We’re almost there guys. In about two weeks, the Marlins will take the field, jogging over fresh green grass under bright Florida sunshine. When pitchers and catchers report on February 13th, this dreary offseason will be behind us.
Until then, we have to continue to fend for ourselves, creating our fantasy baseball rankings, scouring Twitter for news of free agent signings, and sifting through prospect reports, amongst other baseball-related activities.
The other day, via a retweet, I stumbled upon this:
Always a fun one for late January:— Russell A. Carleton (@pizzacutter4) January 30, 2018
1) Pick an MLB franchise
2) Pick one player from each of the last 25 seasons
3) No repeated players
4) Your picks must form a coherent 25-man roster
5) Don't cheat on positions (well... he had played 3B a few years before then...)
It’s not the first time I’ve seen it on Twitter. After reading through the instructions, I usually realize how daunting and meticulous a task it is, and keep scrolling. However, given the fact that the Marlins have now just finished their 25th season, and are for the first time “eligible” for this game, I clicked over to the Fangraphs leaderboards to see if I could take this “Russell A. Carleton” to task.
Here’s the thing. The Marlins were born in 1993. I was born in 1994. Because I was considerably young and less able to hold my attention span for about 12 years, I can’t just remember who had outstanding seasons for the Marlins in some late 90’s year, perhaps like older Yankees or Red Sox fans could for their teams.
Instead, I used Fangraphs to elicit the best seasons by players for every position. My iteration of the game is probably close to what “The Shredder” from MLB Network would come out with. So while you may expect that I selected 2002 hit-streak Luis Castillo for second base, or 2001 no-hitter A.J. Burnett, you’ll find that is not actually the case with my roster. Generally, the best possible seasons at each position - given that only one player from each season could be chosen - made it onto my team. Decisions were made, people.
Without further ado, I present: “The Pizza Cutter Challenge”
Catcher: 2003 Ivan Rodriguez
2003 - Ivan Rodriguez
Before the 2003 season, with a chance to steal the show, the Marlins decided to make a splash by signing Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez to a 1-year deal. Pudge turned down a 3-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles to join the Fish. He wouldn’t regret it. Pudge turned in another excellent chapter in his Hall of Fame career. The stout defensive catcher threw out 15 of 41 runners on steals. At the dish, Pudge hit 22 percent better than average and popped 16 home runs.
Pudge also was a crucial part of what could easily be considered the highlight of the 2003 season.
I remember exactly where I was when it happened - playing in a baseball game of my own at West Pines Optimist. None of the parents were watching our game; they were all huddled around little handheld, portable analog televisions in the bleachers. Suddenly, in the middle of our game, all of the parents at all eight fields at the complex stood up and screamed at once, as Rodriguez lowered the boom on 6’2” 200 pound J.T. Snow. You know the rest of this story.
But Rodriguez was just half of the play...who made the throw?
First Base: 1994 Jeff Conine
1994 - Jeff Conine
Mr. Marlin himself. Although he was a predominantly a left fielder, Conine did play 46 games at first base for the Fish. I know I’m bending the rules a little bit, but Niner at first was no fluke - it counts, people.
Unfortunately for me, much of the lore of Jeff Conine’s early days is only familiar to me through stories. In 1994, while Mr. Marlin was slugging to the tune of a .385 wOBA and 18 home runs, I was having tummy time and napping three times a day. The numbers don’t lie though: Conine built his career on a number of extremely consistent seasons. 1994 was no outlier.
Second Base: 2015 Dee Gordon
2015 - Dee Gordon
Second base was tough! Of all the positions on the diamond, the Marlins have enjoyed some of the most depth and stability at second. According to fWAR, the best season ever for a Marlins second baseman was recorded by 2003 Luis Castillo, where he was worth over 13 runs above average on both offense and defense. However, Pudge was a lock for me at catcher, so I couldn’t fit Castillo on my roster here.
Trailing 2003 Castillo by .1 fWAR and .3 fWAR were 2015 Dee Gordon and 2010 Dan Uggla. The clear tradeoff was speed and defense for power. Given some of the other names on this roster, I knew we could rely on power elsewhere, so I decided to go strong up the middle and slot Dee as starter.
