The Requisite "Next Year Will Be Better" Post

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The time has come for some end-of-season reflection, so here are my thoughts on the 2009 season. Last year, the Marlins were considered to be a bit of an overachieving team, finishing 84-77 despite a Pythagorean W-L of 81-81. 2009 was a similar story, with the Marlins currently sitting 86-74 with a Pythagorean W-L of 82-78. Indeed, were it not for a dismal month of May, during which the team went 9-20, the Marlins could have very easily made the playoffs in an alternate universe. So while I am disappointed 2009 did not go better, I also understand that the Marlins played a bit above expectations.

I won't rehash all the failings of the team in 2009, from the bullpen nightmares to the inconsistent starting pitching, but will instead use 2009 as a guide for what the Marlins need to accomplish to improve in 2010.

Offensively, the Marlins appear due for a dropoff next year. At this point they have scored the fifth most runs in the National League while posting the fourth highest OBP and fifth highest OPS (and that was with Emilio Bonifacio starting most of the season!). But it appears highly likely that the team will lose at least two of the trio of Nick Johnson, Dan Uggla, and Jorge Cantu to free agency and/or arbitration. While it is possible that their numbers can be replaced by some of the younger players due to come up in 2010 (Gaby Sanchez, Logan Morrison, ?), I'm not so enthusiastic that the offense will necessarily continue humming along next year.

That is not to say all hope is lost. The Fish still possess Hanley Ramirez, one of the most talented players in the game who creates runs no matter who is batting around him. And Chris Coghlan has turned himself into an effective OBP machine hitting leadoff. If an effective hitter can take residence between the two in the lineup (perhaps Maybin?), then the Marlins will trot out a formidable top of the order every day next year. Hopefully the front office doesn't try to convince themselves that Bonifacio could start at second if Dan Uggla does not return.

But as we learned this year, a good offense cannot win the division without consistently effective starting pitching. Not to get all Joe Morgan here, but aside from Josh Johnson, the Marlins' rotation in 2009 was a bit of a roller-coaster ride. Ricky Nolasco struggled out of the gate, and never fully recaptured his effective 2008 form. Chris Volstad showed promise, but gave up 29 home runs over the same number of starts, which limited his effectiveness. Andrew Miller and Anibal Sanchez battled injuries all year, and Sean West showed flashes of brilliance but struggled with his control, walking 44 batters over 103 innings. All six of these pitchers had some great outings during the year, but they were all too often punctuated by disappointing outings, with the exception of Johnson, who proved himself worthy of at least one lame Photoshop.

If the Marlins wish to compete next year, they will need to get more quality starts out of their rotation. They got 73 through the first 160 games of 2009, which puts them at 13th in the NL. To me, this is the most important statistic to watch in 2010, as it will tell you how well the young pitching staff will be at logging low-scoring innings.

Then there is the bullpen. Though the team has publicly said they are comfortable bringing back Matt Lindstrom and Leo Nunez, I'm not convinced. We'll see what they have to say after the dust has settled on the 2009 season and Fredi Gonzalez does not have to worry about keeping the clubhouse peaceful. The Marlins had some good success from 2004-2006 picking up closers off the scrap heap (Armando Benitez, Todd Jones, even Joe Borowski) and letting them pitch; perhaps it may be time to try that again (although they are always liable to end up with another Jorge Julio/Kevin Gregg situation...).

Until all the offseason roster shake-ups are done, I am loathe to make any predictions about next year. Nevertheless, I feel I am justified in being optimistic about 2010.


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