Early Returns

Monday, April 25, 2011

We are a good twenty games into the 2011 season, which is as good a time as any to give an early assessment of the Marlins' performance, focusing on a few key areas that had been question marks before the season. Ted and I will examine two aspects of the Marlins' results in 2011, and (in a bit of arbitrary fun) decide whether to buy or sell each component.

Chris Coghlan As A Centerfielder

The Diehards were in a very vocal group against the idea of playing Coghlan in CF before the season. The team insisted that his athleticism, instincts, and the fact he picked up left field so quickly were reasons why he'd swim rather than sink at this new position. Naysayers like us cited his injury concerns (coming off knee surgery) and that playing centerfield requires more learning and is more difficult than the corner outfield positions as reasons it was a bad idea.

So far he has looked pretty good. He hasn't made any errors or had any gaffes. The in-depth numbers (albeit a ridiculously small sample size) also suggest he has been very solid. His UZR ranks in the top third of centerfielders. The downside is his arm strength, or lack thereof.

Ted's Decision: I admit I was wrong and will buy Coghlan as an average centerfielder. He seems to get good reads on balls and has decent enough speed that he can track a lot them down. He's like the anti-Cameron Maybin. He will continue to make some diving catches a la Jim Edmonds because I still don't believe he has above-average range. His arm strength is what worries me most, but we'll have to live with that. We won a world series with Juan Pierre's rag arm in center, so it can't be that bad.

Bullpen Improvement

Sunday's blown save aside, Florida's bullpen has been surprisingly effective in April. The Marlins lead the NL in bullpen ERA (1.79, they're also fifth in FIP at 3.18) and have converted 6 of 7 save opportunities (though some of those have been of the three-run variety). 83.6% of their runners inherited have been stranded on base, only trailing Houston's 89.0%. Combined, the bullpen has 0.8 WAR, putting them in a four-team tie for eighth place.

But the bullpen has thrown only a bit more than 60 innings thus far, and only three relievers have even thrown 10 innings themselves, so it's still a bit too early to draw any conclusions. The relievers' BABIP is .217, one of the lowest in baseball, and the bullpen's 7.25 K/9 is not stellar. In other words, they could be getting lucky.

Like Emiilio Bonifacio, the entire bullpen can probably expect a reversion to the mean at some point. Hopefully their reversion is nowhere near as bad as Bonifacio's will be.

Dave's Decision: I am selling half my shares in the bullpen to lock in a decent profit, and holding onto the remaining shares for about a month, whereupon I'll probably end up selling the rest before the bottom drops out.


The question of depth is prevalent in all Marlins seasons but even more so this one. The teams minor league system is pretty depleted after having recently promoted many highly touted prospects like Mike Stanton and Logan Morrison. There simply aren't any resources for either improving the club midseason or having good cover options in case of injuries.

So far the injury bug has hit the team quite a bit. Mike Stanton missed some time with a hamstring strain. He's still not 100%. Hanley Ramirez missed a couple games. The real blow came last week when Logan Morrison went down. He will miss 2-4 weeks (if we're lucky) with a strained arch in his foot.

Ted's Decision: I do buy that it is a problem. LoMo's injury means we are seeing Emilio Bonifacio play every day and even though that has worked out thus far, it will have bad consequences in the near future.

Power Outage

We all worried the Marlins would have a difficult time replacing Dan Uggla, but he bat is not the only one missing thus far. Hanley Ramirez has started the year in a slump, slashing .194/.315/.258 with no home runs and only 4 extra-base hits (all doubles). As a team, the Marlins are scoring 4.21 runs a game, with 0.68 home runs and 4.47 doubles per game, compared to 4.43 runs, 0.94 home runs, and 1.81 doubles per game in 2010. The team as a whole is still lacking in power, for the most part.

In Hanley's case, Marlins fans only need to hope for a reversion to the mean. His contact rate is marginally lower (77.3% compared to 83.0% career), his K% is slightly below average (16.% compared to 18% career), and his line-drive % is a little low (13.8% compared to 18.0% career), but the main culprit seems to be his .231 BABIP (compared to .344 career). He'll break his home run drought, and that BABIP (largely a function of luck) will bounce back.

As for Uggla's bat, his gap had been filled surprisingly enough by Logan Morrison early on. LoMo slashed .327/.424/.636 before injuring his foot last week, with 4 home runs, 5 doubles, and 10 walks. Uggla's career slash line, for comparison, is .252/.336/.457. Marlin Maniac pointed out last week that LoMo "is no Mike Stanton by any mean," and I'm inclined to agree. He won't quite make up for Uggla, but he'll still improve on his 2010 numbers (as will Mike Stanton, who only got a half-season of experience in 2010 and is off to a slow start in 2011), so the Marlins will maybe come closer to replicating Uggla's offensive production than most people predicted before the season.

Dave's Decision: I rate the Marlins at Accumulate (but not Buy). Their performance will improve a good amount in the long term, but it won't take off completely.

Buy or Sell the Marlins Playoff Chances

Dave: I'm upping the Marlins from Sell to Neutral. I remain skeptical that everything will turn out peaches, but I think the likelihood is higher than I estimated at the beginning of the year. I'll allow myself to get a little more hopeful.

Ted: I agree with Dave. I don't want to get too excited, but it'd be too over-the-top to be a Debbie-Downer ultra-pessimist about the team now. They have been racking up wins without even looking too hot (outside of the pitching staff).


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