What Happened to the Miami Marlins?


The All-Star break is upon us, and the new-look, new-name, new-stadium, new-high spending Miami Marlins have severely underperformed expectations. Yesterday, the Marlins blew a ninth-inning lead, in another Heath Bell meltdown, dropping their record to 41-44 on the season.  They sit nine games behind the first place Washington Nationals; nowhere close to the position that the Marlins’ ownership was hoping they’d be in after spending a boatload of cash this off-season.

In 2011, the Marlins had baseball’s 24th-highest payroll ($57.7 million). After their complete franchise overhaul, this off-season, that payroll jumped to the 10th-highest ($101.63 million), in 2012.  Miami brought in high-profile free agents, such as, Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, Bell, and were very close to acquiring C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols, as well.  They claimed that their new stadium would give them money to spend, and spend they did.

The additions of Reyes, Buerhle, Bell, and Carlos Zambrano (through trade) to an already stellar young core built around Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Johnson, and Hanley Ramriez, had many believing in the baseball team from South Beach.  I was one of those people; predicting before the season, that Miami would win the NL East and reach the NLCS.

Things have not worked out for Miami.  Baseball Prospectus currently lists their odds of making the playoffs at a feeble 4.3%; which has left me wondering what went wrong for a team with so much promise coming into this season?

Their Offense:

The Marlins’ offense has been atrocious.  They rank as the fifth-worst offense in baseball, according to wRC+ (88), ahead of only Oakland, Baltimore, Seattle, and the Cubs, all horrendous offenses.  Stanton, and mid-season acquisition, Justin Ruggiano, have been their only above-average hitters this season.  Two hitters have never been enough to propel an offense. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig weren’t even enough, by themselves, to bring the Yankees to the promise land.

The recent addition of Carlos Lee is supposed to help this offense get back on track, but he can’t do enough at this age to carry this team.  Hanley and Reyes have not been themselves, in 2012.  However, both of their BABIP’s are well below their career rates; which would make many assume they’re due for some positive regression in the second half.  That regression is highly probable, but sadly, not automatic.

Their Pythagorean Record:

For those who did not know, runs are a better evaluator of performance, as well as, predictor of future win totals, than actual win-loss records.  I noted that their offense has been bad; and thus, they have not been scoring too many runs. The Marlins’ runs-based Pythagorean record is 37-48, four games below their actual record; which means Ozzie’s boys have actually been much worse than their record shows, and they’re likely to plummet further below .500, during the second half.

Their Bullpen:

The one Miami addition that I lamented this off-season was the signing of Heath Bell.  His decrease in velocity and strikeout rate was a serious cause for concern.  Bell has been everything, but good (6.75 ERA), and Miami’s bullpen has followed suit.  Their bullpen’s ERA (4.59) has been the fourth worst in baseball, and their xFIP (4.20) and SIERA (3.88) both rank fifth-worst; which tells me this bullpen is not going to get any better.

The Second-Half??

Spending money on highly coveted free agents can work, but the majority of the time it backfires on the gambling front office.  Miami went all-in on a totally revamped franchise, but the result has been the same-old “Florida” Marlins; a bad team with bad attendance.

Miami’s offense goes as Jose Reyes goes and their bullpen goes as Heath Bell goes.  Without a good bullpen or offense, it is going to be impossible for the Marlins to start winning games. Unless those two players turn it around in the second half, the Miami Marlins will just be the Florida Marlins, except with a much larger payroll and a much unhappier manager.

For more from Glenn you can follow him on twitter @Baseballs_Econ or check out his latest at Beyond the Box Score