I'm gonna be honest with you guys: a small part of me feels responsible for what happened in South Florida this off-season. For one of my previews last year, I poked gentle fun at how under-the-radar the Marlins have been for almost their entire existence. And based on what has happened since, I can only assume that Jeffrey Loria read it and said, "No, NO!!! THIS IS THE LAST #$%@ING STRAW! You want noticeable, random dude on the internet? I'LL SHOW YOU NOTICEABLE!!!"
Imagine if the Diamondbacks changed their names to the "Phoenix Diamondbacks." And then they realized that they had a problem, because their uniforms still said "Arizona," so they decided to go whole-hog and revamp the uniforms too. Imagine if they brought back the purple and teal, but said, "nope, not crazy enough," so they added some orange as an particularly twisted accent. Then imagine that they moved out of Chase, into some shiny new taxpayer-funded ballpark in Maryvale or someplace. There would be a a 70-foot animatronic Saguaro in left-center that lights up and dances with maracas every time a player hits a home run, and a pit of live rattlesnakes behind home plate.*
Then, imagine that the team decided to spend tons of money they don't have on all of the free agents. No, really, all of the free agents. Like, if Kevin Towers just looked at a list of the available free agents and said, "yup, we'll take it." Then, to top it all off, imagine that they decided to drum up fan support by firing Gibby and hiring a crazy person who, one week into the season, said something to the effect of: "I respect the Sinaloa Drug Cartel. A lot of people have been trying to kill them, but those motherf**kers are still there."
This should all sound like a particularly lucid hallucination after an evening of Baseball Tonight and peyote. Well, that's pretty much exactly what's happened in South Florida.
*The one upside to all this is that nothing would help Montero and Blanco prevent passed balls like the threat of venomous snakes behind a wall of glass that could shatter at any moment.
What the Stats Say (According to Fangraphs):
When you make the sort of absurd overhauls that the Marlins have made since last October, you expect to see results, especially when you pay for those changes with gate receipts that haven't come yet. And so far, they're still waiting on the results. Some of their problems have just been bad luck, as the team has only been outscored by two runs so far this year. Still, it's got to be frustrating. The team added Jose Reyes, one of the premier position players in baseball when healthy, in the hopes that he would help an offense that put up a wRC+ of 91 last year, but so far those hopes have been in vain. Their pitching has been more consistent, however, with both rotation and bullpen producing an ERA below 3.5.
The one thing to keep in mind amid the three-ring circus that passes for a season in Miami is that the Marlins actually have a pretty covetable collection of young position players. Logan Morrison was best known for his twitter antics last year, and for becoming a martyr when the Marlins overreacted and sent him to the minors. I mean, some of the tweets may have been immature, but the team earned itself a ton of negative press for punishing him publicly and anyway what's the big deal because all Bauer wanted to do was show off his pitching mechanics and what were we talking about again? Oh right, Logan Morrison. He's 24 and has a career OPS of .808 in parts of three seasons, which is good.
"Mike Stanton" was the name of a talented young player who would never get the attention he deserved because he played for the Florida Marlins. "Giancarlo Stanton" is the name of a star for the big-market Miami Marlins. If he had picked any other year on any other team to start going by his middle name, it would have been kind of cool. But here, given what the Marlins did last winter, finding a "Giancarlo" where they once had a "Mike" just feels like the perfect metaphor. He was also the team's best hitter last year, with an OPS of .893 at the ripe age of 21. Gaby Sanchez has struggled so far this year, but he's put up an OPS+ of 108 in 113 in his last two seasons, so the team thinks he'll bounce back.
The Marlins spent a small fortune on Reyes this off-season, more because they wanted a big-ticket acquisition to play in their new stadium than because they actually needed a shortstop. Reyes is still one of the best shortstops in baseball, but he hasn't hit like it so far, with a paltry line of .217/.276/.348 that Willie Bloomquist could have thrown up for much less money. Reyes will probably get better though, so that's an advantage he has over Willie. Incumbent SS Hanley Ramirez was moved to third this year, coming off a disappointing season. He's 28, and was one of baseball's premier offensive talents before 2011, so I expect him to rebound in a big way this year.
