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Digesting USA Today’s expectations for the Marlins

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Diving into some more projections and predictions for the coming 2017 season

New York Mets v Miami Marlins Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

While there were certainly no lack of storylines from this past season - Dee Gordon’s suspension, Marlins’ 57-48 record after the All-Star Break, Stanton’s injury, Jose Fernandez’s passing - the Fish have stumbled into another less than two months into 2017: Jeffery Loria has a handshake agreement to sell the Marlins for $1.6 billion dollars.

With all the ramifications that could ensue, the fact that spring training is about to begin is almost playing second fiddle. Starting March 6th, Roger Dean Stadium’s bleachers will fill up, buzzing with hype and hope. Less than a month away.

It’s inevitable in mid-February to run into numerous prediction articles across the baseball universe. Today I have the pleasure of reacting to USA Today’s win total predictions and rotation rankings.

USA Today Prediction: Marlins finish third in AL East, 75-87 record

Even with all the mystery and intrigue around how a multitude of Marlins’ players will actually fare in the coming season, it’s fittingly humorous that USA Today and PECOTA are only one win off from each other. PECOTA is the more generous soul in awarding a 76th win.

This record as a whole is an expectation of team mediocrity. It’s very easy to look at team win totals and have them damper your hopes of a fulfilling 2017, but there are universes where Giancarlo Stanton hits 50 home runs over 150 games and the Marlins still finish four wins worse than 2016. I would consider that alone a relatively fulfilling 2017 and I bet a lot of other fans would agree.

USA Today has the Angels as a 74 win team and they have Mike Trout. The Diamondbacks are pegged for the same win total and they have Paul Goldschmidt, a healthy A.J. Pollock, and six of the most volatile starters in all of baseball (Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker, Patrick Corbin, Archie Bradley, Shelby Miller, and to a lesser extent, Zack Greinke). Sub .500 teams can be entertaining to watch.

Wins aside, when you’re a fan of any team, you have to find storylines to latch onto and ride out through the year, even if that sentence feels like déjà vu from each of past five seasons with the Marlins. Dodger fans aren’t going into 2017 with a blind expectation of PECOTA’s 98 wins. They’re interested in seeing the team succeed, but more importantly the health of Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill’s impact, the phenom that is Julio Urias, and the inevitable debut of Cody Bellinger. Similar storylines are what keep the fanbases of rebuilding or unlucky teams alive.

USA Today Rotation Ranking: Marlins possess 29th best rotation

Although the combination of ‘29th’ and ‘best’ don’t often find themselves in the same sentence, when dealing with a clear bottom five rotation in baseball, you have to work in some optimism.

Here’s a look at Fangraphs’ projected starting five with accompanying Steamer projections...

Unfortunately this is a pretty good way to get USA Today’s nod of being the second worst staff in baseball. Employ five pitchers with an inability to miss bats - save the hope we have in Adam Conley’s development.

The two newcomers, Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily, are both interesting animals as well. Volquez has exceeded 170 innings in each of his last five seasons, the implying that he was brought in to counter the lack of a workhorse arm, as only two pitchers eclipsed 135 innings and one of them was José Fernàndez (RIP). Straily on the other hand is a complete wild card. He finished with 191.1 total innings pitched, a career high, and had very unexpected success with his fastball-slider-changeup combo. However, his 80%+ strand rate and BABIP below .250 will likely even out to at or below league average, making that 4.47 FIP a better representation of the skillset he currently has.

Can the case be made for putting them above the Twins (28th) and Reds (27th)? Sure, but splitting hairs is unnecessary when the reality is this staff will struggle, even in a favorable ballpark (top five pitcher’s park in 2016).

It’s tough to think about, but an inevitable question I posed to myself: Where would this rotation fit on USA Today’s list if Fernàndez hadn’t tragically passed away?

While I first have to admit that I disagree with a good deal of the list (particularly their ranking of the Red Sox as the best rotation), adding Fernàndez back would boost this team about nine spots, into the 20 overall range. There weren’t two better pitchers in the National League than Fernàndez and divisional rival Noah Syndergaard, and I will stand by that for all of time, regardless of CY Young results. A pitcher like that every fifth day is an unmatchable asset to have, and probably one of the main reasons for one’s reasonable compliance with the win total decline from USA Today’s 79 last year to 75 this season.

My closing message would be to find hope in a team like this.

There’s a good chance not one projection will come out that actually likes this Marlins team, so search for the positives. Keep yourself tuned to player projections and sleeper projections, that focus on guys like Yelich, Ozuna, Stanton, and a healthy Justin Bour. Just don’t venture into too many rotational projections, or you may walk away with a darker outlook than you should...anything can happen in baseball.

Cheers to a great 2017.