2011: 72 – 90, Last NL East
Runs Scored: 625 (11th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 702 (10th, NL)
In late May, the Marlins were near the top of the NL East. Josh Johnson seemed to be taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning or later in each start, the offense was starting to show signs of life. When Scott Cousins derailed Buster Posey in San Franscisco by running the all-star catcher over to score a run, the bad karma hit. Johnson went down with shoulder soreness and never pitched again. Hanley Ramirez, having survived a very slow start, separated a shoulder and missed most of three months. Gaby Sanchez, who hit enough to make the all-star team, stopped hitting – and Logan Morrison tweeted his way into the dog house. When it was over, one of the best teams in the NL suddenly was in last place.
The rotation of Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Javier Vasquez, Anibel Sanchez, and Chris Volstad seemed good enough in April, but once Johnson went down, having two other starters (Nolasco and Volstad) struggle along with anyone who tried to replace Johnson – the Marlins didn’t have a chance. Brad Hand went 1- 8 in 12 starts because he gave up ten homers and 35 walks in just 60 innings. Clay Hensley was asked to start and he couldn’t handle that kind of load. Nolasco was 23 runs worse than an average pitcher, Volstad was 20 runs worse – and they logged more than 370 innings of well below average pitching.
Looking forward, the Marlins have thickened up the staff. Johnson is back and healthy. If he makes 30 starts, he could save the team 40 unnecessary runs. Vasquez was miserable for six weeks, then finished like an ace over the last six weeks. He will be replaced by former Chicago White Sox horse, Mark Buehrle. Buehrle was 15 runs better than Vasquez last year – and he becomes the first lefty starter on the Marlins – which will help against the lefty hitting loaded teams in the NL East. Nolasco needs to bounce back – he’s a durable thrower, but hasn’t been spectacular since 2009. Sanchez continues to throw well – he could use a little offensive support. And then you have another former Chicago pitcher to provide additional fireworks – Carlos Zambrano.
Zambrano came to the Marlins in a trade with the Cubs because (a) the Cubs didn’t want him and (b) new manager Ozzie Guillen thinks he can handle the ex-Chicago fireballer. Zambrano was marginally better than Volstad, but at the end of his contract and pitching for his baseball life, he could be 15 or 20 runs better – and provide a little extra offense. What you are looking at is a reasonable gain of about 60 runs in the runs allowed column, and possily 70 – 75 fewer runs allowed…
The Marlins spent a small fortune to pick up Heath Bell to be the new closer because Leo Nunez wasn’t cutting it. And, of course, because Leo Nunez isn’t who we thought he was – his name is actually Juan Carlos Oviedo, and he’s two years older, too. The pitcher formerly known as Nunez may not be back for a while, and if he does come back it won’t be as a closer. Bell was just a bit better in terms of runs saved, but he might be better in the clubhouse, where a big personality can keep the rest of the team in check. The rest of the bullpen isn’t bad – Steve Cishek, Randy Choate, Michael Dunn, Eduard Mujica, Brian Sanches, and Ryan Webb are all decent, but none of them wow you. Dunn has closer stuff, but needs time.
Another former Padre, Wade LeBlanc, and rookie Tom Koehler are looking to pick up swingman roles on the club.
John Buck looked like he was figuring things out as a newcomer to the Marlins and the National League. His batting average fell, he struggled in the running game (83 of 100 baserunners were succesful stealing), and he needed to learn his own staff. I like Buck to bounce back some. Brett Hayes was a bit better against the run and is a dependable backstop.
The Marlins will have a slightly new look in 2011. Gaby Sanchez returns at first, a decent enough fielder (helped statistically by the lack of a left handed starter last year), and a slightly above average hitter. He’s not shown himself to be a banger, but he makes decent contact, has a bit of power, and a good eye at the plate. Omar Infante is a solid second baseman and an average hitter. In 2012, he’ll no longer bat at the top of the lineup, which should help some. Taking over at short is former Met, Jose Reyes. Reyes is coming off a career year, but hasn’t dependably played 140 games at his position. He’s still a step up over having Greg Dobbs regularly in the lineup, so the Marlins could score more runs with Reyes at the top of the order. And moving to third is former shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez has something to prove this year – that he can be a team player and a real leader. Personally, I don’t think he should be in the infield. He’s never been a good shortstop – Ramirez cost the team 23 runs. (Reyes is better, but even he is a below average shortstop.) But he could be a league average third baseman – and make 35 – 50 throwing errors.
If it’s me, I let Bonifacio (just about a league average shortstop) play short, move Reyes to third, and put Hanley in center field or left field. Even with the new alignment, the Marlins could save 10 runs defensively, but it SHOULD be 20 runs better if Hanley were in the outfield.
Offensively, a healthy Ramirez and Reyes could be worth 100 extra runs themselves to the team.
Giancarlo Stanton returns (nicked up this spring) and seems to want to use his tremendous power to all fields. You hope that by broadening his approach he doesn’t dilute his strength – which is his strength, but he’s SO strong that if he makes contact, he hits the ball harder than anyone else in baseball. If he steps up a little bit, he’s going to put 125 runs on the board. And Logan Morrison can hit better than he did in 2011. He really isn’t an outfielder, but he has a great approach to hitting and should be worth 100 runs, which is 30 more than last year. Then you have the void that is centerfield. Emilio Bonifacio is tolerable there (I’d just rather see him at short). Chris Coghlan, Aaron Rowand, Bryan Peterson and possibly Austin Kearns will be battling for innings as a defensive replacement for Morrison in late innings and pinch hitting at bats.
A bench of Dobbs, Coghlan, Peterson and Rowand give the Marlins plenty of options. Hayes is a capable backup catcher, and with Bonifacio able to play six positions, you can mix and match to give people time off.
At AAA New Orleans, Matt Dominguez and Ozvaldo Martinez showed they have major league gloves but not yet major league bats. They are still young – Dominguez will be 22 this year; Martinez 24. Jose Ceda was unhittable in AAA, but hasn’t turned it into a regular MLB job.
2008 #1 pick Kyle Skipworth made his way to AA Jacksonville, but didn’t impress with the stick – just .207 in nearly 400 at bats. He’s still got time. The best hitter was Jim Negrych, but he’ll be 27 this season and has people ahead of him on the depth chart. Pitcher Jhan Marinez needs to gain command, but fanned 74 in 58 innings. Undrafted Omar Poveda is figuring things out, finishing 8 – 6 last year, but with a 4.32 ERA. He needs to find a better strikeout pitch.
Kyle Jensen showed great power while hitting .309 at A+ Jupiter, but he’s a bit of a free swinger. I saw him – I’d like to think he can make a step forward and challenge Gaby Sanchez in 2014. 2009 First Round pick Chad James struggled a little – 5 – 15, with a 3.80 ERA, but he’s just 20. Let’s see what he can do in 2012. Down at A- Greensboro, 2010 #1 pick Christian Yelich showed he is a player with promise by hitting .312 with 15 homers and 32 stolen bases.
You have a new stadium and management finally spending some money to give the fans checking out the new stadium an exciting product. The question, of course, is can the Miami Marlins break through what looks to be a competitive NL East. I think the answer is yes. The Marlins could easily score 150 runs more than last year with healthy and improving performances from the outfielders as well as a healthy Reyes and rebounding Hanley Ramirez. If Josh Johnson makes 30 starts and the rotation holds steady, the team will likely allow 75 fewer runs. That puts the Marlins at about 775 runs scored and 625 runs allowed – a combination good for 93 wins. The question is whether or not 93 wins will be enough… The Phillies, Braves, and even Washington will be in the hunt – so every win will matter.