Back in January, Miami quietly dealt 5th starter Chris Volstad to Chicago, and in return recieved the embattled Carlos Zambrano. The Cubs also picked up most of Zambrano’s $18 million dollar contract, giving Miami all the more reason to take a chance of Zambrano, and ship the perenially underwhelming Volstad off to Theo Epstein. While the trade has not worked out exactly as planned for the Marlins, who hoped to use him as they competed for a playoff spot, it has gone quite well compared to how it’s turned out on the Cubs side.
In part one of what is now a two part series, we examined the Marlins surprisingly poor run differential here. While the numbers have changed slightly since then, the basic point remains: for a team that has been outscored by about 100 runs this season, the Marlins have a much better record than would be expected. According to Baseball Prospectus’ Adjusted Standings, the Marlins have won about 4.2 games more than their run differential would suggest. Likewise, ESPN’s Expected Win-Loss, a metric also based off a team’s run differential, estimates the Marlins “true record” to be 55-76–a far cry from the team’s actual 59-72 mark.
The Marlins short but sweet 3-game winning streak came to an end Thursday, falling to the Mets 6-1. Also coming to a halt was Jose Reyes’ 26-game hit streak, after going 0-4 against the knuckleballing R.A. Dickey. Although he couldn’t pass the team’s all-time record of 35 straight games with a hit, set by Luis Castillo in 2002, it was still an impressive run by the shortstop–who did manage to tie Emiliano Bonifacio’s 26-game mark for second longest in Marlins history.
The streak began almost a month ago to date, on July 13 against the Nationals. Reyes went 1-4 facing Jordan Zimmermann, with his lone hit as a single to left field. At the time, he was hitting only .264/.336/.378. Not awful, yet clearly below standard for Reyes, who was coming off his spectacular 6.2 fWAR season in 2011.
Time AVG OBP SLG
Pre-streak .264 .336 .378
Streak .365 .405 .625
2012 Totals .285 .349 .432
Career .291 .342 .440
As shown by the above table, Reyes was well below his career marks in all three categories pre-streak, with his power especially absent. The last time he posted a Slugging so low was eight years ago in 2004, when he finished the season with a .373 line. In addition, Reyes’ batting average was well below his career norm, although that can partly be explained by an uncharacteristically low Babip (.284).
After Sunday’s disappointing 4-1 loss to the Nationals, the Marlins run differential now stands at exactly -100, third worst in MLB. While it’s been a surprise to many that the Marlins have fared so poorly this season, it’s more surprising that the club managed to stay in contention through most of July with such a run differential.
In general, outscoring opponents (a positive run differential) leads to a positive winning percentage, whereas teams being outscored by opponents usually end up with negative winning percentage. The more extreme the run differential, the higher or lower the corresponding WP%.
Yet the Marlins, now 49-60, sit only 11 games under .500, despite a run differential that suggests their record should be much worse. According to Baseball Prospectus’ Adjusted Standings,—which uses a team’s run differential—a record of 43-65 would better reflect how the Marlins have played this season. Similarly, ESPN’s Expected Win-Loss calculates the club’s record as 42-66. The large disparity between expected and actual wins makes the Marlins one of the “luckiest” teams in all of baseball, although that seems very hard to swallow. (The Cardinals, on the other hand, hold the title of unluckiest team in all of baseball.) Note: We’ll examine how the Marlins have been able to outperform their expected record in a separate post.
Tuesday night, the Marlins made big waves by trading franchise cornerstone Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers. It was the second blockbuster trade the team had made this July, following the Omar Infante/Anibal Sanchez deal to Detroit, which took place only one day earlier. The Marlins have fully entered “sell mode”, and rumors suggest Josh Johnson is the next to go. But dealing the team’s ace would be a mistake, and it is in the Marlins’ best interests to instead keep Johnson.
By dealing Josh, the Marlins hope to get young players to build the farm system, while at the same time helping the team be competitive next season. Unfortunately, there is a large amount of risk involved in relying on unproven commodities to contribute significantly to the team. Only Mark Buehrle and Ricky Nolasco, both of whom are solid but not spectacular, would be left in the rotation for 2013.(This is assuming Zambrano does not re-sign with the team). Left to fill the remaining void would be the 21 year-old Jacob Turner and 22 year-old Nate Eovaldi–with a total of 22 Major League starts between them. The fifth spot could belong to Wade LeBlanc, or another starter acquired by dealing Johnson.
