Nationals Baseball: The Marlins: Legit threat or not?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Marlins: Legit threat or not?

The Mets are the biggest threat to the Nats hopes for a NL East title. That hasn't officially changed yet. But with Harvey now done for the year, they can't afford another pitching injury. To that end, both Matz and Sydergaard are battling bone spurs while DeGrom has already missed a couple games this year, and their other pitcher is 43 years old and I think 550 pounds. Add to this the various ailments that their starting catcher, first baseman, third-baseman, and now CF have had and the Mets are hanging onto relevance. It's going to take a post-trade Cespedes like performance or complete good luck with injuries going forward to keep them in the division mix*.

We never expect complete good luck so that brings us to the logical conclusion that the Marlins, not the Mets, are likely to be the main threat to the Nationals for the rest of the year. Or will they? First off let's do a StrengthOfSchedule check. If Miami has a particularly hard schedule to end the year, it'd be tough for me to see them doing well.  Understanding that this is all flexible - the Marlins have a slight edge on the Nats, while the Mets have a big edge. That's not all that important other than it allows me not to write the Marlins off at the get go.

Ok so who are the Marlins? Offensively it looks a bit confusing. They have only one hole in the line-up with Hechavarria, and are 5th in the NL in OPS+, leading the Nats. Yet they are tied for 10th** in the league in runs scored. It's not a fluke of rank. While they are clearly above the bottom 4 in the NL, they fit right into the below average spot they currently sit in and should be higher based on their stats. It's not really situational hitting, they are only slightly worse with RISP.  What it appears to be is an extreme lack of home run hitting. Three players (Stanton, Ozuna, and Bour) account for 52 home runs. The rest of the team, bench included, account for 25. Outside of the middle of the line-up the team becomes very station to station and while they can hit singles with the best of them (most in the majors! Almost 10% more than next NL team) if you get hits 30% of the time you get outs 70% of the time. It's hard to piece together single after single after single.

They are also not particularly aggressive on the basepaths or particularly patient*** All this adds to the problem.  Still they should have, given even luck, scored more runs. Let's say that happens. Is that a worry? Not really. The Marlins record is already a few games better than it should be by Pythag. Essentially "other luck" has compensated for "bad luck scoring runs". They are at where they should be and where they should be translates to an 86-87 win team.

Ok that record shouldn't catch a healthy Nats team. Could they get better though? Maybe.  Stanton could easily hit better. His .233 BA is by far the worst of his career and well under his average. And it looks like that better 2nd half will come based on how he finished the first half. He was at .193 in mid June and since then has been on fire .329 / .396 / .683. He can almost carry a team.

A lot of the other players are youngish (26 or younger) with not much experience so it's hard to say with any certainty that they would get better or worse. I will say batting averages are likely to fall a bit. There are a lot of high BABIPs here. But overall big changes in production I don't want to predict. I can't even do it for Realmuto, a catcher with a very high BABIP, given he's on pace for 15+ SB this year. On the flip side though I'm not going to assume that the low BABIP for Hechavarria is going to change either. That guy has never been a great hitter and might not be able to make good contact. OK maybe his hit type and hit speed numbers suggest it will go up but I don't want to start to nitpick the others let's just assume we take all these guys (Hechavarria, Yelich, Ozuna, Realmuto, Dietrich) as is, what about the other guys?

At 28, I'd like to say Bour has a history but he doesn't.  He has only 170 major league games before this year. He has always been a solid hitter and is like the only starter not getting a decent BABIP boost.  This could easily be the real Justin. Martin Prado - the BA should fall here. This we can be pretty sure of. History and statistics agree.  But he's still a .280-.290 type of hitter so it's not likely he'll turn into a bad hitter.

I guess what I'd say is that the Marlins offense has potential to be better - if Stanton goes off and the team maintains or manages the likely downs in BAs with ups elsewhere (better HR/FB rate, Hechavarria hitting better, a surprise player performance), but I'd far more expect an offense that was similar to the first half, regardless of what Stanton does. Likely more runs scored - because of the bad luck in that previously - but not a change in the offense or more wins.

