The Lost Marlins Preseason Preview

The Florida Marlins were World Champions in 2003, which seems to have earned them no respect this offseason. Really, I’m writing this during the offseason. Gee, look at all the snow outside. How typical of the offseason.

I mean, the Marlins have won two World Series in seven years, while two Chicago teams have not won any World Series in 85 years. What more do the Fish have to do to earn respect? Do people really think that they’re not likely to win it all again in 2004?

Let’s look at a few facts. First, here’s a table of the average age of each National League team, weighted by the number of Win Shares contributed by each player.

SF	32.5
LA	31.0
ATL	30.8
NYM	30.6
HOU	30.4
ARI	30.3
CHC	30.2
COL	30.0
PIT	29.9
STL	29.8
MIL	29.5
PHI	29.3
SD	29.1
CIN	28.1
MON	27.6
FLA	27.4

The Marlins were the youngest team in the league last year, which means they are very likely to improve this year. Also, the Marlins won 51 games in the second half of the year, after only winning 40 in the first half. Teams that improve significantly in the second half of a year tend to do better the following year.

So, looking at two broad indicators, age and second-half performance, the Marlins seem like clear candidates to improve upon their 91-win record.

For instance, look at the starting corps: Josh Beckett, Dontrelle Willis, Carl Pavano and Brad Penny are just babes in the woods. All four of them are way under 30 years old. And they are really, really good.

Do you know what FIP is? It stands for Fielding-Independent Pitching, and it’s a simple, effective formula for comparing pitchers. The formula includes only those things that a pitcher controls and fielders don’t impact at all: strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. It essentially is the proportion of ERA that pitchers are solely responsible for. You can read more about FIP from its creator, Tangotiger.

I computed each team’s average FIP of its top four starters in the league last year, and compared them to last year’s FIP of the Marlins’ young four. Here are the results:

CHN	0.22
ARI	0.33
FLA	0.34
SF	0.63
MON	0.80
LA	0.91
PHI	0.93
HOU	1.00
ATL	1.12
NYN	1.28
SD	1.29
STL	1.39
MIL	1.45
COL	1.51
PIT	1.56
CIN	1.74

The Marlins’ top four starters are in an elite group, with the Diamondbacks and the Cubs. Considering that the Dbacks are replacing Schilling and Batista with Randy Johnson, it seems that the Marlins’ top four should be considered the best in the league, along with the Cubs. If these guys stay healthy and improve the way young pitchers are supposed to, the Fish will have quite a rotation.

I don’t know who will fill in the fifth spot in their rotation, but I wonder if they’ve taken a look at Darren Oliver? I’ll bet they could get him cheap.

Also, the Marlins have replaced their two-headed pretty good closer, ULoop, with one very good closer, Mando Benitez. That’s an important improvement. According to Baseball Prospectus’s Adjusted Runs Prevented, the Marlins’ bullpen was below average last year. If Benitez holds to form, and some of those middle relievers come through (I don’t know, Chad Fox maybe? Nate Bump? Maybe even Matt Perisho as a LOOGY? Nah, too far-fetched.), I think the Marlins’ bullpen could be a real source of improvement, and it had better be. Those young starting arms need to be protected.

What about the offense, you ask? Well, the Marlins will probably struggle on offense this year. Their leaders in Runs Created last year were:

Derrek Lee, 102
Ivan Rodriquez, 92
Juan Pierre, 91
Mike Lowell, 90
Luis Castillo, 85
Juan Encarnacion, 78

So, yes, they lost their two top run creaters last year, as well as the number six guy. The offense is bound to suffer.

On the other hand, Miguel Cabrera created 53 runs in just over half the games this past year, so an increase to more than 100 runs created is not out of the question. In fact, I have a feeling he’s going to get off to a really fast start this year. Just a feeling…

Also, Lee was traded for Hee Seop Choi, who is ready to prove himself in the majors, although he does represent an unknown quantity. Choi has a good eye and can hit for power, so I think you’ll see a high-OBP, home run hitting guy at first for the Fish. He probably won’t create 102 runs, but I think he’ll create at least 80. Don’t forget that Lowell missed about a month’s playing time, too. His return to full health should help.

Using Recurrent Neural Networks to Predict Player Performance
Technology is rapidly advancing possibilities in decision-making.

Still, the offense will probably struggle. But did you know that Dontrelle Willis is one heck of a hitter? He batted .241 last year, with two doubles and a home run. Not bad at all for a pitcher. Based on his stats and the likely poor offense from the regular Marlins, I predict that Willis will be third on the team in Runs Created after the first 12 games of the season, despite batting in only two games. Crazy, you say? Yeah, crazy like a snow-covered fox.

You know, Florida’s schedule is kind of screwy. They start with six straight series against some formidable National League East competition (that is to say, all NL East teams except the Mets), and then they play some good competition from other divisions. Running their schedule through my detailed schedule analyzer, I predict that they’ll get off to a really slow start. Slow, I tell you. I think they’ll particularly struggle against the Braves.

Starting in late May, however, they play series against the Mets and Reds, and then they enter the interleague play. Interleague play will be a real boondoggle for Florida — their AL opponents will be the Tigers, Rangers, Indians, White Sox and Devil Rays (twice!).

In fact, except for one series against the Phillies, the Marlins will play some relatively weak competition from late May until mid-August. Then the schedule will get tough again, finishing with four of their last five series against the Phillies and Braves. So I predict that the Marlins will get off to a slow start, come alive during the midseason, and then contend right down to the wire, and maybe even win it all again.

Got to go. Time to shovel the walk.

References & Resources
The exact formula for FIP is (13 X HR plus 3 X BB minus 2 X K)/IP. It works the same way DIPs ERA does; if you add 3.20 to each pitcher’s FIP, you will get a good approximation of what his ERA would be with average fielders behind him. NL individual pitchers’ 2003 FIP and DER are available at Baseball Graphs.

LOOGY stands for “Lefthanded One Out GuY”. The term was supposedly inspired by Tony LaRussa.

You can find current year Runs Created stats at Baseball Direct.

A good Marlins blog is The Book of Mike.

Print This Post
Dave Studeman was called a "national treasure" by Rob Neyer. Seriously. Follow his sporadic tweets @dastudes.

Comments are closed.