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Getting to Know the Phillies' 2011 Division Rivals: Marlins

The Braves may present the greatest threat, relatively speaking, to the Phillies' division title ambitions in 2011, but baseball seasons can be unpredictable and therefore it's worth getting to know a little something about the other three teams in the division too. Although I don't think two-part series should be necessary for any of them.

I'll start with the Marlins, who'll be playing their last season at the Facility Formerly Known as Joe Robbie Stadium while preparing to move into fancy new digs in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami in 2012. Quick overview before the jump, and then some more detailed number-crunching afterwards.

How did they do last year?

They were right in the middle of the pack with an 80-82 record (Pythagorean 81-81). Their offense was slightly above-average and their pitching was slightly below-average. Their bullpen was slightly better than their rotation.

Did any of their players have fluky seasons?

Aníbal Sanchez and Josh Johnson had lucky HR/FB rates, although if you discount that luck, Sanchez was still okay and Johnson was still awesome. Meanwhile, Ricky Nolasco was BABIP-unlucky and pitched much better than his ERA indicated.

Among position players, Hanley Ramirez actually had a bit of an off-year, even while posting a 4.4-WAR season. His BABIP was "only" .327, which was twenty points below his career BABIP of .347. Expect a big bounce-back year from him. Also, be very afraid.

Who left the team this offseason?

3B Jorge Cantú and CF/RF Cody Ross were dealt towards the end of 2010 to the two eventual World Series opponents. In the offseason, 2B Dan Uggla was traded to Atlanta and CF Cameron Maybin to San Diego. C Ronny Paulino signed with the Mets as a free agent.

Who are their new faces?

All-star Twitterer Logan Morrison, who had a pretty nice rookie half-season last year, will now start 2011 as the full-time LF. Omar Infante came over in the Uggla deal and will replace Uggla at 2B. The Marlins also made a pretty smart low-risk "buy low" move by signing P Javier Vazquez to a one-year $7 million deal. Vazquez had a very bad 2010 with the Yankees, but he isn't that old at 34 and could easily rebound - he had a great season just two years ago with Atlanta. John Buck is the new catcher. Ryan Webb, Edward Mujica, and Michael Dunn will all join the bullpen.

Are any of their players old and/or likely to decline?

Not really.

Are any of their players likely to improve?

Yes. Their probable lineup includes: Mike Stanton (born 11/8/89), Logan Morrison (8/25/87), Chris Coghlan (6/18/85), Gaby Sanchez (9/2/83), and Hanley Ramirez (12/23/83). Their probable rotation includes: Chris Volstad (9/23/86), Aníbal Sanchez (2/27/84), and Josh Johnson (1/31/84). Their closer Leo Nunez (8/14/83) is also pretty young. Every single one of these guys is probably still on the up-slope of his career.

Are they going to get any help from their farm in 2011?

The Marlins have historically been very good at player development but their pipeline is now dry. They only have one real prospect in their system, 3B Matt Dominguez. Luckily for them, Dominguez could be ready at some point in 2011, possibly early in the year. And if he is, he will help them a lot, because as of now, they're planning to begin the season at that position with the comedy stylings of Wes Helms and Emilio Bonifacio.

Detailed Summary

Here's a side-by-side comparison between the guys who played the most innings at each position for the Marlins last year, and the likely opening day starters this year.

