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March 10, 2010

One-Hoppers

Why the Marlins will sink in '10

by Russell A. Carleton

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There are many great mysteries in life. What does it all mean? Where did we come from? How did the Florida Marlins finish second in the NL East last year? The first two questions may be easier to answer.

The Marlins finished the 2009 season at 87-75, well behind the NL champion Philadelphia Phillies, but a game ahead of the Atlanta Braves and 17(!) games in front of the federal disaster area that was the 2009 New York Mets. How did it happen, and what does it say for their chances in '10?

The Marlins outplayed their Pythagorean projection by about 5 games, winning 87 rather than the 82 that would have been expected of them given their total runs scored and runs allowed. The Braves, on the other hand, underplayed their projection by 5 games. In general, a team significantly over-performs by winning a lot of close games, and loses a lot of blowouts. The Marlins did get some nice bullpen performances last year, including five pitchers (Kiko Calero, Brian Sanches, Dan Meyer, Reynel Pinto and Burke Badenhop) who all threw at least 50 innings and logged ERAs under 3.50.

Was the Marlins' pen lucky or good? Well, Calero, Pinto, Meyer and Sanches all struck out more than 8 batters per nine innings, suggesting that the bullpen was staffed by pitchers who were simply good. But a closer look at the number shows some cause for concern. Calero, Meyer and closer Leo Nunez each had a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) well below the league mean of .300. BABIP is a stat with very little consistency from year to year, meaning that this year they are likely to come back up to the league mean. Additionally, the Marlins' relievers were particularly gifted at stranding runners in 2009, with five of the six previously mentioned pitchers well above the league mean (roughly 70 percent of runners stranded). The problem is that this is also a number that tends to revert the mean. So, chances are, the bullpen that closed out a lot of tight games last year will give up more hits on balls in play and will not be as fortunate at stranding runners. (And, of course, it won't be exactly the same bullpen--Calero was signed by the Mets last week.) That's not a good recipe for bullpen success.

The Marlins had a good run in 2009, but a look inside the numbers says that they were really a just-above-.500 team that caught some breaks at the right time. Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, but it's better to bet on the good than the lucky.

Russell A. Carleton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Russell's other articles. You can contact Russell by clicking here

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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bpickclass08

its interesting, yes...but you just glance the surface. i dont think you can make this claim that the marlins won't do well this year, and then base it off of a few relievers. lets see some more info.

Mar 10, 2010 22:15 PM
rating: 0
 
Juris

I think he already did provide some important info, namely the RS-RA totals from last year and the BABIP from last year. These are both evidence that the Marlins were lucky to win as many games as they did.

A better question is whether they improved themselves in ways that will produce more wins. As of now, they project to allow more runs than they score. That, too, suggests a downturn compared to last year.

Mar 11, 2010 01:19 AM
rating: 4
 
antonsirius

Project according to what numbers?

Forget the Braves, last year PECOTA had the Marlins finishing behind the Nationals. A five-game swing from their Pythagorean doesn't come close to accounting for how far off the team projection was in '09.

Until there's some attempt to explain why the projections were so wrong last season, and why they've been improved this season as a result, I've got little reason to think they'll be any more accurate this time around.

Mar 11, 2010 10:56 AM
rating: 0
 
UncleMarsellus

I'll admit that I'm biased but the Marlins consistently dig someone, or a couple of someones, up out of the scrap heap, Rule 5, or their own organization that comes in and over-performs unexpectedly every year. Last year, the bullpen was indeed effective and Chris Coghlan came out of nowhere. They seem to be one of these organizations that is consistently "luckier" than others. Or Larry Beinfest and crew really know what they're doing.

Mar 11, 2010 11:36 AM
rating: 0
 
Juris

The RS-RA for the Marlins in 2009 is historical fact, and has nothing to do with projections. The translation of RS-RS into a Pythag estimate of wins dates to Bill James, with subsequent improvements by Davenport (Pythanenport) and then Patriot (in Pythagenpat). The formula is widely accepted by sabermetricians. The Marlins got 5 more wins than their RS-RA-based estimate. The conventional interpretation of such an outcome is "luck." Unless you can come up with an alternative explanation (such as the one that Russell considered as a possibility), you have a problem. But that analysis has nothing at all to do with PECOTA or anybody else's projections of how the Marlins would do in 2009.

As for the RS-RA that the Marlins will have in 2010, well you can question the PECOTA-based projection for 2010 if you wish. And certainly there's a margin of error in those projections, as there is for any other projection. Perhaps the most constructive way for you to proceed is to see what the other forecasters have come up with for 2010 -- unless you want to do your own projections, which I am sure the world would welcome if they're an improvement over the currently available alternatives.

Mar 11, 2010 12:42 PM
rating: -1
 
Ogremace

This happens every year with the Marlins, and every year they do way better than they're supposed to. I just always assume they'll be in the wild card hunt until mid August and then flame out a little and lose the spot by 4 games.

Isn't that how it always goes?

Mar 11, 2010 10:03 AM
rating: 4
 
Kampfer

well the good luck their RPs had were stolen from Ricky Nolasco. So I think the Marlins will still be pretty good next year (and they might finally know that Bonaficio guy stinks)

Mar 11, 2010 14:23 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Perhaps the Marlins bullpen will regress. However, you have a young team maturing a year, playing in a pitcher's park with a good rotation. Then factor in that some teams like the Angels somehow outperform their pythagorean records regularly and it is possible for the Marlins to remain competitive. The more interesting question might be whether the Phillies are likely to regress as their core players age or come down from career years like Werth.

Mar 11, 2010 17:02 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Michael Jong
BP staff

As a Marlins fan and blogger, I can't say I disagree with the sentiment that Russell puts out here. The BABIP loss should be minimal; of the four guys mentioned, two had BABIP in the .290's, and one player (Pinto) has consistently posted low BABIP marks that suggest that his true talent level may be slightly lower than .300. Nunez is the only player I'd be seriously concerned with, but unfortunately he's the one receiving the highest leveraged innings.

The LOB%/strand rate may be of some concern, and I feel a few more runs will get tagged on. But, as someone mentioned, we can probably expect a few less runs allowed by Nolasco, and I think in all the team could break even. Breaking even on a true-talent 80-83 win team (just adding up WAR/WARP projected) makes them about the same as last year's squad in talent level.

Mar 12, 2010 08:49 AM
 
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