The Florida (now Miami) Marlins existence has been one of fasts and feasts. World Series championships in 1997 and 2003 balanced by fire sales and, including 2013, three straight last place finishes in the NL East.
Jeffrey Loria, who sold the Montreal Expos in 2002 to purchase the Marlins that same year, is a candidate for worst owner in sports. The Marlins convinced the city of Miami to build them a stadium which sits largely empty, rebuffing the belief that new stadiums draw fans back to their teams. The latest controversial feather in his cap: selling a painting, one single work, for nearly much as the Marlins’ 2013 payroll, which of course is constrained for financial reasons.
To make matters worse, the Marlins, one year after making runs at Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, sold off the free agents they did sign: Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle, in a blockbuster trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in the winter of 2012. After implying that the old stadium was holding back payroll, the team didn’t wait long to reconsider their winter spending.
Despite a last place finish, 2013 was not the entirely doom-and-gloom season many expected it to be. It wasn’t great, but there were some bright spots. How did the Marlins beat expectations?
A strong bullpen is something envied by every team in baseball. The 2013 Marlins had a few guys put up good performances in the late innings.
Jeffrey Loria, who sold the Montreal Expos in 2002 to purchase the Marlins that same year, is a candidate for worst owner in sports.
Steve Cishek took over closer duties in 2013 after another free agent signing, Heath Bell, had been traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks before the season began. A 2.33 ERA, 26.3% strikeout rate, and 74/22 K/BB helped the right-handed pitcher save 34 games in his 69.2 innings.
Ryan Webb lead the team in relief innings with 80.1 (0.1 more innings than A.J. Ramos) and had a 2.91 ERA but struck out just 16.3% of batters and had a 54/28 K/BB.
With a 3.15 ERA, 25.4% strikeout rate, and 86/43 K/BB ratio, A.J. Ramos lead the relief corps in strikeouts during his first full season in the majors.
Mike Dunn, the primary southpaw for the Fish, had a 2.66 ERA, 25.5% strikeout rate, and a 72/28 K/BB ratio while appearing in a team-leading 75 games.
Veteran Chad Qualls, 34, recorded a 2.61 ERA with a 19.4% strikeout rate, his best since 2009, and a 49/19 K/BB ratio which looks a little better when you account for the fact that 7 of his walks were intentional. Interestingly, Qualls’ five wins would put him in a four-way tie for second place behind rookie sensation Jose Fernandez.
On his way to winning the Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Award for the National League, Jose Fernandez tossed 172.2 innings of 2.19 ERA baseball. He struck out 27.5% of the batters he faced with a 187/58 K/BB in his first year in the majors. For that matter, it was his first year above A ball.
Fernandez was called up seemingly out of the blue in April but showed he didn’t need Double A or Triple A to prepare him for major league competition. Although he didn’t get a single first place vote, Fernandez did finish in third place for the NL Cy Young Award, behind Clayton Kershaw and runner-up Adam Wainwright.
Ricky Nolasco rebounded to put up a 3.85 ERA, although his 15.0% strikeout rate was down quite a bit from his low-to-mid 20% rates from 2008-2010. However, that was more than enough for the Marlins to ship Nolasco to the Dodgers in return for salary relief and a few minor prospects.
On his way to winning the Major League Baseball Rookie of the Year Award for the National League, Jose Fernandez tossed 172.2 innings of 2.19 ERA baseball.
Nathan Eovaldi, acquired from the Dodgers in 2012 as part of the Hanley Ramirez trade, had a 3.39 ERA, 17.3% strikeout rate, and 78/40 K/BB during his age-23 season. There’s a good chance he’s pitching for the next competitive Marlins team.
Another trade acquisition, Jacob Turner, was acquired in 2012 when the Marlins sent Anibal Sanchez to the Detroit Tigers. A 3.74 ERA, 15% strikeout rate, and 77/54 K/BB as a 22-year old pales in comparison to the 20-year old Fernandez, but could be enough to stick around.
Henderson Alvarez, acquired in the Blue Jays trade, pitched 102.2 innings of baseball to the tune of a 3.59 ERA. Alvarez doesn’t miss many bats with a 13.6% strikeout rate, but limited walks with a 57/27 K/BB. His claim to fame this year: a no-hitter on Sept. 29 against the Tigers. Granted, it was a lineup without Miguel Cabrera, but the young Marlin got the job done.
While the Marlins would allow an average of 3.99 runs per game, just a tick lower than average (4.04) for the NL, the offense scored just 3.17 runs, a distant last for the league. The next worst team at scoring runs was the Chicago Cubs at 3.72 runs per game.
Giancarlo Stanton played in just 116 games while battling a hamstring injury after playing in 123 in 2012. When he did take the field he hit .249/.365/.480 with 24 home runs. In 489 games over four seasons the outfielder has 117 home runs. If the Marlins can resist trading him, the 24-year old could lead the team in most offensive categories in 2014.
Logan Morrison hit .242/.333/.375 in 85 games, most of them at first base. He’s still just 25 though and only two years removed from a 23 homer, .247/.330/.468 season.
2013 was the rare losing season that looks bad but actually has a few silver linings.
Jeff Mathis provided little from catcher (.181/.251/.284.) but is signed through 2014 with an option for 2015.
Juan Pierre stole 23 bases while hitting a very meager .247/.284/.305 at 35 years old.
Justin Ruggiano, whose .313/.374/.535 campaign in 2012 came out of nowhere, followed up his career year with a .222/.298/.396 effort. His 18 home runs were second on the team to Stanton’s 24.
Adeiny Hechavarria, a glove-first shortstop acquired from the Blue Jays, was the third sub-.600 OPS regular, along with Mathis and Pierre, in the Marlins lineup.
Prospect Christian Yelich was called up in July and hit .288 .370 .396 in 62 games. If the 2014 outfield gets full seasons from Yelich and Stanton, Miami will already be a better team than they were this year.
The Marlins put together, possibly in spite of themselves, a quality pitching staff. Aside from Fernandez, no one was particularly great, but the unit as a whole was essentially league average. Had it not been paired with a truly dreadful offense the team may have won quite a few more games.
After one year of Ozzie Guillen, the Marlins brought in Mike Redmond to take over as manager. While he may not have much to work with at the moment, the Marlins have talent coming up to help, of which Christian Yelich is just the first to reach the majors.
2013 was the rare losing season that looks bad but actually has a few silver linings. Trusting the Marlins to continue this progress is a tricky thing, but the talent on the field might overcome the interference of the team owner.
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