In an age where baseball players are being dissected under the statistical microscope more than ever before, and with the offseason still in full-effect, it gives us time to reflect on past performance good and bad.
Here, the focus is on the latter as we look back on the best individual seasons, position-by-position, in Florida/Miami Marlins history in hopes of constructing the all-Marlins team.
Metrics such as WAR and OPS+ will be paramount in determining placing for position players, while the latter and ERA, ERA+, and, to a lesser-degree, strikeouts, will be used in determining which pitchers, starters and relievers, make the cut.
John Smoltz may’ve wound up victorious in taking home that year’s Cy Young Award in the National League, but a strong argument can be made that Kevin Brown was the one most deserving of the hardware. His 7.9 rWAR (baseball-reference), still sits a quarter century on as the high-water mark for Marlins’ starters, and that said mark led all NL pitchers in 1996. Brown’s historic ‘96 season also saw him finish with a league leading 1.89 ERA, 215 ERA+, and 3 shutouts. Voters may’ve been swayed by Smoltz’s MLB-best 276 strikeouts to Brown’s 159, and the two were near-neck-and-neck in WAR (7.9-to-7.4), but nonetheless, Brown is our pick for the best single-season turned in by a Marlins’ hurler.
The franchise wouldn't have to wait long to be blessed with their best season by a reliever with the help of Bryan Harvey. Pitching in 59 games in the team’s inaugural season, pitching 69 innings and finishing with a 1.70 ERA, enough for a robust 252 ERA+. Among pitchers with at least 69 innings pitched in 1993, only then-Expos reliever John Wetteland finished with a better ERA+, posting a 305 mark to the tune of a 1.37 ERA. Harvey’s 4.0 WAR that season still ranks first among Marlins’ relievers, with 2004 Armando Benitez trailing at 3.4.
By WAR alone, Realmuto and 2003 World Series backstop Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, are tied for the best such mark in team history at catcher, 4.5. Because of this, we need deeper examine peripherals. At the end of the day, Realmuto wins out, thanks to his 126 OPS+, the highest among Marlins’ catchers in a single season, By way of the triple-slash, Rodriguez had the better offensive season, slashing .297/.369/.474 to Realmuto’s .277/.340/.484, but Realmuto threw out a higher percentage of base runners, 38, to Pudge’s 33. This decision will surely stir debate, but that’s what makes these lists as engaging as they are.
It should be noted that first base has never been a position of strength for the Marlins. Among players with at least 100 games at the position in a season, of which there are only 8 qualified players, it’s Derrek Lee in 2002 whose 3.0 WAR ranks first, a mark, while not bad by any standard of the measure, doesn’t wow anyone when looking at an all-time team. That said, Lee’s 2003 season is the one we go with here, due, in large part to his .888 OPS when compared to his .872 mark the previous year. Lee hit 31 home runs in 2003, second only to Mike Jacobs in 2008 among first basemen in franchise history. Being the starting first baseman on the World Series’ winning team doesn’t hurt either, and Lee appeared in all 162 games that season.
While he’ll forever be remembered for his role on the 2003 team, Castillo was never better than he was in 2000. His 4.5 WAR that year is the best such mark in team history among second basemen, thanks in large part to his league-leading 62 stolen bases and .418 on base, the former which led all second basemen in the sport. A strong case can be made for Castillo’s 2003 season, where he served as a table-setter along with Juan Pierre for the aforementioned Lee and co., and finished with a .381 OBP, but he was never better than he was in 2000.
Many a Marlin fan yearn for the days of Miguel Cabrera, as did nothing but hit during his tenure in Miami. His 5.8 rWAR in 2006 still sits at the top of mountain for Marlins’ third basemen, and while he didn’t exactly wow on defense - per his -10 Defensive Runs Saved - his .430 OBP, 26 home runs, 114 RBI and .998 OPS nulled any of Miggy’s shortcomings with the leather. He’d go on to bigger and better things in Detroit, winning a Triple Crown and back-to-back MVP’s, it was Miami where he first made his name.
Like Cabrera, Ramirez was never a renowned defender, but offensively, there was a time where Hanley Ramirez was arguably the best hitter at his respective shortstop position. That was never more true in 2009 when the centerpiece in the Josh Beckett trade hit .342 en route to winning the NL batting title. Ramirez managed to finish a 20-20 player in 2009, finishing with 24 home runs and 27 steals, as well as 42 doubles and 106 RBI. All of this amounted to 7.4 rWAR, good enough for a 2nd place MVP finish to Albert Pujols, and inclusion as our shortstop on this list.
Marcell Ozuna’s 2017 season, while incredible, plays second fiddle to Cliff Floyd’s 2001 performance. Coming in the midst of a season where Barry Bonds, Luis Gonzalez, and Sammy Sosa each surpassed the 50-home run mark, Floyd finished 2001 with 6.6 rWAR, the best such mark among LF’ers in team history, despite just a 22nd place finish in NL MVP voting that season. Only Jeffry Browne’s .392 OBP in 1994 bests Floyd’s .390 mark that season, but Floyd gets the nod thanks to his 31 home runs and .578 slugging percentage.
Marcell Ozuna’s 4.4 rWAR in 2014 ranks first among Marlins’ CF’ers with at least 2⁄3 of their games played at the position over a single-season. However, Ozuna finished 2014 with a .317 OBP, and 164 strikeouts against just 41 walks. Because of this, it’s Christian Yelich in 2017 who wins out. While 2004 Juan Pierre did slightly edge Yelich in terms of total WAR, 3.9-to-3.7, Yelich presented a more complete player than Pierre, who made his living primarily on the base paths. A year before winning the NL MVP with Milwaukee, Yelich finished his last season in Miami with 18 home runs, 16 steals, and a .369 OBP. While he did cost the team 12 runs on defense, the offensive output alone merit Yelich’s inclusion here.
Juiced ball or not, Giancarlo Stanton’s 2017 season was something Miami had not yet seen. Stanton finished 2017 setting a new franchise record for home runs (59), slugging percentage (.631), and RBI (132). No one had a better OBP than Gary Sheffield's Mantle-like .465 mark in 1996, and a strong case can be made for Sheffield’s season that year belonging in place of Stanton. However, when we look at the peripherals, particularly WAR and the underlying defensive metrics, Stanton finished 2017 with 8 rWAR, while Sheffield closed shop with 5.9 in ‘96. Sheffield, a historically bad defender, finished with -2.3 dWAR, while Stanton was slightly above average at 0.5.
- 2B - Castillo
- CF - Yelich
- 3B - Cabrera
- RF - Stanton
- SS - Ramirez
- LF - Floyd
- 1B - Lee
- C - Realmuto
- P - Brown
RP - Harvey