Before I go into pitching I'll note that the Marlins have a terrible bench. Just awful. It relies completely now on a definitely playing over his head Ichiro and has nothing else. Absolutely nothing.

OK so what about the other side - how's the pitching? It's ... fair!

The rotation is a problem. Fernandez is one of the best pitchers in the league. There's no argument there. But after that it's hard to see anyone reliable. Wei-Yin Chen was brought in to provide a sub 4.00 ERA stability but his AL ERAs weren't really reflective of his pitching and while he should be better than this he shouldn't be much better. He's a 4-5 type right now. Tom Koehler has pretty much been nothing but that level his whole career. Conley is better, and he's young enough that he could be a nice rotation piece for a few years, but he doesn't have the control or the power to make you think he's anything more.

Wait you say. That's only four. That's right! and that's it. There are other starters but no one worth mentioning. Justin Nicolino is a successful minor leaguer but strikes out so few batters there's little confidence he can make it in the majors and so far he hasn't. Jarred Cosart was once a big prospect but he hasn't progressed since reaching the majors in 2013 leaving him a less than effective starter (and just god awful this year). After that you might remember Kendrys Flores. He pitched against the Nats and held them scoreless for 3 innings. But 3 innings - he got hurt and he's working his way back. I'd still expect to see him this year though because there is literally nothing else left.

Looking at their system - it's been a bad year for upper minors starting pitching for the Marlins. There is no help in AAA or AA and I'd argue you get into Low A before you see a real prospect that you like where they are this year.  This is a team that needs a trade and knows it.

Of course they did make a trade - for Fernando Rodney and it's kind of an odd deal. If you don't like the Marlins SP arms (and you shouldn't) you do like their relief arms. Barraclough is a nice live arm. Wittgren has been effective. Ellington is good. Former SP prospect Austin Brice has taken to a relief role in AA. They might need a LH reliever but Rodney was probably unnecessary, and definitely a bad use of what little tradeable prospects exist in this barren system.

You might be wondering how the Marlins find themselves allowing the 7th best team R/G in the NL with a pretty awful rotation and a good but nothing special bullpen. Well there is a lot of BAD pitching in the NL. The Nats have the best R/G a good 0.70 points ahead of the Marlins. There are still 4 teams worse that 0.70 pts behind the Marlins. Three teams are allowing over 5 R/G. Of course the Rockies (5.32) but the D-backs (5.07) and the Reds (5.96!.... FIVE POINT NINE SIX!)

We ask the same question - could the pitching get better? I suppose it could get better internally. All the pitchers COULD pitch a little better or Flores could come in and be real good. But to make a big impact all of them would have to do it or Flores would have to be real good. It's not the likely scenario. More likely is more of the same, a middling rotation not giving a decent pen many leads to hold. A big improvement could be had through trade.  Arms like Hill, Ordorizzi, and Pomeranz are likely on the market, but the Marlins have little to offer.

Oh I guess I should mention here - the Marlins are pretty good defensively. It's an up the middle thing as Hechavarria, Realmuto and Ozuna are all top-notch defenders and anchor solid guys around the field.

So the point of going through this exercise was to figure out if the Marlins were a legit threat or not. I'm going to lay down an answer of "no". Not as they are right now. The hitting, which is good but not great, can't get much better than it is. It's likely that any surge by Stanton will be balanced by a team drop in BABIP.  Without the hitting being great the Marlins are going to be held back by the starting pitching, which is not good and can't get much better than it is either. There are no great pitchers, or even good ones, underperforming, and no prospects on the horizon. This doesn't mean craziness can't happen. But assuming things play out as they relatively should the Marlins shouldn't be much better than a mid 80s wins team. If you want to see that as a threat that's fine. I don't

Of course this is a answer that only holds up assuming nothing happens at the trade deadline. If it does then we'll have to re-evaluate, just like the Mets forced a re-evaluation last year. But it's hard to see the Marlins getting that SP they desperately need given what they have to give in return. Most likely they'll only be able to fix the bench, which will help but won't have a big impact.

