Don Mattingly on offensive woes: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever been through anything quite like this’
With more than a quarter of the season done, the Miami Marlins are well on their way to one of the worst seasons in MLB history. With a 1-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday, the Marlins remain on a roughly 40-win pace with one of the worst offense’s in recent memory.
Following its second straight shutout loss and ninth of the year, Miami is now averaging just 2.6 runs per game, last in the Majors by nearly a full run per game. The Detroit Tigers are the only other team averaging fewer than 3.5 runs per game with an average of 3.4. The Texas Rangers, for comparison, have the Major League’s most productive offense at 5.6 runs per game, while the Chicago Cubs lead the National League at 5.4 runs per game.
The Marlins (10-41) have hit just 24 home runs all season. They don’t have a single player on pace to hit 20 and only one player has an adjusted on-base-plus-slugging percentage better than the league average of 100. Miami has just 72 extra-base hits all season, and are the first team in history to get this deep into the season without either a triple or intentional walk.
These are truly historically woeful times in South Florida.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been through anything quite like this, but you’re not going to be able to fool them to think this isn’t going on,” manager Don Mattingly said Wednesday. “They know what’s going on. They know it individually, they know it as a team, so you’re just going to have to keep erasing games and get back to business and keep working. I really don’t think there’s any magic words at this point that are going to like totally relax everybody, that we’re going to all of a sudden start swinging the bats. We’re going to individually have to come here and be better.”
The loss to the Rays (26-10) to close out a two-game sweep at Marlins Park pretty well summed up the first quarter of the season in Miami. Starting pitcher Jose Urena pitched effectively and the bullpen followed him well, but the Marlins simply couldn’t give its promising young pitching staff any sort of run support. Miami went 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position in the one-run loss and now has a run differential of negative-96.
The Marlins current pace puts them on track for 39.5 wins. Round up and it’s the fewest since the 1962 New York Mets, who won 40 games in a 160-game season. Round down and they’d join the 1904 Washington Senators, 1935 Boston Braves, and the Philadelphia Athletics of 1916 and 1919 as the only teams with fewer than 40 wins since the start of the 20th century. Miami’s current run-differential pace of negative-379.3 would be the ninth worst mark of all time behind eight teams from the 1800s. Since 1900, only 18 teams have a run differential of negative-300 or worse and none have been outscored by more than 345. The 2003 Detroit Tigers are the only team this century with a run differential worse than negative-300.
This is all with the Marlins ranking 22nd in overall run prevention, holding opponents to 5.0 runs per game — a pedestrian number, but from the historically bad pace the offense is setting.
“I see a bunch of guys grinding, but trying to do too much, trying to do a lot with just one at-bat,” infielder Miguel Rojas said Wednesday. “It’s really frustrating when you’re going on a bad streak like that and you’re finding runners in scoring position. You’re trying to do too much You’re trying to hit a homer instead of just put the ball in play and let the guy behind you do the job, too.”
Only six teams since the end of World War II have averaged fewer than three runs per game for a full season and all six just missed the three-run threshold at 2.9 runs per game.
The two most recent instances came in 1972 when the California Angels still managed to win 75 games and in 1969 when the expansion San Diego Padres on 52.
Those Angels’ woes were almost certainly partially driven by bad luck. Six of their starters posted an OPS+ better than 100.
The 1969 Padres’ offense is widely regarded as one of the worst offenses in modern history. Their middle infielders combined for nine RBI. Their top batting average was .264. Catcher Chris Cannizzaro was their lone All-Star despite a .220 batting average and .290 on-base percentage.
Even this team, however, had three players posted an OPS+ better than 100 as first baseman Nate Colbert belted 24 home runs, outfielder Ollie Brown added 20 homers and fellow outfielder Al Ferrara paired a .349 OBP with a .440 slugging percentage.
OPS+ adjusts for ballpark and normalizes a player’s OPS across the league to make average 100. Utility man Neil Walker leads Miami this season at 131 and catcher Jorge Alfaro is the only other player better than 75 at 88. Alfaro leads the team with five home runs, which puts him on pace for 19.8, and only Walker, second baseman Starlin Castro and outfielder Curtis Granderson are on pace to join him in double figures.
Before and after the loss the Tampa Bay on Wednesday, Mattingly tried to give a big-picture diagnosis for the offensive woes and landed upon a simple fact: Even compared to other teams trying to win with run prevention, the Marlins lack marquee hitters. Scratching out runs only works when there are a few hitters in the middle of the order to bail out the offense from time to time. Even some of the worst offenses in history have had something resembling what Mattingly is looking for.
“You see clubs over the years that basically pitch, play defense and scratch for runs, but they’ve always got kind of like two main guys. They’ve got a couple of main guys that thump, that are 25-, 30-home run guys that drive in 100 runs and then they try to put pieces around them to be able to get some guys on base, create some runs in a different way,” Mattingly said. “I don’t think we have that true middle-of-the-order type guys, so I think that, as much as anything, is missing those main pieces that you kind of can count on day in and day out, that you know these guys right here are going to be pretty steady and they’re going to struggle too at times, but when you have that you take pressure off everyone else to just do their part.”