Marlins fans have known for months that the upcoming season may end poorly, but now they can comb over the 2013 ZiPS projections at FanGraphs, and determine in precise detail just how bad it might be. There are a few bright spots and interesting surprises, midst a sea of dismal projections, however.
First, let's focus on the glimmers of hope in the lineup. The Marlins outfield projects to be passable, mostly thanks to Giancarlo Stanton. You may have heard of him. ZiPS expects Stanton to hit for a stellar .401 wOBA (weighted On-Base Average), which would make him a MVP contender if he stays healthy. Justin Ruggiano looks to be a solid regular, with a projected .322 wOBA.
The bright spots in the offense end there. Juan Pierre represents a glaring weakness for Miami in left field. ZiPS anticipates a meager .295 wOBA from him.
Marlins fans hoping for positive rookie performances from newly acquired prospects Rob Brantly and Adeiny Hechavarria may find themselves disappointed. Brantly has a projected .293 wOBA, while Hechavarria has a projected .278 wOBA. Hechavarria's projection is especially bad, although his excellent defense will elevate him above a replacement level player.
ZiPS projects Logan Morrison to hit for a .339 wOBA, just below his career .341 wOBA. That level of production would represent a nice comeback for Morrison after his dismal 2012 season.
The expected opening day starter at second base, Donovan Solano, appears primed to regress sharply from his .314 wOBA last year. ZiPS estimates a .281 wOBA from him for the upcoming season. I was interested to discover that recently signed minor league free agent Matt Downs projects to hit for a considerably better .302 wOBA.
Another new acquisition, Placido Polanco, has a predictably poor .284 wOBA projection. That figure falls roughly at the midpoint between his 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Finally, I award a special prize to backup catcher Jeff Mathis for his projected .253 wOBA, which is the third lowest in the entire Miami organization, behind only Clint Sammons and Craig Tatum. If you don't know who they are, don't be alarmed. They have no place on the Marlins roster today or ever.
Miami Marlins president of baseball operations, Larry Beinfest, recently said that "if our pitching produces the way we think it can, right from the outset, I think we're going to be OK. But we're going to go as our pitching goes."
If the Marlins go as the pitching goes, then ZiPS would convincingly argue that the team will not go far at all. Opening day starter Ricky Nolasco has a projected 4.35 ERA. Sadly, it gets worse. Henderson Alvarez projects to pitch for a 4.63 ERA. Wade LeBlanc doesn't look much better with a projected 4.61 ERA. ZiPS also expects a similarly poor 4.69 ERA for Nathan Eovaldi.
ZiPS's bearish projection for the young Jacob Turner left me especially saddened. The 21-year-old right hander is the most promising arm in the Marlins rotation, but ZiPS predicts a rather ugly 4.99 ERA from him. Turner did not pitch well in his first twenty or so major league innings, but he demonstrated improvement with the Marlins late last year. His 3.89 FIP in Miami is nothing to scoff at, so I'm hopeful that ZiPS is wrong here.
The disassembly of the major league roster is not without its benefits. The vitality of the farm system has been restored, some of which is reflected in the ZiPS projections. Christian Yelich has a projected .316 wOBA, which is the fourth highest of any player in the Marlins organization. Newly acquired third base prospect Derek Dietrich has a projected .297 wOBA - higher than the likely opening day Marlins starter Placido Polanco.
ZiPS is fairly optimistic about Marcell Ozuna too, predicting a .304 wOBA from the talented outfield prospect. Jake Marisnick's .295 wOBA projection is not bad either, especially considering his solid defense in center field. Marlins fans shouldn't expect Ozuna or Marisnick until the 2014 season, but it's nice to know that they can hit as well as or better than Juan Pierre already.
Why should anyone pay attention to ZiPS? Dan Szymborski's projection system has proven to be a reliable barometer for future performance, with a margin of error of just 0.0277 across the 2007 to 2010 seasons. It takes four years of player history, weighting recent seasons more heavily, and then looks at defense independent statistics and similar player comparisons. ZiPS is just one of many quality projection systems out there, however. I recommend taking a look at PECOTA, Marcel, and Oliver for a more complete picture.