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Miami Marlins Considering Carlos Lee Mistake Return

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Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald reports that the Miami Marlins are at least considering a return in 2013 for Carlos Lee.

Lee is not only happy with the Marlins, but a source said his agent has spoken to the team about a possible return.

"I like this team," Lee said. "I don’t know what their plans are, but I like it here."

Read more here:

Let me be the first to say "ruh-roh."

Look, it is not as if Carlos Lee has been outright bad for the Marlins in his short one month and change in Miami. He is hitting .294/.394/.364 (.342 wOBA) with the Marlins, and his approach at the plate in terms of how he avoids strikeouts and has been surprisingly drawing walks has been fun to watch.

But the Marlins are clearly confusing production with runners on base as a skill rather than as a byproduct of chance.

But Lee has produced exactly as the Marlins envisioned when they acquired him in a July 4 trade with Houston.

Since joining the Marlins, Lee has hit .469 (15 for 32) with runners in scoring position.

His 22 RBI since the All-Star break is the fourth-highest total in the National League.

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If this is the Marlins' potential reasoning for keeping on Lee, then they are showing once again that their statistical analysis leaves a lot to be desired. The team has seen one month and change from Lee and has decided that, indeed, he is significantly better with runners in scoring position than he normally is. This idea is patently false.

Lee's Numbers

Let's put Lee into perspective in comparison to other major league first baseman. Since arriving with the Fish, he has posted a .342 wOBA, primarily on the back of some fortuitous fly balls (the Carlos Lee Blooper To Right Special, anyone?) and a high walk rate. But overall in the season, he has hit .290/.354/.397, worth a .329 wOBA. Overall, Lee's performance has garnered him a 106 wRC+, meaning that his batting has been six percent better than the league average.

Here's the problem: first basemen have to be better than six percent better than the league average at the plate. Of the 23 qualified hitters who have played first base this season, Lee ranks 15th in wOBA and 16th in wRC+. He ranks just ahead. Of all the qualifying first basemen, he is the lowest-ranking one with an above average line this year. The names that he is beating right now include struggling players like Ike Davis and Eric Hosmer and perennial lost causes like Chris Davis and Casey Kotchman. In other words, in terms of first basemen, Lee is not outhitting anyone.

And this is not a seasonal slump for Lee. He is expected to his at this level; ZiPS projects a rest-of-season line of .277/.333/.434, which is good for a .328 wOBA, pretty much the exact same production as he is providing now. That line will still be among the worst first basemen in baseball in 2013 and beyond.

Lee With Runners On

If what Spencer says in the article is indeed what the Marlins are thinking about with regards to the reasons to retain Lee, then the team is more clueless in the front office than expected. The Fish may be falling in love with the idea of Lee as a "run producer" because of his contact skill and placement in the cleanup spot. Lee's .340/.420/.400 batting line (.358 wOBA) with runners in scoring position may be appealing to them, but it is in only 118 PA this season. The usual small sample caveats apply, especially since this is a split in which players typically do not show true talent difference.

Take a look at Lee's career numbers in comparison.

Bases Empty 3317 .285 .337 .487 .356
Men In Scoring 1687 .302 .372 .517 .365
Overall 8575 .286 .340 .487 .353

What do you see in terms of difference here? First off, the jump in OBP is rightfully ignored by wOBA, as it is actually due to his 56 career intentional walks. He has a 10 percent walk rate with men in scoring position versus a 6.7 percent walk rate with the bases empty, so overall, one advantage is that he gets on base more often.

But the big thing the Marlins are seeing is maybe that change in batting average. Don't be fooled. The jump from the .285 to .302 mark does not mean Lee is finding more holes with runners on base; his BABIP goes up from .283 with the bases empty to .287 with runners in scoring position. What about his power? The ISO jumps from .201 to .215, not an extravagant leap. And the kicker? That jump in power is primarily due to home runs, as Lee hit homers in 5.1 percent of his PA with runners in scoring position versus 4.6 percent of his bases empty PA.

Guess what Lee has lost entirely in the 2012 season? Home run power, as he has gone long in a career-worst 5.1 percent of his fly balls.

Defense Sacrificed

Retaining Lee is not significantly beneficial (if at all) from an offensive standpoint, but it certainly would be a failure from a defensive perspective. Yes, Lee posted good UZR numbers at first base last year, but it does not take more than few instances of watching him at the position to see that he is likely below average at first base. Marlins fans have watched him stumble and bumble his way around first base and probably have a negative perception of his defense. Houston Astros fans did last season as well; despite the good numbers, Astros fans rated him poorly enough to be estimated at seven runs below average at first.

But even if Lee is average (a possibility of course), keeping him at first base once again leaves the Marlins with a defensive sieve in left field. Once Logan Morrison was injured and the Marlins traded Gaby Sanchez, it became obvious that the plan would be to move Morrison back to first base. This is the plan that Marlins fans and Fish Stripes have endorsed many times this season, as it is a no-brainer move that takes a bad defender in the outfield and one who has injured his lower body significantly this year and puts him back in his most comfortable position. Returning Lee to first base would force Morrison to the outfield once more, potentially subjecting his knee to further damage and the fans to more blunders and hobbled paths to fly balls in left field. The Marlins would be costing themselves runs at first and left field without any real offensive benefit.

Just Speculation

My gut says this is just speculation and that the Marlins are not planning on retaining Lee after this year. The move has multiple downsides and is only propped up by a dream that Lee can deliver RBI without hitting for signifcant power. If the Marlins front office is anything close to competent, they would squash this idea immediately.