With less than two weeks until July 31st, the Marlins have yet to fully determine their stance at the MLB trade deadline. As Buster Only reported (via twitter) on Monday, the team will enter “sell mode” if there is no immediate turnaround. To keep that from happening, and to keep the Marlins at least relevant in the playoff discussion, the team must play well in the coming stretch of games. Luckily, the schedule for the remaining part of July provides the Marlins with ample opportunity to get back into Wild Card contention.
The Marlins play both of the wild-card leaders, the Pirates and Braves, in three game sets. Right after those two match-ups, the Marlins will host the Padres, one of the worst teams in baseball this year. As if that isn’t enough, the team will then play the Braves again following the series with San Diego.
Now with more than 85 games down, and the All-Star break over, it’s time to see how Marlins’ starting pitchers are expected to fare in the second half of the season, accoriding to the ZiPS projection system. ZiPS was created by Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory and ESPN, and it’s one of the most accurate projection systems available. Last week the focus was on Marlins’ hitters, and now we’ll look at the starting pitchers.
Johnson has had an exceptional season, according to his peripherals, even if his ERA doesn’t reflect it. He holds a 3.07 FIP this year, but has a 4.28 ERA due to some bad luck on balls in play (.352 BABIP). ZiPS expects Johnson’s Defensive Independent metrics to stay about the same in the second half, projecting a 2.93 FIP, and also expects Johnson to have more outwardly measurable success (2.87 ERA).
The one significant change in Johnson this season is his K%. He’s not striking out hitters at the rate he used to–7.6 K/9 in 2012 vs. 8.2 career–although ZiPS does foresee an uptick in strikeouts to 8.1 K/9 the rest of the way. Strikeouts or not, it’s clear Johnson is still a top tier pitcher, and should continue to get batters out.
Buehrle has been solid so far this season, posting a 3.25 ERA at the All-Star break, to go along with an underlying FIP of 3.87. The former White Sox has benefited from a rather low BABIP (.279) and stranding a high rate of runners on base (77.6 LOB%). Both metrics are heavily influenced by luck, and should regress for Buehrle in the second half. For that reason, ZiPS projects Buehrle’s ERA to rise in the second half to 3.77. His FIP, on the other hand, is expected to stay essentially the same over the rest of the season (3.89 FIP).
While all of Buehrle’s peripherals are in line with his career marks, his 1.34 BB/9 is especially impressive. It’s the third lowest walk rate among starting pitchers, and he’s done it while also avoiding a decline in strikeouts. 2012 has produced another respectable season from Buehrle, and he should continue to have success in the second half.
With 82 games down, it’s time to see how Marlins hitters are expected to fare in the second half of the season, according to the ZiPS projections system. ZiPS was created by Dan Szymborski of Baseball Think Factory and ESPN, and it’s one of the most accurate projection systems available.
Now the newest member of the Marlins, Lee performed only marginally above replacement level in Houston, worth 0.2 fWAR while hitting .287/.336/.411. Unfortunately, ZiPS predicts a very similar line of .278/.327/.433 the rest of the way for Lee. Still, any offense at all from first base will be a welcome addition, as Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison combined could manage just a .236/.292./.359 while playing the position. While most of his peripherals are expected to stay about the same, ZiPS does expect Lee to hit for more raw power the second half of the season, (.156 ISO vs .124) something the Marlins desperately need.
Infante has been one of the few bright spots for the Marlins, hitting .287/.312/.452 along with 7 home runs. However, ZiPS predicts Infante to cool down slightly in the second half for a .283/.322/.401 slash line. After walking only 3.4% of the time through June, ZiPS expects Infante to increase his BB% to 5.3%, a rate much closer to his career average. Infante should also expect to see a drop in power numbers, as ZiPS predicts his ISO of .165 to regress towards his career average of .122.
Reyes has been decent but not spectacular in 2012, hitting .268/.341/.388, which comes out to almost exactly league average (99 wRC+). ZiPS expects Reyes to pick it up in the second half, specifically his batting average and slugging, to the tune of .290/.348/.435. Without the shortstop contributing significantly to the offense, it will be tough for the Marlins to stay in contention in the competitive NL East.
Hanley is another Marlin who ZiPS expects improvement from in the second half of 2012. He’s hit .259/.334/.443 so far, good for a .339 wOBA and worth 1.9 fWAR. Hanley’s expected line of .274/.354/.447 the rest of the way is not drastically different than his slash line from the first half, but even a small uptick would go a long way towards the Marlins playoff hopes.
