90 games into the season, the Florida Marlins remain in the hunt for the NL East crown, and they have done so largely on their ability to knock the crap out of the baseball. They’re currently in fourth in slugging percentage among all 30 teams with a .443 and are actually tops in home runs with a total of 128, which is all the more impressive once you account for the fact that Dolphin Stadium is quite the pitcher’s park. Their middle infielders, Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, are probably the most offensively potent 2B-SS combo in the game so far this year (apologies to Philly). First baseman Mike Jacobs has a Dave Kingman-esque .249/.288/.513 line (I think I mean that as a compliment) third baseman Jorge Cantu has come back from the dead to hit 16 HRs to go along with 51 RBIs, and with Josh Willingham missing 2 whole months of action, center fielder Cody Ross has performed admirably to help fill in that gap in production.

And I’m still predicting that before the season is done, the Florida Marlins will find themselves in fourth place in the National League East. I can feel the hate coming from Miami already (do we have Marlins fans as readers?). Allow me to explain.

The Marlins have scored an average of 4.9 runs per game, which is quite good. But it simply isn’t good enough to mask the 5.2 runs they’ve been allowing. If you allow more runs than you score, you lose. That’s just how baseball works. Moreover, the NL East has been downright terrible in games decided by a run. Collectively, they are 55-81 in these situations. In fact, Florida is the only team above .500 in one-run games. So I expect Philadelphia, Atlanta, and New York to rectify this before the season’s done (although Atlanta’s been beating the odds on this one for quite some time now) which is bad news for Florida. The Phillies and Braves have been underplaying their Pythagorean scores while Florida is overplaying theirs.

In addition, I simply don’t think that Dan Uggla in particular will be able to continue hitting for so much power. In 2006 and 2007, Uggla slugged .480 and .479 respectively. This season, he’s at .620, which is an incredible leap, made all the more peculiar by the fact that his line drive rate has been decreasing over this time and he’s not hitting more fly balls either. How you could possibly increase your slugging percentage so dramatically while essentially hitting more ground balls is simply beyond me. His BABiP is an unsustainable .341, and the fact that 23.2% of the flyballs he’s hit has cleared the outfield wall is also too high to be believable for a guy like Uggla, who should be around 13%. To a lesser extent, the same could be said of Mike Jacobs as well. Could it be that these guys are just improving as they enter their primes? Absolutely and I’m not ruling that out by any means. But doubting such severe increases in production like Uggla’s has served me well in the past. He’s good. Just not this good.

However, this is still a team that has Hanley Ramirez, who I think will be the consensus “Best Player in Baseball” within 2-3 years. You can’t ask for a better building block than this guy. And I’m also a fan of Andrew Miller, who might never be an ace, but should be one of the catalysts if/when the Marlins become championship contenders once again. But it’s not going to be this year.

So I hope that the Marlins realize this and not become buyers in July. In fact, by selling some of their pieces (like the resurgent Jorge Cantu at peak value), they’d probably be better off. With Ramirez, Uggla, Willingham, Miller, and the returning Josh Johnson, the Marlins still have some great talent. But I don’t think they’re ready to stay with the Phillies, Braves and Mets just yet.

– What They Need Index –

7 Responses to “What They Need: Florida Marlins – To Recognize That It’s Not Their Time Yet”

  1. Sarah Green says:

    “If you allow more runs than you score, you lose. That’s just how baseball works.”

    Paul, you Moneyball freak!

  2. Paul Moro says:

    Hey, I read Moneyball once five years ago. Haven’t touched it since. I am no freak. I’m just a fan of logic. Booya.

  3. Sarah Green says:

    Well, it was either a Moneyball jab, or a cheap shot about wanting to see one of your patented “Paul Grids” to prove your statement true.

    Either way, it’s the sort of enlightened and enlightening commentary we’ve all come to expect from Paul Moro.

    “If you allow more runs than you score, you lose. That’s just how baseball works.”

    The more I read it, the more elegant it becomes!

  4. Sarah Green says:

    Of course, I’m just yankin’ your chain. :)

  5. Nick Kapur says:

    This is a great post Paul! I see your point and for the most part I agree with your assessment. The whole team is full of flukes and you didn’t even have to mention the fluky strong starts of Scott Olsen and Mark Hendrickson.

    However, as someone who said that the Marlins were actually just a few pieces away from contention in my HOA on them, I can’t help feeling a bit vindicated by their strong performance even after trading away their ace and their best hitter.

    History has proven that teams CAN in fact outrun their pythagorean record for a whole season (just look at the Mariners last year), and the Marlins themselves have also proven twice in recent years that you can definitely win the World Series with a team far less than the best in baseball.

    So even though on the whole I think you are right and that the Marlins are almost certain to fade away in the second half, part of me can’t help wondering that if maybe they go out and get an Aaron Harang or a Bronson Arroyo, and maybe another decent starter, that maybe they could make a run. Because even if Uggla fades, the return of Willingham and the emergence of Ross might be able to keep the offense humming at a pretty good clip, and if the Marlins can just keep the smoke-and-mirrors game going with their starting pitching and get things to what is actually a pretty strong bullpen, they can keep sticking it to Pythagoras.

  6. Paul Moro says:

    I didn’t mean to intimate that run differentials were infallible. They can and have been beaten many times throughout baseball history. But far more often than not, it correlates with each team’s W-L record.

    The point I was trying to make (and wish I had stated more clearly) is that it’s possible for the Marlins to keep beating their run differentials. But it’s pretty damn unlikely for that to happen AND have the Phillies and Braves continue to underplay theirs, which is what it’s going to take to have Florida remain in the hunt. I mean, it’s not like Florida has a good bullpen or anything either. So I wasn’t trying to say that the Marlins were going to tank so much as that the other teams will just be better.

    And the Mariners last year are a perfect example of why you should pay attention to run differentials. Their record made them look like they were an ace away from competing. So they traded away their best prospect. Look at them now.

  7. Nick Kapur says:

    No, no – I totally understood your point the first time, and like I said, I actually do agree with it. The Marlins definitely shouldn’t trade the future on the false assumption that they are likely to win this year. Because on the whole, they are probably unlikely to do so.

    But all I am saying is, it’s not quite so clear-cut as saying the Marlins should not be buyers in any way at all. Sometimes winning World Series happens because a team gets lucky, and sometimes, if you are getting lucky, it might be worth rolling the dice and going for it when luck already seems to be on your side a bit.

    The difference between the Mariners this past offseason and the Marlins now, is that the Marlins are in midseason, so they actually do have a shot this year. Lucky or no, the Marlins have somehow won 47 games up to this point, which is a good amount. Now while you are correct that this *exact same* Marlins team is probably not likely to continue that level of success, what about a slightly *improved* Marlins team?

    At this point, the question for the Marlins should be, what would it take to get to a team which can win say, 42 games the rest of the way? They’d still have to beat their Pythagorean record, I’m guessing, but it’s more possible to beat your Pythagorean record over 70 games than it is to beat it over 162.

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