The Miami Marlins are headed for a bad season, almost certainly. A lot of pundits, including fellow Marlins fans, are looking at this team and expected a 100-loss season, which would be the first since the 1998 season, the team's only 100-loss campaign.
One way to try and predict the future is to use any number of expansive projection systems that are released before the season. We already discussed some of the projections that ZiPS released about the Fish, and the latest batch of projections comes from Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA. How does PECOTA and its traditionally more regressed projections compare to the ones released by Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system?
Marlins Not 100-Loss Team
If you ask the PECOTA system, it would tell you that as of right now, this Marlins team is not a 100-loss team by projection, The Fish are still among the worst teams in baseball, as they are projected to win just 66 games this season. That, of course, would be three fewer wins than they pulled off last season, which would to some degree vindicate the decision (from a 2013 standpoint) to trade away players like Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson to the Toronto Blue Jays, at least in the mind of Jeffrey Loria. Of course, chances are the Marlins would have been a 75-win team or so with those extra players. As of this writing, PECOTA projects that the Marlins will be tied for the second-worst record in baseball, ahead of only the American League's newest punching bag, the rebuilding Houston Astros.
It would appear that either the rest of the NL East is excellent or the Marlins' ineptitude this season is going to help out the other clubs to the extreme. PECOTA projects each other NL East club to put up at least 80 wins, with both the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies winning 80 games and the Atlanta Braves (82 wins) not that far ahead. It seems the Washington Nationals (88 wins) are once again the clear favorites.
Select Players of Interest
Giancarlo Stanton (634 PA, .267/.344/.542, .312 TAv, 40 HR, 5.0 WARP)
The above line includes some of Baseball Prospectus's own in-house statistics, particularly TAv (like wOBA, an all-encompassing offensive statistic that is scaled to look like batting average, with .260 being league average) and WARP (a Wins Above Replacement type of metric). All of it, however, lines up a little short of what other systems are projecting, owing to PECOTA's heavier regression algorithms. Still, the line is not all that far off from what Marlins fans would expect, especially when it comes to the 634 plate appearances (a healthy season) and the 40 home runs. After watching Stanton hit 38 home runs last year while getting more than 100 fewer opportunities, Fish fans may actually be disappointed in such a line. But hey, you cannot be too greedy with a guy already as good as Stanton, as Marc Normandin of Baseball Nation points out.
Justin Ruggiano (487 PA, .256/.315/.416, .266 TAv, 17 HR, 2.4 WARP)
This is a highly encouraging line for a player who was previously considered the epitome of a Quad-A masher. Ruggiano made a lot of waves last season with his excellent performance in limited playing time, and he was pretty much guaranteed a job in 2013 as the team's left or center fielder. The biggest question was whether regression to the mean was going to take its toll on Ruggiano, but while his numbers should clearly drop, PECOTA does not project a loss of too much efficacy. In 487 PA, the system expects Ruggiano to be a 2.5-win player, which an impressive feat that must include some surprisingl above-average defense in center field. In a full 600 plate appearances, that translates to a three-win campaign for the former journeyman outfielder, and that would clearly be the team's second-best year behind Stanton.
These are two of the five keys to success in the 2013 season for the Marlins, in the sense that these players' developments are going to be critical for the team's future. In both cases, however, PECOTA does not see a lot of good coming up. In Brantly's case, a combination of likely poor defense and a bad offensive line after his impressive start in 2012 will not do him any good in 2013. It is likely that PECOTA expects him to do poorly because of his mediocre track record prior to 2012.
In Hechavarria's case, there is a well-known record of poor hitting, leading to what easily would be one of the worst hitting lines of a regular in baseball in 2013. To put that projected batting line in perspective, Emilio Bonifacio's epic 2009 failure (.261/.320/.328) was only a .238 TAv, meaning Hechavarria's expected line is leagues worse than his and would come without Bonifacio's baserunning prowess. His defense and shortstop position are likely the only things keeping him above water.
Similarly, PECOTA thinks very little of the three pitching prospects the Marlins have filling rotation spots on their roster. Turner is the clear favorite among the three, as well he should be given his performance from last season. Even with a lower strikeout rate and ERA, he is still projected to throw enough innings to be worth one win to the team next season, and if he gets a full, healthy 180 innings in 2013, that total would bump to 1.3 WARP.
PECOTA sees nothing for the 2013 season for the other two pitchers, as Alvarez and Eovaldi apparently have a tough road ahead of them. And even though both of these players are young at 23 years of age each, neither is expected to improve from their baseline projection by that much; PECOTA has their Improve percentages at 59 percent each, with a baseline Improve chance of 50 percent for the average player. PECOTA believes these two pitchers are not that much more likely to improve. It is worth noting that, of the three pitchers, Alvarez also has the best rate of potentially breaking out as well.
Christian Yelich (250 PA, .248/.304/.387, .254 TAv, 6 HR, 0.5 WARP)
The projections for prospects all have a set playing time set up, as these players are not expected to produce at the major league level in 2013. For Yelich, the fact that he is not too far away from being a league average hitter according to PECOTA despite not playing a single inning in Double-A yet shows that his prospect shine is still ongoing. Yelich has hit .322/.395/.497 in the minors thus far in his career, including a ridiculous .329/.402/.516 line in 2012 despite playing most of the season playing in the run-suppressing Roger Dean Stadium in the Florida State League. Double-A Jacksonville remains his only challenge, and if he passes that as well as he has the last two levels, do not rule out an appearance of decent length in the majors.
Jose Fernandez (38 IP, 8.9 K/9, 3.6 BB/9. 3.59 ERA, 0.5 WARP)
Fernandez's projection is even more aggressive than that of Yelich's, as he is projected to do better than each Marlins starter if he had a chance to play in the majors this season! PECOTA believes in his strikeout rate in a big way, and you cannot blame them; we have not seen a Marlins pitcher dominate the minor leagues like Fernandez did in 2012 since Josh Beckett ran through the minors in two years on his way to a successful major league career. Like Yelich, Fernandez has a shot at the majors, especially since the team does not have anyone special in their fifth starter role. If he dominates Double-A like he dominated both Low- and High-A, he will be on the Marlins by August and get a chance to prove his elite prospect status.
Kevin Slowey (85 IP, 7.0 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 3.96 ERA, 0.5 WARP)
If none of the Marlins' non-Ricky Nolasco pitchers deliver, it would not be surprising. But if one of them has a catastrophic collapse of play, you can expect minor league free agent Kevin Slowey to get a chance to step in. Slowey is 28 years old, so he is at a similar age to current fifth starter candidate Wade LeBlanc, but he also boasts a career 4.66 ERA and 4.24 FIP. Unlike LeBlanc, Slowey's low-walk peripherals indicate what should be a better performance, but after 532 2/3 career innings, you would think that such a performance would actually show up in the box scores for a change. Both pitchers play a risky high-fly ball rate game, but that repertoire fits well in the large dimensions of Marlins Park. If one falters, expect the other to step into the fifth spot, provided Fernandez has not already stolen the job.