2015 was a career year for Gordon. On the field, Dee accrued 13 Defensive Runs Saved, and earned a Gold Glove. At the dish, Dee took home a Silver Slugger and the National League Batting Title, batting .333 with a weighted runs created plus 16 percent better than average. I’ll admit I had to think about it at first, but ultimately, I won’t lose any sleep over 2015 Dee starting for me.
Third Base: 2006 Miguel Cabrera
2006 - Miguel Cabrera
The Prodigal Son hath returned - for this exercise. The cornerstone of the 2000’s Marlins, Miguel Cabrera had his best year with the Fish in 2006, reaching base at a flat-out-nasty clip of .430, and hitting 53% better than average, according to wRC+. He was named an All-Star and was awarded the Silver Slugger.
A year after this season, Cabrera headlined a controversial trade to the Tigers, a move that would mar the reputation of owner Jeffrey Loria, and leave many Marlins fans permanently scarred. Cabrera would go on to hit above-average and beyond for the next nine years. Still, despite his gravitation towards the navy side, from his clutch home runs as a scrawny left-fielder in 2003, to his 2006 dominance, Cabrera still holds many fond memories for the Fish Faithful.
Shortstop: 2009 Hanley Ramirez
2009 - Hanley Ramirez
In terms of fWAR, Hanley Ramirez is the most valuable player on this list. A far-cry from the buff DH he is today, the then skinny, speedy Ramirez manned shortstop as the dust settled on the aforementioned Miguel Cabrera trade. During a general period of limbo for the Marlins, Hanley valiantly led the offensive attack for the Fish. In 2009, Ramirez made his bones as one of the games best hitters, taking home the NL batting title, a Silver Slugger, and making the All-Star Game. That year, he got on base in more than 40 percent of his plate appearances, and hit 49 percent better than average.
Not only does Hanley have the highest fWAR out of anyone on this page, in terms of fWAR, Hanley owns the five best seasons for Marlins shortstops ever. This was the easiest choice for my lineup.
Left Field: 2001 Cliff Floyd
2001 - Cliff Floyd
When I ran the numbers for left fielders, I’ll admit I was surprised to see Cliff Floyd’s name populate to the top; but clearly, by looking at the numbers, he is more than deserving of this spot on the roster. There wasn’t even a rules conflict here; while Miguel Cabrera and Marcell Ozuna do statistically give Floyd a run for his money, Floyd was worth more than an extra win over the second-place Cabrera.
2001 was Floyd’s career year, and it came with the Marlins. Much like his teammates on this page, Floyd turned in an extremely impressive on-base percentage of .390 and hit 46 percent better than average. For the first and last time, Floyd made it to the All-Star Game. Unfortunately, this season was somewhat of an outlier for Floyd; outside of 2001, Floyd was generally a two-to-three win player. Still, amongst left fielders, it certainly plays for the purpose of this article.
Center Field: 1997 Moises Alou
1997 - Moises Alou
This was one of the harder decisions I had to make. The Marlins have had a wealth of great centerfielders. Christian Yelich, Cody Ross, Marcell Ozuna, Juan Pierre, and Mark Kotsay are all qualified centerfielders who accumulated higher season fWAR’s than Alou. Still, whereas at second base I opted for the glove, I took the unconventional route and chose the bat for centerfield.
Alou led all Marlins centerfielders in single season OPS, wOBA, and wRC+ with his 1997 totals. According to wRC+, Alou hit 27 percent better than average in ‘97, and 12 percent better than the second-best batting season for a centerfielder, Preston Wilson. With the help of Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Charles Johnson, and many others, Alou powered the offensive onslaught for the ‘97 Fish. Ultimately, the Marlins fought past the Cleveland Indians in seven games to win the franchise’s first World Series, an accolade well-warranting Alou’s spot on this list.
Right Field: 2017 Giancarlo Stanton
2017 - Giancarlo Stanton
While this selection does not come without controversy, it is also goes that Giancarlo Stanton is a more-than-worthy pick for the starting right field role here. In terms of more comprehensive hitting metrics, Gary Sheffield put up the best offensive season amongst right fielders in 1996. With that being said, 1) I needed 1996 for a pitcher to be named later, and 2) 59 home runs. It’s pretty hard to argue with the latter point; even in the aforementioned 1996 season, Sheffield hit 42 home runs - 17 fewer than Stanton in 2017.