I'll keep my eyes more on the Mets than the Marlins. Just looking at the teams I can't see the Nats going under the low 90s in wins. I can't see the Marlins getting there. But I can see the Mets doing so. Yes, it'll take complete luck with injuries like I said, but until that next run of missed games happens, I'm going to keep the Mets as the main threat to the Nats and let the Marlins float out there 4 to 6 games over until they prove to me that I'm wrong or they change up their team.

*Or I suppose completely bad luck with injuries for the Nats along with the Marlins not playing well either. 

**Or 11th - B Ref seemed to go on break as well for the ASG so some things aren't matching up there.

*** which is how a similarly singly team like the Giants score a bunch of runs. 


Jay said...

I just don't see how the Marlins have enough pitching. The perfect example was that Mets-Marlins series before we played the Mets. The Marlins offense jumped out to a 6-0 lead, but the Mets slowly came back and won game 1 of that series. The wildcard is Loria. He may ok a trade or two for pitching, but I agree they may lack the prospects to go get anyone of consequence.

I'm definitely not ready to write the Mets off yet. The easy schedule down the stretch is part of why they pulled away from the Nats last year. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that either Syndergaard or Matz or both don't end up on the DL this year.

Fries said...

Mets are still definitely the threat assuming the Marlins don't pull off a miracle win streak of 15 games or 25 out of 30. The Marlins are pretty much the definition of a .500 ballclub, but there have plenty of instances where a middling team fired on all cylinders for a month and snuck into the playoffs (see the 2007 Colorado Rockies).

BxJaycobb said...

I would be absolutely shocked is Matz doesn't end up on DL. Thor's bone spur is apparently significantly less serious.

NotBobby said...

@BxJaycobb - Matz can stay healthy if he changes the way he pitches which does not aggravate the bone spur and is still effective. it seems he may have made this change already... he has stopped throwing the slider and is still doing well.

John C. said...

Strength of schedule is so hard to puzzle out, because teams change. Sometimes players are hurt, or playing hurt, or other reasons just pile up on a team going through a hot/cold streak. For example, the Nationals played the Cubs when the Cubs were being talked about as a potential threat to be one of the best teams of all time. The Nats ran into a wall in Chicago, while later redeeming themselves with a series win in DC. The Cubs left DC and swept the Pirates to run their record to an amazing 47-20, a 113+ win pace. The Nats got to play the "A Team" Cubs.

No wonder Nats fans were optimistic that the Nats could gain some ground when the Mets had to go play the Cubs in their own four game series. But the Mets swept the Cubs. Impressive? Well, it's always impressive to sweep a four game series, but for nearly the last month the Cubs have hardly been able to beat anyone other than the dreadful Reds. The Cubs are 6-15 (!) since leaving Pittsburgh - and four of those six wins were against the Reds. Against everyone else the Cubs went a Braves-like 2-13. Including one loss (a makeup game) against the Braves! Whatever was going on, it's clear that, for whatever reason, the Mets did not face the same Cubs team that the Nats did. They also play the Cubs in the second series after the break.

Which isn't to dis the Mets - you can only play who is on your schedule. It's an example of why I don't pay much attention to marginal strength of schedule differences like the one between the Mets, Nats and Marlins the rest of the season.

Chas R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chas R said...

If the Marlins picked up a legit top of the rotation SP before the deadline, they could be a threat. Otherwise, the starting pitching will hold them back being a real contender to the Nats. Let's not fool ourselves though, the Nats have a few big holes that could cause them to stumble- production out of the leadoff spot and 1B, and the inconsistent and unreliable bullpen (aside from Solis, Kelley, and Paps). Rizzo really needs to to get another bullpen arm.

JE34 said...

I think the biggest threat to the Nats winning the division is probably the Nats. They can hit 95 wins by going 10 over (41-31) the rest of the way. Playing .500 ball gets them to 90 wins. They're in trouble if they play sub-.500 ball.

