July 12, 2012

Miami Marlins’ massive makeover brings massive bust

A spending spree on free agents, a new ballpark and a host of other changes yielded a mediocre record of 41-44 for the Marlins at the break.

They spent big bucks on free agents. They moved into a state-of-the-art ballpark. They hired a marquee manager. They changed their name, their color scheme and their outfits. They even started letting players wear neck chains and grow beards.

The Marlins underwent the makeover of all Major League makeovers.

But the results on the field haven’t changed. The new-look, gussied-up Marlins have been a mammoth bust so far.

With a record of 41-44, the re-branded Marlins are only percentage points better at the All-Star break than last year’s 43-48 club at the same midseason mile marker. They are arguably the most glaring disappointment in all the majors.

"You can compare the Marlins to the Facebook fiasco," said one major league scout. "High expectations and haven’t delivered."

Instead of contending for the franchise’s first-ever division title, the Marlins are sitting just ahead of last-place Philadelphia in the National League East -- nine games behind the first-place Nationals and five games out in the wild card race.

There is still time for the Marlins to turn it around.

They were, after all, the hottest team in baseball in May, going 21-8. But the odds are stacked against them, especially with their only bonafide All-Star -- Giancarlo Stanton -- out of commission for the next four to six weeks following knee surgery.

If there is little or no improvement in the second half, both on the field and at the turnstiles, the Marlins could be looking at another offseason roster overhaul, one that involves a toned-down look and lower payroll.


• HITTING: The addition of Jose Reyes and a healthy Hanley Ramirez were expected generate a more potent lineup. It hasn’t worked out that way. The Marlins rank in the bottom third of all National League teams in batting average, runs scored, and hitting with runners in scoring position. Five of the team’s Opening Day starters -- Reyes, Ramirez, Logan Morrison, Gaby Sanchez and John Buck -- have underperformed at the plate while another, Emilio Bonifacio, has missed significant time with an injury. Only Stanton and second baseman Omar Infante have produced desired results. Grade: D

• PITCHING: The Marlins signed a pair of high-priced free agents, starter Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell, while trading for starter Carlos Zambrano in a bid to shore up a pitching staff that also welcomed the return of staff ace Josh Johnson. But the arms haven’t added up to a collective improvement on the mound. Bell has been a disaster. Johnson hasn’t dominated. Zambrano has been erratic. As a unit, the starting staff is merely average, though it might have pressed when the offense disappeared in June. The bullpen, burdened by Bell’s repeated failings, has struggled. Grade: C -

• FIELDING: There are no Gold Glove candidates on this club. Even steady second baseman Omar Infante hasn’t looked as sharp defensively as he did last season. While Ramirez has adapted to third base with general success, the player who forced him out of a job at short -- Reyes -- has been uneven. Neither of the Marlins’ young corner outfielders, Morrison and Stanton, are remotely close to polished, and Morrison will likely wind up at first base, where he is better suited. Grade: C -

• MANAGING/COACHING: One of Ozzie Guillen’s favorite catch-phrases is that players win and managers lose. If that’s the case, then Guillen -- by his own definition -- is falling short in his first season at the helm. He stuck with Bell too long, perhaps under pressure from a front office that is on the hook with the closer for three years, and the decision cost the Marlins in the standings. On the other hand, Guillen is managing for the first time in the National League and is only halfway into his first season of a four-year contract. Grade: C

Saving the game

Heath Bell has six “blown saves,” but a handful of his failures don’t qualify under the strict definition of the term. Here’s the complete file of Bell’s breakdowns this season:

• April 8 at Cincinnati: Marlins are leading 5-4 in the 9th, but Bell gives up two runs as the Marlins lose 6-5 to the Reds. Blown Save No. 1.
• April 14 vs. Houston: Marlins are leading 4-1 in the 9th, but Bell gives up four runs in a 5-4 loss. Blown Save No. 2.
• April 26 at New York: Marlins are leading 2-1 in the 9th, but Bell gives up two runs in a 3-2 loss. Blown Save No. 3.
• May 2 at San Francisco: Marlins are leading 2-0 in the 9th, but Bell is lifted for Steve Cishek after the Giants score twice to tie it and send game to extra innings. Marlins won 3-2 in the 10th. Not a blown save since Cishek inherited the save situation from Bell.
• May 4 at San Diego: Marlins are leading 8-7 in the 9th, but Bell gives up the tying run. Marlins eventually win 9-8 in the 12th. Blown Save No. 4.
• May 13 vs. New York Mets -- Marlins are tied 2-2 with Mets in the 9th, but Bell gives up two runs as Mets take the lead. Marlins score six in the bottom of the 9th to pull out victory. Bell, as the pitcher of record, is credited with the win.
• May 25 vs. San Francisco: Marlins take a 7-4 lead into the 9th. But after Giants rally for two runs to trim the lead, Bell is lifted and Steve Cishek is brought in to preserve a 7-6 win.
• May 26 vs. San Francisco: Marlins take a 5-2 lead into the 9th. But Bell is lifted for the second straight night when he gives up a run. Randy Choate brought in to preserve 5-3 win.
• June 25 vs. St. Louis: Marlins lead 6-2 in the 9th. But Bell gives up four runs and Cardinals win 8-7 in the 10th. Not a blown save since Bell did not enter in a save situation.
• July 3 at Milwaukee: After overcoming a 9-2 deficit and taking an 12-11 lead in the 10th, Bell gives up a two-run homer to Aramis Ramirez and Marlins lose 13-12. Blown Save No. 5
• July 8 at St. Louis: Marlins take a 4-2 lead into the 9th. Bell gives up three runs in the 9th as Cardinals rally for a 5-4 victory. Blown Save No. 6.

Math is not right

While the Marlins are just 41-44, they should consider themselves lucky.

According to the “Pythagorean expectation” formula created by Bill James, one that is based simply on runs scored and runs allowed, the Marlins “should” be 37-48 and languishing in last place.

The Marlins have been outscored by 56 runs, the sixth-worst differential in the majors.

Here is a comparison of the actual National League East standings, and how the standings would look if James’ formula is applied:

Actual Standings

Team W L GB
Washington 49 34 --
Atlanta 46 39 4
New York 46 40 4 1/2
Miami 41 44 9
Philadelphia 37 50 14

Pythagorean Standings

Team W L GB
Washington 48 35 --
Atlanta 46 39 3
New York 45 41 4 1/2
Philadelphia 41 46 9
Miami 37 48 12

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