It’s also not like Stanton’s other hitting metrics can be discounted. He hit 56 percent better than average and slugged an absurd .631 in 2017. In addition to being an All-Star, Stanton cleaned up the hardware in 2017, winning a Silver Slugger, the Hank Aaron Award, and the National League MVP. It’s hard to argue with an MVP season. Despite the fact that he is now in pinstripes, Stanton will go down as one of the all-time great Florida/Miami Marlins.
SP1: 2016 José Fernández
2016 - José Fernández
The consensus first choice in the rotation here. Before his life was tragically cut short at the end of the 2016, José Fernández was putting up career numbers with ease. A bulldog on the mound, Fernández came into every plate appearance with the intent to strike out the batter. As such, he is the only qualified starting pitcher for the Marlins to rack up a double-digit K/9 in a single season. His FIP was lower than his ERA, demonstrating his ability to limit walks and mercilessly strike out batters.
The coolest thing about José was that he inexplicably pitched his best at home. At home in 2016, Fernández’ ERA and FIP sunk to a ridiculous 1.63 and 1.62, respectively. When José was slated to start at home, it became appointment-viewing baseball; whether you had to plant yourself on the couch in front of your TV, or weave through traffic on the Dolphin to get to the stadium, you never wanted to miss out on a #JoséDay. While we will never see José pitch in this world again, his memories will live on forever. And while his dominance and spirit was so much more than his numbers, his stats aptly depict his immortal legacy with the Marlins as one of the franchise’s great pitchers.
SP2: 1996 Kevin Brown
1996 - Kevin Brown
According to fWAR, Kevin Brown owns both of the greatest pitching seasons in Marlins’ history. As it would turn it, said two seasons were the only years he pitched for the Marlins. Although he threw his no-hitter in 1997, 1996 was his best year, which is part of the reason why I couldn’t select Gary Sheffield. It’s a pretty cut-and-dry case for Brown here; on his way to a 6.7 fWAR season, he lowered his ERA all the way to 1.89. After lending his talents to the Marlins World Series’ efforts in 2017, Brown was caught up in the dismantling of the team. He tormented batters with the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, and New York Yankees thereafter.
SP3: 2005 Dontrelle Willis
2005 - Dontrelle Willis
The D-Train took the Marlins by storm in 2003. With a leg kick that could make a scout cry, Dontrelle Willis proved himself a workhorse in the rotation from 2003, up to his trade to the Detroit Tigers post-2007. In 2005, Dontrelle Willis turned in the third greatest single season pitching performance in Marlins history. Notching wins in 22 games, Willis accrued 6.5 wins above average to the tune of a 2.63 ERA. By 2005, everyone in South Florida was on the D-Train.
Unfortunately, after said career year, the D-Train derailed in Detroit. Thus, it remains and it shall remain, that Dontrelle Willis’ best years were in Miami. And while his career pales in comparison to other franchise greats, early 2000 Marlins’ fans will always appreciate the golden years of the D-Train.
SP4: 2002 A.J. Burnett
2002 - A.J. Burnett
Although I had to start reaching when I got to this point in the rotation, I would be more than ok with 2002 A.J. Burnett throwing every fifth day on my team. Burnett was one of my first Marlins favorites. Burnett threw the first no-hitter I can remember in 2001; a doozy as well, as he walked nine batters on his way to blanking the San Diego Padres in the hit column.
He continued his dominance into the 2002 year. While the record is generally unavailing, he was worth 4.8 wins above average; good enough for the 8th best season in Marlins’ history.
SP5: 2004 Carl Pavano
2004 - Carl Pavano
Pavano rounds out the rotation with his 2004 season. Out of his three years with the Fish, 2004 would turn out to be his best. He made it to his only All-Star game and won Pitcher of the Month in June. His ERA of 3.00 ranked 37 percent better than average. Pavano would rank 6th in the NL Cy Young Award standings, the closest he would ever get to the trophy. While Pavano moved on to the New York Yankees after this season, he never had a better season than 2004, his career year.
