"In the old days, when we were winning world championships, we talked about pitching, speed and defense and maximizing our production per dollar because of the challenges we had on the revenue side. And all those different things that kind of made us the Marlins."
Do you remember these supposed "world championships" days of which Beinfest speaks? The Marlins, it seems, are interested in once again returning to their so-called roots that built a championship team in 2003. Normally, this would be a welcome change given the fact that the Fish have not been to the postseason in nine years and have been in the cellar of the NL East in two consecutive seasons.
But the problem with this idea that the Marlins are returning to their supposed old, winning ways is a tired, broken record coming from Beinfest's mouth. He himself admits that he has mentioned this a few times and have not necessarily followed through with this plan, leading to losing seasons.
"I think maybe we have lost sight of that a little bit," he said. "I think we need to spend some time redefining ourselves in conjunction with a new manager and say, 'Hey, this is how we were successful in the past. This is where we want to go in the future.'
But the truth is that the Marlins were never just about "pitching, defense, and speed" when they were a winning team in the mid-2000's. Perhaps the team should reevaluate just what was the "Marlins way" back in the day and see if the team either can return to the plan of the past or perhaps move on to a new, better way of personnel evaluation and management.
The 2003 Marlins Way
Back in 2003, the Marlins won via a premier starting rotation. But to discuss this team as a team of "pitching and defense" is to sell the Marlins' offensive production short. One of the most important things about the Marlins of 2003 was that they were actually quite successful at the plate. In 2003, the Marlins were eighth in the National League in wOBA, which is merely average, but fifth in the NL in wRC+. The team was led by successful seasons at the plate by players like Ivan Rodriguez, Derrek Lee, and Mike Lowell, each of whom were 20 or more percent better than the league average. The Fish were not an offensive juggernaut, but their hitters were more than capable.
The team's speed was good in some areas and poor in others. Yes, Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo, and Derrek Lee were great baserunners. However, the team also had a few poor baserunners as well, and this aspect of the team needs to be mentioned. FanGraphs has the Marlins at two runs below average as a team on the bases, in part because a number of other players were slightly below average (and Juan Encarnacion was about as inept as could be on the bases that year).
Finally, the team's defense had similar problems. The infield manned by Castillo, Lowell, Lee, and Alex Gonzalez was very good, but the outfield outside of Pierre was not as good and Ivan Rodriguez had already begun his decline defensively. The defensive statistics have the Fish at best being around league average defensively that season, and it is understandable when you consider the team played Miguel Cabrera, Jeff Conine, Todd Hollandsworth,and Encarnacion at various points in the outfield that year.
So yes, to a degree the motto of "pitching, speed, and defense" was alive and well with the Marlins in 2003. But really, the speed and defense were over-emphasized when looking back on that team and the hitters were equally under-emphasized. The truth is that the Marlins won on balance throughout the team. Each member of the starting rotation put up at least three Wins Above Replacement (WAR) via most systems, and five of the team's position players put up four or more wins.
According to FanGraphs, the Marlins put up about 27 WAR from their hitters (including fielding), which ranked eighth in baseball that season. At the same time, they put up about 20 WAR in pitching, which also ranked eighth. With that kind of balanced production, filling out all aspects of the game including hitting, the 2003 Marlins were highly successful.
Why Have the Marlins Failed?
So why has the team failed to impose this sort of balance of talent on the hitting and pitching side? First off, the Marlins reset their roster before 2006 and renewed their core with a much cheaper cast thanks to a "market correction" fire sale. But it does not help that Larry Beinfest and company have also failed primarily in the draft process, as was detailed earlier this season. The Marlins of 2003 were built primarily from the drafts and trades of 1998 going forward. Three of the Marlins' rotation members were picked up before Beinfest became the head of the front office, with one of them being an original Marlins draft pick. With the exception of Ivan Rodriguez, the major members of the Marlins' starting lineup was developed by the Marlins for years before the 2003 campaign.
This is the problem that the Marlins have had as of late. It is not a matter of the Fish being unable to focus on a specific game plan like pitching and defense. The problem does not even lie in the Marlins' inability to make efficient signings, as the team has actually made some shrewd dumpster-diving pickups in the late 2000's to fill out their roster. The problem is that the team could not find long-term options, one way or another, to supplement the few successes they had. The Fish found passable stopgaps and league average players who could fill roles for a few seasons, but the team never developed or signed promising talent who could be mainstays around Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson in the 2006 era Marlins. Since the team was never really capable of signing players due to budget restrictions, the draft was their primary method to achieve this objective, and Beinfest and company failed in that respect.
Changes in the Future?
Earlier, we called for the potential firing of Beinfest if it led to a philosophical change in the organization in terms of the way to analyze and make personnel decisions. Well, after it appeared the Marlins were remaining loyal to the front office despite its role in the failure of 2012, it does not appear as though the Marlins will consider changing from Beinfest as lead personnel man. But it does sound as though perhaps Beinfest is considering a different way of doing things in the front office.
"But maybe we need to rethink things. Maybe the game has changed a little bit. We need to think about how we make roster decisions, how we make personnel decisions, how we come to those decisions and maybe that will all help cultivate a new Marlins Way."
This may just be talk without much substance, but it remains at least an interesting point for Marlins fans like myself who would like the organization to move towards more of an analytic approach. Perhaps the failures of 2012 can galvanize the front office to make changes on how they make decisions and lead to the organization to try a statistical approach to supplement their scouting background. This is the first time we have heard of Beinfest and the front office potentially changing from their seemingly arcane old ways.
Then again, we cannot be sure that they will follow through on any of this. However, with the Marlins' payroll likely falling down to closer to $80 million this season, any approach that could help to maximize value could be very important to the team's immediate future, and adding a new element to the team's current process is crucial, because for the last 10-plus years, the team's current process has not been working.