Earlier today, we checked in on the struggles of the Miami Marlins in terms of their first base position. Gaby Sanchez was supposed to represent the model of being consistently average at the position in 2012, but instead what he delivered was a boatload of terrible play that helped to sink the Marlins' offense at the start of the year.
Naturally, the Marlins chose to replace Sanchez's poor production with a passable trade acquisition, and the team thought it did just that by acquiring Carlos Lee from the Houston Astros for prospects Matt Dominguez and Rob Rasmussen. After all, Carlos Lee was previously a major free agent who signed a bloated contract but was well known as a "run producer." He had occupied the cleanup spot for the Astros for many years during the duration of his six-year, $100 million deal, and the Marlins were not paying any of that contract. Given the failures of Sanchez in 2012, any warm body could have been an improvement, and trading away Dominguez and Rasmussen to potentially plug a hole in what was then still thought to be a hopeful playoff team seemed reasonable.
Sure, Lee was not always as bad as this final line indicates. "El Caballo" hit .218/.288/.291 in the final month of the season, and prior to that he had been hitting a respectable .258/.352/.346 with the Marlins. The problem, of course, was that one could even consider a .258/.352/.346 line from a first baseman "respectable."
At the time of the trade, I mentioned the following:
This is a puzzling move for the Marlins. It makes sense because the team is interested in improving at first base without committing long term to an option, but the projected improvement with Carlos Lee just does not seem to warrant the move. Lee is well on his decline phase and it is almost as if the Marlins were working primarily on name value.
After all, the Marlins were acquiring Lee at a time in which he had a .287/.336/,411 (.323 wOBA) line. Given the team's stated desire to acquire a "run producer," it did seem as though the Marlins were picking up a respectable singles hitter instead. Lee's ISO of .124 is not even close to what one would expect from a power-hitting first baseman, and it is compounded by the fact that his loss in power had been an alarming trend over the last few seasons.
What happened with the Fish in 2012? Lee hit 266 balls in play as a Marlin, either on the field or out of the park. Twelve went for doubles and four went for home runs. His home run per fly ball rate as a Marlin was 3.8 percent, which is a truly horrific mark for a so-called "run producer." Among qualified major leaguers, that 3.8 percent stands next to venerable run producers such as Jordan Pacheco, Marco Scutaro, and Denard Span. As a Marlin, Lee had about as much home run power as Marco Scutaro. Digest that if you will. If you want Lee's overall HR/FB rate, his 4.8 percent mark stands next to Darwin Barney and Daniel Murphy. The Marlins' chief run-producing acquisition had the power of the weakest-hitting middle infielders in baseball.
Lee fulfilled a prophecy that had been foretold in his numbers, but he did so in a far more precipitous fashion. Rather than the slow decline he had been suffering the last few years, it seems Lee hit his wall and fell straight down in terms of power this season. The .102 ISO overall on the year was easily the worst of his career, and at 36 years of age, that does not bode well. And yes, his walk rate increased (as did his strikeout rate) and that helped to stem the tide of his struggles. But at his advanced age, an increase in patience could indicate that his bat speed has fallen and that he was struggling to get the bat around on pitches like he used to.
About the only thing Lee did do well in 2012 was hit with runners in scoring position. He had a .313/.386/.388 slash line (.333 wOBA) with runners on second or third, and that helped him to pick up 48 RBI for the Marlins in his time there. Earlier in his time in Miami, the Marlins were lauding his ability to hit with runners in scoring position and claiming that he was performing "exactly as the Marlins envisioned." Of course, a bump in that sort of production is a blip in the radar, and the Marlins' judgment in that fashion shows a clear misguided view on statistics. In every other manner, Lee was an awful player for the Marlins.
Lee will head to free agency in 2013, looking to latch onto a potential starting job but likely receiving a bench role instead. If the Marlins are smart, they will stay away and cut their losses at just prospects for Lee's services. His failures in 2012 expose not only the Marlins' poor grasp on statistical evaluation, but also the depth of the team's 2012 holes and, as Conor pointed out,- their mistakes in roster evaluation.