on another.

You can keep extending this idea. You can absolutely do it with prospects and draft picks. I know I live in regret that the Mariners drafted Jeff Clement over Troy Tulowitzki. This is because Clement busted, and a healthy Tulowitzki is a superstar. But the reality is Clement might’ve developed differently in another organization. The reality is that Tulowitzki might’ve developed differently with the Mariners. We don’t actually know that Clement was the wrong pick; we just know he didn’t work out, under the circumstances he faced. It’s paralyzing, how little we can actually know, but I think it’s important to acknowledge because that way we can all look a little less like idiots.

But anyway. The second half of this post has tossed the first half of this post into the garbage. We don’t and can’t know how the Marlins would’ve done in 2013 with a more expensive roster. It’s an impossible investigation, as fun as it is to think about. What we can say, though, is the hypothetical 2013 Marlins would’ve had playoff-caliber talent. Maybe every team has playoff-caliber talent, but this team could’ve been something, provided the Marlins atmosphere wasn’t toxic. It could’ve been what it was supposed to be in 2012. This year’s Marlins aren’t going to the playoffs, but that isn’t the shame. The shame is we don’t know if that’s even the Marlins’ goal. The shame is that we all have our suspicions.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


44 Responses to “If the Marlins Weren’t the Marlins”

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  1. rotowizard says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the Marlins have playoff caliber talent in 2012 too? And again, I’m only pulling from memory, but didn’t they lose 90+ games in 2012?

    But hey, Jose Fernandez! That guy is pretty good.

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  2. J6takish says:

    I know WAR tends to overrate the Rockies but the Angels having that much (many?) WAR is downright surprising

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      Don’t forget the Fangraphs love child Trout.

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      • J6takish says:

        Trouts 10 war really helps but he is only 2-3 ahead of guys like McCutchen and Davis….. And the other players on those rosters inspire a bit more confidence

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      • Grof says:

        .330/.435/.570. It ain’t just Fangraphs.

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      • cass says:

        Yeah, that Trout guy’s a bum. Doubles ain’t worth nothing. Walks ain’t worth nothing. How well you run the bases ain’t got nothing to do with how many runs your team scores and all players field about the same. Silly FanGraphs for making things up. RBI’s. That’s the only real way to judge a player. Nothing else matters. There will always be guys on base to drive in and they will always run the exact same speed when you hit the ball. Trout’s a bum.

        (Baseball “traditionalists” who cling to BA/RBI/Pitcher Wins are about the dumbest people on the planet.)

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    • Moz says:

      Wait why would WAR overrate the Rockies

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      • Nick O says:

        The Angels led all of baseball in WAR last year. I don’t have the time to look it up but I think over the past two seasons they are essentially tied with Detroit for the best WAR in baseball. Ranking teams by WAR tends to give somewhat kooky results – I think the stat may be accurate but not especially precise.

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        • Kevin says:

          Wins and losses are context dependent. For example, a team can outscore its opponents 10-5 over a 5 game stretch and go anywhere from 5-0 to 1-4. Runs scored and runs against are the most precise indicators we have of a team’s offensive and defensive performance, and they STILL don’t correlate well to W/L record. As Jeff likes to say, dang baseball is complicated!

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        • Nick O says:

          For some reason it won’t let me respond to Kevin’s comment but RS/RA seem to correspond a hell of a lot more closely to win % than WAR.

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        • Jason B says:

          You can only have so many responses nested in responses to other responses; if you have too many the FG universe collapses onto itself like a dying star, which will messy and unpleasant for all involved.

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        • Bip says:

          The only problem is RS and RA are extremely unstable year to year, and it also gives you no ability to adjust for individual roster changes between seasons. WAR is the best stat of its kind (that being a way to measure individual contribution to team success based on a player’s skills), but unfortunately there is no meaningful and useful stat that correlates player ability to team wins very well.

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      • Bip says:

        I think there was an article showing that the teams who gave up the fewest runs were most likely to *overperform* their run differential. So even if the Rockies have a really good offense, by giving up a large number of runs, they become a team that is not as likely to live up to their pythagorean W/L.

        I hope I didn’t just make that up.

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  3. RC says:

    “For pitchers, I was using WAR, instead of RA9-WAR — use the latter and it barely makes a difference.”

