It was hard to watch the Miami Marlins play their opening series versus the Washington Nationals. The matchup was clearly one-sided, despite the fact that the Fish actually kept the games close for much of the series. But while the scores may have been close, the Marlins never felt like they were "in the game," and that likely had something to do with the team's terrible offense. No team in major league history has ever opened the season with three straight shutouts, but the Marlins came fairly close, going 19 innings before tallying their first run of the season, a Justin Ruggiano home run. The Fish nearly set a major league record for offensive ineptitude.
So where is the silver lining in that? Well, realistically, this team's offense is expected to be bad this year, and it will be. The roster is filled with players who are young, inexperienced, and not projected to be good this year. The fact that the Marlins nearly set a record only reinforces how bad this team is. But coming out of this opening series, you might think to yourself that this team may have one of the worst offenses in history, and you would certainly be overreacting.
Level of DIfficulty
One of the reasons why you cannot make a snap judgment about the Marlins' performance so far is their opponent. The Nationals are a contending team and a heavy favorite in both the NL East and possibly the National League. The Marlins were not facing the average major league team, but rather one of the juggernauts of the league. No Marlins fan expected much of the team heading into the series, and while we could have hoped for more than one measly run, we cannot be surprised that the team barely delivered against one of the best teams in baseball.
Not only are the Nationals really good, but they sent their best pitchers at the Fish. The Marlins faced Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Jordan Zimmermann. Those three pitchers posted ERAs of 3.16, 2.89, and 2.94 respectively last season. Those are not your average trio of starters, but perhaps the best top three of any rotation in the game.
Bad Offenses Everywhere
You might have thought, with the Marlins scoring just one run so far this year, that their offense is clearly the worst in baseball as of now. But a glance at the FanGraphs leaderboard shows that the team has a lot of company at the bottom.
It is not as if any of these teams are separating themselves from one another in awfulness. Also, these names are not surprising at the bottom, and we would expect the same teams to be near the bottom for most of the 2013 season. So the Marlins are not the only club struggling to pick up hits and therefore score runs.
But it should be noted that, of the five bottom teams in the league thus far in offense, the Marlins look to have the best statistical profile. Among those awful offenses, the Fish own the best strikeout rate (17.3 percent, actually eighth-best in baseball). While the Astros are whiffing at an extreme rate, the Marlins are at least putting the ball in play, which should help them get hits.
The Marlins also have the second-lowest BABIP among all of the teams listed there. This is not a positive now, but it is a positive going forward in the sense that we would expect them to hit a little better than .194 on balls in play. Last season, the worst team in terms of BABIP was the Seattle Mariners at .276 for the season, so the rising tide of regression will lift all ships here. In the end, expect all five of these teams to end up on the lower end of normal BABIPs.
The Bad Sign
I understand that comparing the Marlins to their fellow terrible teams does not paint the Fish in the best light, but after we admit that the Marlins will be bad, the only silver lining left is that they might be the best of the bad teams left, and the above signs at least point positively for the future. But the Marlins likely share in one sign that will keep the team down with the rest of the ugly offenses for the 2013 season: a lack of power.
Last season, 11 teams had an isolated power (ISO, the difference between slugging percentage and batting average) of less .140. with the league average at .151. None of those teams were above-average offensive ballclubs. The Marlins were at .138 for the season, tied for 20th in the league, and that was with partial seasons of decent power hitters like John Buck (12 home runs) and Hanley Ramirez (14 home runs in half a season). Now the Marlins are boasting one of the least pop-filled lineups in the game, as only Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Ruggiano are expected to hit more than 10 home runs this season.
The Marlins managed just three extra-base hits in the three-game set versus the Nationals, and that total was lower than the other four terrible offenses. Even the Astros managed two triples to go with their homer and double! It goes without saying that a power-less team is a bad offense, but were it not for Stanton, the Marlins may have threatened the weakest lineup in baseball history. As it stands, his immense power likely pulls the Marlins up to just "bad."
The Marlins are not likely a record-setting bad offense in 2013. No lineup with Giancarlo Stanton probably should be. Even the team's terrible opening series has some silver linings to it. But do not expect much as we continue this year, because the Marlins are still quite bad at the plate.
At least it's not historically bad. #minorvictories!