Are the Miami Marlins the worst team in baseball?

Mike Ehrmann

The Houston Astros and Miami Marlins are entangled in the race for dead last in baseball in 2013. But are the Marlins really on the same level as the Astros?

Yesterday, Grant Brisbee of Baseball Nation wrote an excellent piece comparing the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros. Why, you ask? Because both teams are terrible.

That led to an open question: Could the Marlins catch up with the Astros? The Marlins shipped off almost every valuable player they had, and their biggest free-agent acquisitions were Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco. Suddenly, they had a roster that could compete with the Astros, by which we mean they couldn't compete, just like the Astros.

As a Marlins fan, it is difficult to read that and feel anything but terrible. At the same time, Marlins fans knew what they were entering into to start the season. The team was going to be bad, but earlier this year, I predicted that they would not be this bad. I was even bold enough to say that the Marlins might win 70 games this year. So to have the Marlin play as badly as they have this year, it seems out of line with where I thought the team was.

At the same time, you might have expected before the season began that the Marlins would maybe be at best five wins better than the Astros, and thus far the Astros are even worse than expected. So both teams have come out of the gates worse than they were supposed to do and are now on terrible paces. But which is the worst? Brisbee broke it down into hitting, pitching, trade deadline factors, and prospect promotions. Let's examine what he said and make our own judgments.

Hitting

Here's what Brisbee said about the Marlins.

Here's the thing: Neither one of these teams has any hitters who should hit better. As in, there aren't a lot of unmitigated disasters in either lineup. For example, the Dodgers' Luis Cruz has a -38 OPS+. If he played every day for the rest of the season, he wouldn't finish the season with a -39 OPS+. He probably wouldn't finish with a 39 OPS+, a 59 OPS+, or even a 69 OPS+. He is currently hitting like Matt Garza with an iron deficiency. He's better than that.

The Marlins don't have anyone like that, really. Greg Dobbs currently has a .549 OPS, which is about 100 points lower than his career mark. But he's 34, so this might be the real Greg Dobbs. Adeiny Hechavarria is hitting .207/.254/.369 at short … which isn't that far from what his minor-league stats suggest he would hit. You can play this game up and down the roster. There are bad hitters. But there aren't gawdawful hitters who can aspire to be bad.

I have some disagreement with this. Part of it is based on the struggles of Giancarlo Stanton at the start of the season. Remember, Stanton played for the Marlins for a whole month, and he had a .322 wOBA during that time span. He is sure to do better and will likely infuse the Fish with some much needed power. Logan Morrison is also set to return from injury and replace the eminently replaceable Greg Dobbs in the lineup. So the Marlins have the "injury return" angle to assist their hitting that indeed is on a horrific pace.

But among the players who are on the team, there are some players who could improve. Brisbee mentions Hechavarria, who is currently putting up an acceptable strikeout rate and a .212 batting average on balls in play. No one is expecting Hechavarria to set the world on fire, but from 2010 to 2012 the qualified player with the lowest BABIP was Rod Barajas, a slow-footed catcher, at .235. Something has to start bouncing Hechavarria's way.

The same could be said of Justin Ruggiano, who also has a low .256 BABIP after a high .402 mark last season. It is difficult not to expect something in between, and any advantage in that department should make him a decently above-average hitter thanks to the power (.196 ISO) that seems to be real.

But in general, Brisbee is right in that the team's veterans are hitting not far from their expectations with no real signal of coming back. But thanks to the injury situation and the fact that the Astros are in a very similar boat, I would give a slight nod to the Marlins in this category going forward. Whether they can make up the 40-point gap in wOBA by the end of the year is a different story.

Pitching

The Marlins' pitching staff has been solid. Having a bright young star like Jose Fernandez helps. Having Kevin Slowey rebound also helps. And the Fish have reinforcements on their way by at worst midseason, as Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez should be on the way back to the roster. If the Fish can get positive contributions from Jacob Turner, the team will be in relatively good shape.

The problems the club has faced thus far in pitching have come from their remaining starters. Wade LeBlanc and Alex Sanabia have been acceptably bad, about as good as the bad performance the Astros have received from Lucas Harrell. The problem for the Astros is that every pitcher below Harrell has thrown even worse than that, while the Marlins hit the bottom of their barrel at Sanabia and LeBlanc.

Going forward, the Fish should expect some backwards regression from Kevin Slowey and some reversion to the old Ricky Nolasco, but that should keep firmly ahead of the Astros, who have no reinforcements coming for their currently terrible staff.

Trade Deadline

The Marlins are at the highest risk for a trade deadline move. The Astros have already pretty much hit rock bottom, as the team has few remaining pieces of interest. The Astros also do not have a monetary problem, as they are keeping salaries suppressed as part of a rebuilding strategy rather than a profit ploy. The Fish may be looking to sell their remaining pieces in guys like Nolasco, Slowey, or Steve Cishek if only to avoid paying salaries and getting as much out of these players as possible. The Fish have no interest in their veteran roster continuity, aside from perhaps Greg Dobbs having a permanent spot on the roster.

Prospects

The problem for the Fish is that they have already exhausted a lot of their prospect reinforcements in bringing up Marcell Ozuna and Derek Dietrich early due to injury. Their only remaining option is Christian Yelich, but as we mentioned, there is nary a spot for him in the lineup. While Yelich may deserve a promotion. it would have to come at the expense of benching a former Marlins great in the now-terrible Juan Pierre and disposing of either Ozuna or Ruggiano to either the bench or a trade.

This is weighed against the Astros' issue: they do not have the sort of high-ceiling players the Marlins have. Yelich is ripping Double-A apart to the tune of a .308/.376/.624 (.437 wOBA) line. The only player the Astros have that has played at that level before is Jonathan Singleton. who hit .284/.396/.497 (.393 wOBA) in Double-A last year but is serving a suspension this year.

The Fish have some pitching in the minors that could see play in the post-Nolasco trade months. Turner or the recently-promoted Brian Flynn could make the roster if they hold their own. Jarred Cosart could do the same on the other side with Houston.

Ultimately, I am more inclined to call this a push at this point, simply because there is still a question on whether Yelich or the other remaining players will be able to make a contribution this season. The Marlins, unlike the Astros, are not so brash as to bench their veteran leaders until absolutely necessary.

Overall

I too would agree with Brisbee's assessment that the Marlins are likely a better team. Before the season, I figured the Fish were four or five wins better than the Astros, and despite the terrible start this season, I retain that assumption about the team. Of course, being five wins better than a terrible team makes your team almost as terrible, and neither Astros nor Marlins fans should be happy one way or another. The absolute best thing we can do is to reach out to each other in mutual understanding and console one another about the ugliness of our respective seasons. No matter who is worse, both teams are losing.

Well, except that the Astros seem to have a plan, and we cannot be sure the Marlins have one as well. Stay tuned on that front.

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