Insightful Commentary: Joe Saunders hasn't had a streak of three consecutive games with at least seven innings pitched and under three runs allowed since...last September. Which is less impressive than I was expecting, but it highlights the general point that I was trying to get across that Saunders is an unpredictable pitcher who goes through plenty of hot streaks and cold streaks over the course of a season. It's nice that he's allowing fewer walks while striking out more batters this year than ever before, but I don't expect it to last. Call me if he's still doing this in mid-May.
I completely forgot Carlos Zambrano pitched for the Marlins now, and I don't understand how. Of course he does. Zambrano is pretty much the most 2012 Miami Marlins player imaginable. But while it's easy to think of him as washed up, Big Z is only 31, and he really only had his first below-average year in 2011. He was never truly the ace that they played him up to be in Chicago, but he probably has a few productive years left if he finds the right environment to coax them out of him.
Insightful Commentary: Ian Kennedy has a record of 15-1 since last year's All-Star Break. I know win/loss record is worthless as a stat, but that's still an eye-opener. Kennedy has lost one decision since the beginning of July 2011, and that one loss came in a weird rain delay against the best team in baseball at the time. Eventually, this will change, and Kennedy will take some hard-luck losses like everyone else, but for now, we should appreciate that Kennedy is pitching well (2.79 FIP so far this year) and getting support, and that's a combination that leads to weird stats like this.
I saw better starts than Sanchez's eight-inning, two-run performance against the Diamondbacks last year, where he had a SO:BB of 8:1, but I'm not sure I saw one that stood out to me more. In my mind, Sanchez was almost perfect, hitting his spots every time other on two pitches that Upton and KJ hit for homers. When someone like Sanchez is hitting his spots, I have no idea how he gives up runs at all. He has successfully returned from a series of injuries, and has cut his walk rate in each of the past three years.
Sunday: Wade Miley (2-0, 1.84) vs. Josh Johnson (0-2, 4.63)
Insightful Commentary: The D-Backs haven't announced a starter for Sunday yet, but I assume they'll go with Miley for this one, since it's his turn in the rotation. Last year, in limited time, Miley terrified me. He walked more than four batters per nine, and he pitches to contact way too much to get away with it. But he's improved his walk rate to the point that he might be a viable starter. He won't maintain a BABIP of .182 all year, but his FIP of 3.58 suggest that he'll be fine as a back-end starter even if he regresses. Y'know, if he ends up lasting long than Collmenter in the rotation.
It's weird to think that Josh Johnson was a Cy Young candidate just two seasons ago. Of course, it was weird then too, since he was a virtual unknown from Florida who was up against Roy Halladay. But Johnson managed an ERA of 2.30 that year to go with an fWAR of 6.3. Truthfully, he had been almost as good the season before, and he's showing signs of being just as good now as he returns from an injury. I've made fun of the new-look Marlins quite a bit in this preview for their lavish spending and garish new image, but if this is what it takes for someone like Josh Johnson to get the credit he deserves while playing for the team, then more power to them.
Monday: TBA vs. Mark Buehrle (1-3, 2.63)
Insightful Commentary: Not sure who will start here, whether they give Collmenter his regular start or skip him to go with Cahill.
Mark Buehrle is what he is: he works fast, doesn't strike out many batters, but walks even fewer, and at the end of the day, he'll give you more than 200 innings with an ERA in the mid 3s. Since 2000, he has never pitched fewer than 200 innings in a season, or finished the season with an ERA below 3 or above 5. In this crazy world we live in, Mark Buehrle is one thing that we can count on.
Final Verdict: I don't know whether the new Marlins Park has the same voodoo over the Diamondbacks as their last stadium did, but this series make me a bit nervous. There's not a pitching matchup where the D-Backs have a clear advantage, and the Marlins should break out of their season-long malaise one of these days. But I'm also of the opinion that the Diamondbacks are not as bad as they've been playing for the past week, so I'll split the difference and say that each team wins two.
Head over to Fish Stripes for the Marlins' perspective.
(Stats from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference.)