 

Pos 2010 PA HR BB BABIP OPS wOBA UZR/150 WAR 2011 J PA J HR J BB J OPS J wOBA
C Paulino  316 4 25 .295 .665 .293 N/A 1.1 Buck 429 17 26 .741 .319
1B Sanchez 572 19 57 .299 .788 .346 -0.2 2.4 Sanchez 629 20 63 .811 .355
2B Uggla 589 33 78 .330 .877 .381  -7.4 5.1 Infante 485 7 31 .745 .329
3B Cantú 374 10 23 .298 .719 .314 -8.1 0.2 Helms 221 4 17 .674 .295
SS Ramirez 543 21 64 .327 .853 .373 -12.4 4.4  Ramirez 658 25 68 .909 .398
LF Coghlan 400 5 33 .336 .718 .322 -3.0 0.8 Morrison 588 9 73 .809 .357
CF Ross 487 11 30 .319 .721 .319 +2.2 2.0 Coghlan 590 9 58 .799 .355
RF Stanton 359 22 34 .330 .833 .355 +10.6 2.7 Stanton 591 38 69 .911 .391

(Cantú's and Ross's lines include only the stats they put up before the Marlins traded them.)

Whether or not you buy into James' projections, it sure looks like the Marlins' offense can be expected to improve in 2011. The step down from Uggla to Infante is huge and will hurt them tremendously. But that should be more than offset by improvement at every other position. Buck is better than Paulino. Morrison should hit better than either Ross or Maybin did in 2010. Ramirez had an off-year and should bounce back with a vengeance. Sanchez, Ramirez, Coghlan, and Stanton are all young guys who ought to improve. And even though Helms and Bonifacio suck, Jorge Cantú was no great shakes at the plate either in 2010, and if Dominguez steps in, he could easily outdo Cantú's performance.

Now, let's take a look at the rotations.

 

2010 IP K/9 BB/9 BABIP FLY% WAR ERA xFIP SIERA 2011 J IP J K/9 J BB/9 J FIP
Johnson 183.2 9.11 2.35 .297 33.6 6.3 2.30 3.15 3.07 Johnson 189.0 8.29 2.95 3.06
Nolasco 157.2 8.39 1.88 .316 41.1 2.5 4.51 3.55 3.33 Nolasco 179.0 8.25 2.21 3.81
Sanchez 195.0 7.25 3.23 .305 38.1 4.3 3.55  4.21 4.08 Sanchez 204.0 7.46 3.71 3.86
Volstad 175.0 5.25 3.09 .298 33.9 1.8 4.58 4.59 4.67 Volstad 186.0 5.76 3.34 4.34
Robertson 100.1 5.47 3.59 .298 40.2 0.6 5.47 5.03 4.95 Vazquez 198.0 8.32 2.50 3.94

Again, there's good reason to expect the rotation to get better too. Johnson, Sanchez, and Volstad are all young. Nolasco was unlucky last year. And even if Vazquez doesn't bounce all the way back from his subpar 2010, he'll still outperform Nate Robertson's 2010.

The bottom line is that this team is pretty decent. And if you squint hard enough, it's even possible to imagine them competing with the Braves and possibly even the Phillies. It would take a lot of luck, of course. They'd have to stay injury free (which some of their pitchers have had a hard time doing, historically). More importantly, it all comes down to how much their young players are going to improve. If they improve by a normal amount, then the Marlins will be an okay team, but not a major threat. If the young guys improve more than expected, look out. How surprising would it be if the following guys put up the following numbers?

Mike Stanton 1.000 OPS
Hanley Ramirez 1.000 OPS
Logan Morrison .900 OPS
Gaby Sanchez .850 OPS
Chris Coghlan .800 OPS
Matt Dominguez .800 OPS
Josh Johnson 2.50 ERA
Aníbal Sanchez 3.25 ERA
Chris Volstad 3.75 ERA

Well, it would, admittedly, be pretty surprising - but it wouldn't be a total shocker either. Hanley and Johnson should be reaching their peaks right about now, so why shouldn't they have career-best performances in 2011? And while Stanton and Morrison are still green, they're both really talented and fully capable of putting up those numbers when they do reach their peaks. If they were to put it all together a few years earlier than expected, they wouldn't be the first talented young players to pull that off. If all of those things happen at once and everyone stays healthy, then this will be a really tough team.

Of course, it isn't likely that all of that will, in fact, happen at once. It would be like rolling four straight 7's. But sometimes people do get that lucky.