Clark Fosler over at SB Nation's Kansas City Royals blog Royals Review wrote a spectacular piece yesterday on knowing and recognizing when your team is "out of it" in the playoff hunt. The Royals are currently one game under .500, and not many teams that start this late into the season under .500 get a chance to climb back close to .500.
What does that have to do for the Miami Marlins? Well, the Fish are a little bit worse than just under .500. In fact, they are closer to drowning below .500 than merely having their heads submerged. The team is 21 games back of .500 at 13-34 and seemingly with no hope. as they are competing with the Houston Astros for the title of "worst team in baseball" right now.
But there is a glimmer of hope yet for the Fish. Once upon a time, following a previous fire sale, the 2006 Florida Marlins started off with a similarly poor record. By May 23, the Fish were 13-31 that season, and by the time they had played the same number of games as the 2013 Marlins, they were 15-32. At one point, they too sat 20 games below .500. That Marlins team raked in 10 wins a row at the start of June to begin a magical run that saw them finish the season 61-50 from June. Eventually, the Fish climbed back to over .500 in September and stayed in the Wild Card chase for a while before finishing 78-84.
The 2006 and 2013 Marlins receive comparisons because the teams are both following fire sales that dismantled the club and left them with minor league talents trying to make it in the majors. The 2013 Fish are also mired in a rut by late May, but they at least have the hope of the 2006 team to look towards as a goal.
But wait, are the Marlins of now and 2006 really that similar? We tackled the subject of the comparison their fire sales before, and it brought up certain inconsistencies in the team compositions between then and now.
Performance to Date
Sure, the two teams boasted similar records by the time they reached that point, but were their performances all that similar? The 2006 Marlins were 15-32, but at that point, they had scored 216 runs and given up 246 runs. They indeed were a below-.500 team, but the club's run differential indicated that they were a significantly better team. Despite a .319 win percentage, the 2006 Marlins had a run differential of a .432 win percentage team. That is the equivalent of a five-win difference in actual and expected performance.
The Achilles heel of the 2006 team at the time was their pitching, as they had allowed a 4.90 ERA and 4.45 FIP. The offense was actually respectable by that time, scoring 4.6 runs per game and batting .257/.332/.408. Of course, when you have effective rookies like Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, the team tends to do well (more on that later.)
This season's team, on the other hand, is right where it is supposed to be based on its underlying performance. The 2013 Marlins have been outscored by 76 runs, two and a half times the amount of the 2006 team. Its Pythagorean expected win percentage is almost matching with its real win percentage. The Pythagorean expected number is at .304, only one win better than the .275 the team is currently putting up.
Why is it that the Marlins of then were performing well enough to have a brighter future and the Marlins of now are significantly worse? It comes back to something I brought up in the fire sale comparison.
This aspect cannot be overlooked. The 2006 Marlins had homegrown talent to supplement the players who were brought in. The 2013 Marlins brought in a lot of players, but many were not great names. More importantly, the vast majority of the team's prospects were not 2013 ready like the old Marlins team's rookies were. Hermida, Johnson, and Olsen were all seasoned in Double-A before being brought up to the bigs. The Marlins' top prospect brought up this season, starting pitcher Jose Fernandez, had not yet seen Double-A hitters in his career. The Marlins brought up two more players this year in Marcell Ozuna and Derek Dietrich while they were spending time in Double-A refining their skills. Neither had owned the level; Ozuna had only 47 plate appearances at the level while had 271 very good plate appearances.
As for the acquisitions, both sides plugged many of those players into their respective rosters, but the 2006 Marlins boasted an actual star in the making in Hanley Ramirez. They even got lucky in finding Uggla as a Rule 5 draft pick. This season's Marlins do not have such great contributors, instead filling their ranks with players like Adeiny Hechavarria and Henderson Alvarez. Those players, while decent, were more at the level of acquisitions like Ricky Nolasco and Mike Jacobs rather than true stars in the making.
The 2006 Fish had at least three players pan out as All-Star level contributors from their top prospects and acquisitions from the fire sale. So far, the best player the Marlins have come up with this year is Fernandez, with Christian Yelich waiting in the wings. Without added star-like players, this year's club would be hard-pressed to make such a furious in-season comeback.
Add to that the injury to the Marlins' lone incoming star in Giancarlo Stanton and you get a season that has gone poorly thus far and is expected to continue to go poorly. Unlike the 2006 squad that was loaded with hidden talent and had plenty of luck on their side, the 2013 team looks destined for a difficult season and no miraculous comeback.