Marlins and/or Mets would have to go 22 over (48-26) to reach 95 wins... or 12 over (43-31) to get to 90 wins. Could that happen? Marlins likely not because of pitching, as Harper says. (I think Dee Gordon returns in late July, btw.) The Mets have a pillowy soft September schedule (aside from 6 vs the Nats), so adding distance before then will be important. If the Mets are healthier in September, their string of weak opponents could delay their exit.

So! The Nats playing at least .500 ball against the likes of PIT, LA, CLE, and SF over the next few weeks would make me feel pretty good about this fall.

Froggy said...

From the glass is half full optic, I think the issue isnt whether the Marlins are a threat to the Nats, but more of if they are a threat to the Mets. Which I like to think they are.

A Mets loss at the hands of the Fish is W for the Nats.

Kevin Rusch said...

I tell ya- the mets are being STUPID. Just plain reckless. They need to give up on this season and let all those arms get healthy. Trade off any rent-able guys to add some younger talent for next year (maybe take on a bad contract to pick up a young asset in exchange for a bench player or something) and start over. If they keep trying now, they really run the risk of ruining that rotation for good.

Sammy Kent said...

I've thought all along that the Marlins were the team we had to worry about the most in the division. But I also thought that at the beginning of last season too, and we saw how that worked out. Still, as long as they have that lineup, particularly the outfield power of Stanton, Yellich, and Ozuna, (with Suzuki still producing as well) they are going to be a problem.

JE34 may have hit the nail on the head, though. The Nationals can sometimes be their own worst enemy. They still can't hit good pitching for squat, and except for Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy are absolutely awful at discerning pitchers they've never or rarely seen. The Nats do better against guys like Arieta, Bumgarner, and Kershaw than they do against your average rookie first-time starter. If Rick Schu doesn't have them in his laptop, they're just guessing when they go to the plate....and not just the first AB.

Bjd1207 said...

On the "Nats can't hit against good pitchers" topic, I absolutely don't mean to sound pedantic, but isn't the reason they're good pitchers because teams have a hard time hitting against them? Or to look at it another way, is there any team that actually hits well against aces? Consistently?

I'd be interested to see a real leaderboard and where we stand. On face, this criticism strikes me roughly the same way as "Nats can't hit with RISP" (where we're actually about average). A few cases skew our perspective altogether and we're sure our team is the worst

BornInDC said...

Some other things to consider in comparing the Mets and Marlins to the Nats:

Both the Mets and Marlins have an additional two games to play over the Nats, which helps slightly their chances to catch up.

However, the home-road splits for the Nats, Mets and Marlins should help the Nats, particularly with respect to the Mets:

Nats 39-33

Mets 35-39

Marlins 38-36

The Mets have to play the equivalent of two more road series than the Mets do.

The Nats do have more remaining series at the Western division teams: 3 vs. 2 for the Mets and just 1 for the Marlins, but after their August 17th game at Colorado, the Nats play on the East Coast the rest of the year (Pittsburgh and Atlanta are the furthest west teams they play away after August 17th).

DezoPenguin said...

On the subject of the Marlins' bench, too, don't forget that when Dee Gordon returns from his suspension, Dietrich suddenly becomes part of that bench, which means that a utility infielder will be replaced by a plus hitter.

Mythra said...

Dee Gordon will be an average or below average replacement when he returns, because he'll still be in Spring Training mode for a month or so. End of August before we can expect him to be a .300 hitter everyday. While Dietrich will be a plus for their bench, will he perform in that role while not playing every day?

It will be interesting to see how effective Matz and Syndergaard are in the 2nd half, especially with Matz eliminating the slider from his pitches. Hitters have one less pitch to look for. I think one, or likely both, wind up on the 15 day DL at some point.

Marlins will likely stay in 2nd place, but I think they'll finish with 82-85 wins. Not enough to threaten the Nats unless they crash and burn.