2013 Miami Marlins: Worst start in franchise history?

The 2013 Miami Marlins and their hitters, including Giancarlo Stanton, have the team competing for the worst start in franchise history. - Marc Serota

The Miami Marlins are 1-8 and have played ugly from most of those nine games. Is this the worst nine-game start in Marlins history?

The Miami Marlins were dusted off last night by the Atlanta Braves by a score of 8-0, completing the Braves' three-game sweep of the series. The loss brought the Marlins down to a measly 1-8 record, and no Marlins fan could be happy about that. In Conor Dorney's Fish Cap for yesterday night's game, he brought up some offensive numbers that merit a look.

AVG - .218 (13th)

OBP - .290 (13th)

SLG - .284 (14th)

HR - 2 (t-14th)

ISO - .066 (t-14th)

The Marlins are near dead last in each and every offensive category, and it has led to a league-worst four shutouts during the nine-game span. In nine games, the Marlins only have two innings in which they have scored more than one run; in fact, the Marlins have only three games in which they have scored more than one run. The pathetic offense has at least been supported by a passable pitching staff, but the bullpen has already blown one save and almost the team's only win despite the Fish being up 6-0 at one point during that game.

The ugly record and uglier numbers may push Marlins fans to wonder if this team is headed for a 100-loss fate. It might also lead them to wonder whether this is the worst start for a Marlins regular season team, and it is hard to imagine getting any worse than this.

Only one other Marlins team since 1998 has started the season with a 1-8 record. Three other teams have begun the year with the next worst record at 3-6 through nine games. Which other team began the year at 1-8? None other than the 1998 post-fire sale Florida Marlins. Here is how the two teams stack up.

Marlins, Season RS/G RA/G AVG OBP SLG
1998 4.89 (4.60) 7.56 (4.60) .258 (.262) .355 (.331) .416 (.410)
2013 1.78 (4.32) 4.44 (4.32) .217 (.255) .287 (.319) .283 (.405)

* The parenthesis indicate the league average for that season. For the 2013 season, the 2012 league averages were used.

It is interesting to see how the Miami Marlins differed so drastically from the 1998 team in terms of how they lost games. The 1998 squad still had plenty of offensive talent; the Opening Day lineup for the Marlins still included Gary Sheffield, Charles Johnson and a burgeoning Cliff Floyd, and by the 12th game of the season Bobby Bonilla had returned to the lineup. However, if you could name the starting pitchers the team featured after Livan Hernandez, I would applaud you, because even I forgot players of the caliber of Rafael Medina (12 starts, 6.01 ERA), Brian Meadows (31 starts, 5.21 ERA), and Andy Larkin (14 starts, 9.67 ERA). That led to an interesting disparity in which the 1998 team was scoring runs at an above-average pace to start the year, but the pitching staff and defense were yielding runs at a monumental level. By the end of the 1998 season, that staff had given up 5.69 runs per game.

So far for the 2013 squad, it has been the complete opposite. The pitching staff is close to league average, much like the 1998 team's offense at the beginning of the season. Thanks to surprising success by pitchers like Ricky Nolasco and Wade LeBlanc and the infusion of one excellent start by young phenom Jose Fernandez, the Marlins have passed off as close to average with their staff. Their underlying numbers (4.74 FIP, 23rd in baseball) may indicate, however, that that success is not likely to continue. Furthermore, the bullpen thus far has been shaky, yielding a 6.32 (!) ERA and 5.02 FIP that has dragged down the decent performance by the starting rotation.

However, it is on offense where the Marlins have been atrocious. The Marlins are third to last in the majors in wOBA with a paltry .256 mark; that wOBA tops only the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Fish have scored just 16 runs so far this season, which is the lowest run total in the league by five runs. The team is scoring less than two runs per game and has been shut out four times. Even if you look via wOBA and calculate an estimate for the number of runs the team should have scored, the total still comes out to a very poor 21 runs. While the Marlins have not been four-shutout bad, they certainly are not close to good, or even league average.

Both the 1998 and 2013 teams had one acceptable half and another atrocious half to their team. But which was worse, the 1998 Marlins' pitching staff or the 2013 Marlins' offense? This competition is almost too close to call. On the one hand, the 1998 Marlins' pitching staff had horrendous peripheral statistics; they struck out just 15.2 percent of batters in their first nine games and walked 12.3 percent of them, and they tacked on 12 home runs in ten games as well. On the other hand, there is not a positive way to spin the 2013 Marlins' hitters, as even their best player, Giancarlo Stanton, is struggling.

In a close competition between these two awful teams, I am going to have to give it to the 1998 Marlins for worst start of the regular season. The Marlins' pitching staff that season had to be the worst in the first 10 games of the year, even with two expansion teams playing games for the first time. At least for this year's Marlins, the team has one terrible offense, the Pittsburgh Pirates (team wOBA .207 to start the year), with which to compare favorably. It is not much of a consolation prize that the Marlins are better than the lowly Pirates, but at least there is a chance that the offense perks up and starts playing better as players like Stanton begin to regress to the mean. The 1998 Marlins had a bad rotation with little chance of improving beyond a mid-5.00's ERA.

So the 2013 Marlins likely narrowly escaped having the worst nine-game start in franchise history. But that does not change the fact that this team was heavily in contention and, without improvement, might only be slightly better than that 1998 team and its eventual 54-108 record. This Marlins team needs to play better.

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