June 21, 2011
Divide and Conquer, NL East
Just How Bad Have the Marlins Been This Month?
The Marlins are in the midst of one of the worst months of baseball in more than a half-century. The team has won only three of its last 22 games, including only one win in the month of June. No Marlins team has ever finished with fewer than six wins in a month with at least 15 games. Even the terrible 1998 Marlins, the stripped team that followed the first World Series in the franchise's history, never finished with fewer than seven wins in a single month.
The Fish are owners of what is currently the worst mark in any one calendar month by any one NL East team since 1950:
If the Marlins continue to stretch this current losing streak out through the rest of the month, they may end up with the worst one-month record of any team in baseball history. The Marlins are currently sandwiched between the first- and third-worst calendar months since 1965. The 1982 Minnesota Twins won just three of their 29 games in April, a paltry 0.103 winning percentage which earned them the third-worst month in the expansion era. If the Marlins can finish with just one more victory in their remaining 10 games in June, they can assure themselves the second-worst record instead of the first, which currently belongs to the 1988 Baltimore Orioles. The O's suffered through an April that ended with just a 1-22 record and a .043 winning percentage.
The Marlins have been outgunned 102-55 during their disaster, yielding an expected winning percentage of .239. It seems the Fish may yet have a shot at earning a few more victories, especially given their PECOTA-projected .512 winning percentage going forward, but Edwin Rodriguez will not get a chance to be a part of that redemption, as he stepped down as manager on Sunday. Given the pressure of mounting losses and the additional burden of working for the worst owner in baseball, the move was not surprising in the least. While president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest insists that this was not initiated by the organization, one cannot help but feel that fickle owner Jeffrey Loria had a hand in this move, especially given the players' concerns that Loria would “go over their heads” with a firing.
The Marlins will look to revive the magic of 2003 by replacing Rodriguez with Jack McKeon, the team's manager from early 2003 to the end of 2005. Remember, McKeon took over the then 16-22 Marlins in 2003, replacing the fired Jeff Torborg, and led them to a 75-49 record the rest of the way, leading to an eventual World Series appearance and victory. However, the magic is unlikely to happen again this season; as Steven Goldman pointed out over the weekend, teams rarely find the manager change that catalyzes a playoff run:
A look back at teams that have changed managers in-season shows that very few of them experience big turnarounds. Sure, there is a Bob Lemon here and a Buck Showalter there, but these are few and far between. Most of them just go on being miserable.
Indeed, if you take a look at the history of midseason managerial moves in the NL East, they have rarely turned out well. Here are the number of midseason managerial changes with at least 40 games managed after the move and the best and worst records, NL East only:
There have been mixed bags throughout the division's history in terms of managerial switches. Some of them turned out to be meaningful in the long run; Felipe Alou parlayed his team's 1992 success under his helm into eight seasons and change of managing the Expos, including two very successful winning seasons. Others have turned out to be less than predictive, as in the case of Jerry Manuel's success with the Mets (he was fired just two seasons later amidst heavy criticism) and Bobby Cox's initial failures in Atlanta.
The remainder of the Marlins' 2011 season will depend a lot more on the talent on the field than the character and mannerisms of the man in the dugout. In 2003, the Marlins had two phenoms-in-waiting in Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera to bring up to replace struggling or injured veterans. This season, the team has already tried to replace the injured Josh Johnson with two different minor leaguers with poor results, and the best position player in the minors right now is Matt Dominguez, who is no Miguel Cabrera, nor even a Mike Stanton. The Nationals have gone from a 33-42 record under Jim Riggleman when he took over in 2009 to a 35-37 mark and third place in the NL East in 2011 not necessarily because Riggleman improved as a manager, but because they shed the poor core they had in 2009 and replaced them with a more balanced core of position players and pitchers. The Braves are not in second place in the NL East this season because Fredi Gonzalez's contributions have equaled those of Bobby Cox. If the Marlins are going to return to their winning ways, it will be through the regression and development of their players, not Trader Jack.