Posting just a .4 fWAR at the midpoint of the season, 2012 has not been Logan Morrison‘s year. He’s managed just a .242/.317/.433 slash line up to this point, although, ZiPS expects the second half to be much more friendly to Morrison. It projects a .252/.348/.451 line the rest of the way–mostly because Morrison should see more balls in play fall for hits. His BABIP of .253 has been quite unlucky, and ZiPS expects a more luck-neutral .283 BABIP for the last half of the season. Morrison could also benefit from a higher BB%, as ZiPS projects his walk rate to increase from 9.6% to 12.1%.
Stanton has been, by far, the Marlins best player this season, and the second half will most likely be no different. He’s been worth 3.0 fWAR by hitting .283/.364/.555, and ZiPS projects him to essentially match his first half with a .272/.363/.555 line. ZiPS also projects his career-low K% of 24.8% to regress back towards his career strikeout rate of 28%, although it wouldn’t be surprising to see Stanton continue limiting his K’s.
Ruggiano has been one of the hottest players in the majors since being traded to the Marlins, hitting an incredible .409/.487/.818. At some point, Ruggiano won’t be able to keep up the staggering pace, and ZiPS projects him to hit .263/.320/.431 the rest of the way. So far, Ruggiano has benefitted from an astronomical .449 BABIP, but ZiPS expects a .330 average on balls in play for Ruggiano going forward. ZiPS also believes Ruggiano won’t be able to match the BB% and K% that he’s posted so far–it projects his strikeout rate to raise from 16.3% to about 25%, and his walk rate to drop from 13.8% to 7.4%.
Before his injury and subsequent trip to the DL, Bonifacio was hitting .268/.351/.315 over 39 games, worth 0.3 fWAR. Although he won’t return until after the All-Star break, ZiPS still projects Bonifacio to be worth 0.5 fWAR in the second half of the season, and expects him to hit at a clip of .263/.331/.336.
Buck has hit an abysmal .180/.304/.335 (AVG/OBP/SLG) so far, but ZiPS sees some improvement the rest of the way for Buck–although it would be difficult to hit much worse than he has up to this point. ZiPS projects a .222/.309/.371 line from the catcher, for a total of 0.9 fWAR. The changes in On-base percentage and Slugging are rather small, but the system does expect a 42 point jump in batting average.
Data from Fangraphs
Last season, I spent a lot of time addressing John Buck’s defense (here and here), with most of my commentary being negative. Coming off one of his worse years, and entering into his 30′s, I was expecting to see a decline in defensive value as the effect of aging sets in. However, 2012 has been a vastly different year for Buck, with his catching so far showing great improvement.
While our current methods of quantifying catchers defense are far from perfect, they can still provide useful information about how valuable a player has been behind the plate. My personal favorite, and one of the better available rating systems is Matt Klaassen’s. His methodology and explanation of the system can be found here, although it’s easy to follow along with.
According to Klaassen’s most recent installment of the rankings, Buck has been the 11th best defensive catcher in the majors–saving 1.5 runs above average through May. Much better than in 2011, when he was 39th among all catchers, and was worth only .4 runs over the course of the whole season.
On Saturday night, the Marlins beat the Rays 4-3 in the 15 inning marathon. While the team recorded 13 hits and put up one of their better offensive performances of the year, it was not a night to remember for Omar Infante. The Marlins second baseman went hitless in seven plate appearances, with four of his outs coming by way of strikeout.
The hitless days have been occurring with increasing regularity for Infante as of late. Since the start of June, he’s been hitting .175, and has an under .300 OBP since the start of May. Worse still is the disappearance of Infante’s power—which many thought he would be able to sustain after he got off to a hot start.
Through May 11th, Infante had a team-leading 6 home runs, 10 doubles, and 2 triples, enough for a .650 Slugging percentage, over .250 points higher than his career mark of .396. His ISO of .320 was also almost 3 times higher than his career average (.121).
Below is a spray chart of Infante’s balls in play through May 11th:
The power shown here is quite impressive—especially so for a second baseman. The left field line and fence are clustered with extra-base hits, along with a few singles up middle in center. Also, while most of his hits here are pulled, Infante has shown power to the opposite field, drivng balls to the gap in right-center.