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All-Time Marlins Countdown: Chapter 130

Today we feature a slugging first baseman and the final major league season of Javier Vázquez.

Washington Nationals v Florida Marlins Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Throughout the 2020-21 offseason, Fish Stripes is briefly recapping each of the 630 players to have appeared in a regular season game for the club.

Through their first 28 seasons of major league play, the Florida and Miami Marlins have played in 4,364 contests, and won 2,021 of them. Some players lasted one game, and a few lasted several seasons. The final 128 players in this series all totaled 800 or more plate appearances and/or batters faced while with the team. All Marlins are ranked in ascending order of bWAR divided by PA/BF.

As a sidebar, I’d like to call special attention to the fact that players are ordered by their rate of effectiveness, not total value. Derrek Lee appeared in 844 regular season games for the Marlins, while Javier Vázquez was in the rotation for a grand total of one campaign.

Understand I’m not saying that Vázquez was better or more important to the history of the Marlins as was Lee, although he’s ranked one above. I’m saying that he was incrementally of higher value per PA/BF. To be precise, Lee accrued 9.9 bWAR during his time with the Marlins, while Vázquez was worth 2.7. On a per-plate-transaction comparison, however, Vázquez put up .003121 bWAR per batter faced, while Lee accumulated .003045 per plate appearance. The devil’s in the details, and every list of this sort needs some kind of system to keep it honest. Now, back to the show....

47. Derrek Lee

Derrek Lee enjoyed a 15-season major league career, winning three Gold Gloves, two All Star Game appearances, and one Silver Slugger. Although he started his career getting drafted by the San Diego Padres (first round, 1993, 13th overall), he earned his first taste of greatness while ensconced with the Marlins.

Drafted out of El Camino Fundamental HS, Lee quickly worked his way onto Baseball America’s radar. Ranked four times in their yearly top-100, he peaked at number 15 overall in 1997, as the Padres number one prospect. It was with them for whom he made his first major league appearances, playing in 22 games at the top level that same year.

After that season, the Padres traded six-foot-five right-hander Lee with Rafael Medina (#236) and Steve Hoff to the Marlins for Kevin Brown (I’m not telling you what rank Brown is on this countdown but it’s pretty darn high). Once Lee joined the Marlins, he ended up manning the not-hot corner for six seasons in Florida.

Derrek Lee
These uniforms were fire.

From 1998 through 2003, Lee topped the Marlins’ depth chart at first base, playing in 844 games (including a major league best 162 in 2002). He slashed .264/.353/.469 with 129 homers and 417 RBI, with 363 walks versus 734 whiffs. He also stole 51 bases in 76 attempts.

On June 21, 2001, Lee put up his highest WPA while with the Marlins. With two outs in the ninth inning, trailing by a run and a runner on first, Lee came in to pinch hit, and connected for a deep shot off Atlanta Braves closer John Rocker to take a 3-2 lead. Antonio Alfonseca (#75) came in to shut the door.

Lee’s collected Wins Above Replacement is mostly reliant on his offensive capabilities, as he was considered a somewhat below-average fielder. Nonetheless, he won the 2003 NL Gold Glove at first base in his final season with the Marlins (despite a career-worst minus-1.7 dWAR).

Lee’s Marlins’ career culminated in the 2003 postseason run, during which he went 15-for-72 with one round-tripper and eight RBI. His most impactful plate appearance came in the eighth inning of Florida’s 8-3 Game Six win over the Chicago Cubs. Three batters after the infamous Steve Bartman incident, Lee hit a two-run, game-tying double.

In the barn-burning post-postseason selloff following the Marlins second World Series title, Lee was sent to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Mike Nannini and Hee-Seop Choi (#144). Lee then played seven seasons with the North-Siders, followed by stints with the Braves, the Baltimore Orioles, and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

46. Javier Vázquez

Right-handed starting pitcher Javier Vázquez is a six-foot-two native of Ponce, Puerto Rico. A 14-year MLB veteran, Vázquez never started fewer than 26 games through his career, topping 200 innings nine times (he pitched 198 frames in 2004, his only All Star season).

Vázquez began his professional career in 1994, when the Montreal Expos chose him in the fifth round out of high school. Before joining the Florida Marlins in 2011, he struck out 2,374 major league batters between stints with Montreal, the Chicago White Sox, the New York Yankees, the Arizona Diamondbacks, and the Braves. He was 152-149 with a 4.26 ERA.

So what did Vázquez have left in the tank by the time he got to the Marlins? Quite a bit, it turned out. He led the Marlins starting staff with a 1.18 WHIP (Josh Johnson had a 0.98 WHIP, but pitched just over 60 innings). Vázquez also struck out 162 in 192 23 innings, going 13-11 with a 3.69 ERA over 32 starts.

Vázquez held the opposition to a slash line of .243/.291/.398 through 798 plate appearances, walking only 50 for a solid 2.3 BB/9. Of the 3,004 pitches he threw through the season, he put an astonishing 66 percent of them over the plate. He also wasn’t helpless at the plate, going 10-for-56 at the plate and only striking out 10 times. I mean, sure, his OPS+ was only 12, but he’s a pitcher, after all.

On September 16, in what turned out to be Vázquez’ third to last major league appearances, he put up a season-high 84 GameScore for the Marlins. He threw a five-hit shutout, striking out seven in a 3-0 victory against the Washington Nationals. That contest came in the middle of Vázquez’s Marlins record 29 inning scoreless streak. Over the course of that stretch, he struck out 28 and walked only four.

Long story short, Vázquez could probably have pitched a few more seasons, but never appeared in affiliated ball again. In 2014, he was signed by the MLBPA as an international special assistant to executive director Tony Clark.

Thanks for stopping by. Check back here tomorrow for two starting pitchers on our way to the number one Marlin.