You may be wondering at this point: where is Josh Johnson? While his 2009 and 2010 seasons are definitely worth mentioning, I had no choice but to choose 2009 Hanley, and I liked 2010 Dan Uggla’s power off the bench. Still, Johnson’s 2010 and 2009 are noteworthy, ranking 5th and 6th among all single season performances by Marlins starting pitchers. Although I would have liked to have snuck Johnson onto the roster, rules are rules.
|2014||Casey McGehee||1B, 2B, 3B||160||691||.355||.357||.319||104||-7||0.7||1.6|
I’m really proud of this bench; it’s a well-balanced bench, with equal parts OBP and slug, capable of filling in any position on the diamond. On the OBP side of the spectrum, we have Luis Castillo, Emilio Bonifacio, and Casey McGehee. Castillo was easily one of the greatest Marlins of the 2000’s decade. Whether he was challenging Joe Dimaggio’s hit streak or stealing bags, Castillo was all over the field for the Marlins. While 2003 was technically Castillo’s most valuable season, Castillo hit best in 2000, with an on-base percentage easily eclipsing .400. While Bonifacio and McGehee also have above average OBP’s, they come nowhere close to Castillo’s production. Still, Bonifacio and McGehee’s utility would come in handy for late-game defensive substitutions.
Then we have the mashers: Josh “The Hammer” Willingham and Dan Uggla. Uggla’s 2010 season was his best year; he slugged 33 home runs and won a Silver Slugger. A stark contrast to his predecessor Castillo and successor Gordon, Uggla’s power at 2nd was unprecedented for the Marlins; his five 25+ dinger seasons stand alone at the top of the leaderboard. While his defense left much to be desired, his bat would undoubtedly play in spades coming off the bench.
The Hammer sneaks onto this roster with actually one of his least impressive seasons. Despite the fact that he belted 21 home runs and hit 17 percent better than average in 2007, he enjoyed more success in his subsequent years with the Washington Nationals. Still, I take Willingham in a vacuum here; given his overall hitting ability, I would be confident bringing The Hammer in for a pinch-hit at-bat with the game on the line.
What can I say about the All-Time Marlins bullpen? Despite the fact that I found a way to dedicate 2500 words to the previous players, my most vivid memories are of Marlins bullpen pitchers - and not always for the best reasons. Still, these guys were my last selections; whatever years I had left to fill, I picked my favorite relievers from said seasons. For one half of the bullpen, the pitchers come from that time when I was too young to appreciate baseball, so numbers and reputation carry the day. For the other half, the selections are considerably more dubious.
Of the 90’s Marlins pitchers I’ve heard of from my parents and other folk, Robb Nen is the most notorious for his ability to make games intersting. While Nen kept around a 3 ERA and FIP, and racked up 23 saves in 1995, his record that year was also 0-7, which means he gave up the lead or was the last Marlins pitcher before the team lost seven times. Bryan Harvey is probably the closer in this bullpen; in the inaugural season, Harvey was worth 2.6 wins above average and notched 45 saves.
If you are faint of heart, I would suggest that you skip this paragraph about the second-half of the bullpen, which includes Kevin Gregg, Heath Bell, and Steve Cishek. While all three were given the closer title in their respective times, they each had their own taste for disaster. As a previous bona fide closer, Heath Bell was loaded onto the roster with a slew of other stars in 2012 to make a World Series run. The plan severely backfired; Bell only recorded 19 saves, and ramped his ERA up to 5. While Kevin Gregg kept his FIP just under 5, his 29 saves in 2008 only totaled a .7 fWAR for the Fish. Finally, while Cishek was not great, he was a considerable improvement from Gregg and Bell; 2013 Cishek ties Mike Mantei for second-most valuable pitcher in the bullpen with an fWAR of 1.4, and holds the second-most amount of saves with 34.
And then you have El Pulpo. No bullpen is complete without a long reliever, and no Marlins bullpen is complete without Antonio Alfonseca.
The Finished Product
And there you have it. If I had to create I lineup, it would probably go like this
- 2015 Dee Gordon 2B
- 2017 Giancarlo Stanton RF
- 2006 Miguel Cabrera 3B
- 2009 Hanley Ramirez SS
- 2001 Cliff Floyd LF
- 2003 Ivan Rodriguez C
- 1997 Moises Alou CF
- 1994 Jeff Conine 1B
Not too shabby. Ultimately, this is probably not the perfect All-Time greatest Marlins roster; the rules here keep out players like Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, and Gary Sheffield, amongst others. However, given the criteria, I’m confident that this is pretty close to the perfect combination.
Think you can do better? Can you beat 94.6 fWAR? Give it your best shot, and submit your roster in the comments—but follow the rules!