    Does this mean you are potentially adding in more innings than the Marlins would have actually played, thereby artificially inflating their hypothetical WAR?

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    • Jonathan says:

      RA9-WAR is a WAR metric based on what actually happens in a game as recorded in ERA vs. what would theoretically happen based on a pitcher’s skills, such as in FIP. It means that when accounting for fielding dependent effects on pitching, the effect on the Marlins pitching staff as a whole is negligible. In other words, the individual performances above FIP are generally cancelled out by the individual performances below FIP for this particular team.

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  4. DUTCH4007 says:

    As a Tigers fan I prefer to think of them less as “criminals” and more like Mudhens south. PS. Can not wait to see Stanton wearing the Old English D and roaming Comerica parks right field for years to come.

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    • Wobatus says:

      Yeah, criminals is perhaps a bit much.

      Like the commenter above says, they stunk last year even with most of those guys on the team, and like Jeff says, Ramirez et al may not have played as well in Miami as he has in LA. Ramirez himself basically acknowledges he just wasn’t that into the Marlins by the end.

      And the fact is, the “what if” Marlins would still have merely been on the cusp at best. And would have been an expensive team that may not have been all that great or flexible in a few years.

      It may be that in 3 years or so the actual Marlins may be better off having done the firesale while still turning a profit for the owners.

      The Marlins ownership has been disingenuous, perhaps not all that appreciably more so than some other ownership groups (or one daresays perhaps the Players Association). They have the 19th best record during Loria’s ownership, which isn’t all that out of line with their revenue base I don’t think, at least pre-new stadium. They are pretty much even with the Indians in that time frame. And ahead of the wealthy but poorly run (at least pre-Epstein) Cubs. And ahead of the other Florida team, the Rays, who obviously are much better run now, despite their own stadium and fanbase issue in the same state.

      Yes, the Athletics are much better in that time span, but someone has to be the best at running a small market team.

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      • Bip says:

        Yeah, when I think “criminal owner” I think of Frank McCourt. We can speculate that blowing a roster is motivated by a priority of profit over team success, but McCourt drove the Dodgers to bankruptcy and was basically booted out for activities I feel don’t bear repeating.

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  5. quincy0191 says:

    We don’t actually know that Clement was the wrong pick; we just know he didn’t work out

    I would say we know Clement was the wrong pick. What we don’t know is that Tulowitzki was the right pick. But given how Clement worked out – or didn’t work out – I’d find it hard to believe Tulowitzki would have been worse. He could’ve ended his career a day after being signed and the M’s would have come out ahead.

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  6. Hurtlockertwo says:

    People will come to see a “upper-middle of the pack” team because there is still hope. Even though the Marlins have some bright spots, (Fernandez) overall they are not much fun to watch.

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      Ya, I don’t see how “upper-middle of the pack” is worse than what the team has now. Any competitive team is better than what the team has now.

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  7. Jason B says:

    Legitimate, non-snarky question: Do people think of the Twins as a “lovable throwback?” Throwback to what?

    I think of them as hometown hero & the soft-tossers.

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  8. Razor says:

    Jeff Sullivan: Come for the analysis, stay for the graph backgrounds!

    Seriously though, playing for the Marlins must be awful, now that reports are coming out the Loria is even making on-field decisions for the team.

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  9. How are the braves less lovable throwbacks? What makes the Twins lovable throwbacks? I get all the other thoughts on how people see teams, but I really don’t see that one.

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    • Wobatus says:

      Maybe having them on tv via TBS constantly makes them less lovable than the Twins. You just don’t see the Twins all that much, and maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder.

      The Twins actually have the 10th best record during the Loria era. Braves 4th. Before their recent nosedive, from 2002-2011 the Twins had the 7th best record in baseball. Right behind the Braves in 6th and ahead of the A’s at 8th. So, they were the non-sabr small market success story. At least I’ve heard it put sorta that way before.

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    • 804NatsFan says:

      I agree with “less lovable” if it means “not lovable at all”. But perhaps I’m biased.

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  10. mcgolfin says:

    For other pro sports comparables to the Marlins, I think you can say: “The Cleveland Browns did what the Cleveland Browns do: They got some people excited, then they undid the goodwill and more.”

    Oh, and their owner is accused of being an actual money stealing criminal according to the FBI.

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    • Rick James says:

      Yep thats true. Also the funny thing about that is Jeffrey Loria, David Samson and Bud Selig was investigated by the FBI for money laundering with the Expos. Loria and company would fit in well with the Browns management group.

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  11. Beaten with the Uggla Stick says:

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the hypothetical WAR chart have the WAR of *former* Marlins taken away from their *current* teams? Does it make a big difference? I guess the issue of hypothetically replacing those players seasons on their current team arises…

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  12. Kevin says:

    “It’s paralyzing, how little we can actually know, but I think it’s important to acknowledge because that way we can all look a little less like idiots.”

    Amen to this! I try explaining this to people quite often, and am usually met with blank stares. It also applies in investing, gambling (which is really just poor investing), and any other circumstance in which outcomes are uncertain. The “what-ifs” of life force us to confront our own mortality. We can respond with incredulity or humility, and personally, I prefer the latter!

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    • Ivan Grushenko says:

      Well sure, outcomes are uncertain, but that doesn’t mean you don’t examine your past decisions to see whether it was the best decision. In this case I see no way that the Marlins made the right decision by liquidating. Even if they sucked all year and half of this year a fire sale in 2013 would have been better just from a fan relations standpoint. Right now it looks like they’re in it for the revenue sharing and nothing else.

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      • Bip says:

        The Marlins are not a team likely to succeed on expensive free agent talent. If they accumulate enough young cost-controlled talent from this to build a solid core, then they can start looking for free agents to complement that. I would find it implausible that their previous roster would make enough money to support itself, if they ended up being only a upper-middle team. If the lost 90 games again with the same roster, I could see how a firesale is financially necessary.

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  13. Alby says:

    Maybe another way of looking at this is to compare what Miami did to what Toronto is going through: AA spent big in hopes of competing and the team fell flat on its face. Yet I haven’t heard of anyone in Toronto deciding to blow up the team because of it.

    Miami, unfortunately, is the JCPenneys of baseball.

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  14. marlinswin12 says:

    I don’t think the Marlins don’t care. I just think it’s a stupid front office. Kind of like how the people running the Royals shouldn’t be running the Royals, Jeffrey Loria shouldn’t be making baseball decisions.

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  15. NATS Fan says:

    The Marlins may be the marlins, but this team looks like it could turnaround fairly fast and be good. here is why: (1) With health they look like they could have a very solid starting rotation next year. Fernandez pitched like a legit ace this season. Alvarez, Eovaldi, and Turner have all pitched decent/solid as well. (2) Outfield looks much better now than the beginning of 2012. Stanton is great again, Yelich has played pretty good, Osuna has played decent, Ruggiano has power, speed, and defense. (3) Bull pen looks capable of being average or better next season. So the marlins ave some clear strengths going into 2014.
    On the other hand, the infield has been downright terrible this season and it is hard to see this entire unit improve as is next season. But, most of these guys are young with a lot of room to improve so some could turn into solid MLB regulars. For example, Lucas has 1/2 WAR in 1/2 a season of at bats, so he appears for now to be better than a replacement player at 3rd. Logan Morrison at first could be better with better health. If they were to sign 3 solid performing free agents or the current guys find away to improve dramatically at catcher, SS, and 2B over the next year or so, this team could best .500 in 2015 and perhaps be even better than that.

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  16. murphym45 says:

    Know that reliever WAR would barely change anything, but you forgot about Edward Mujica.

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  17. Rick James says:

    The Marlins pitching this year overall is better than last year’s pitching. Buerhle and Josh Johnson have been an absolute disaster for the Blue Jays.

    Bonifacio and Ruggiano have been in and out of the minors all season. Reyes was injured half a season, Logan Morrison out half a season, Reyes out half a season, Hanley out 2 and a half months, Infante missed a month, and Stanton mmissed 2 and a half months.

    Reality is last year’s team would have been worse off than this year’s team. That WAR stat is useless and didn’t take into consideration all of the injuries. Take last year’s team and its pretty much a 110-115 loss team. And I doubt Infante would be starting for the Marlins considering Solano was the reason he got traded in the first place and is better than Infante both defensively and offensively more consistent.

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