2008 Florida Marlins Preview
Tuesday, March 04 2008 @ 04:10 PM EST
Contributed by: Dave Rutt
Enter the Florida Marlins' spring training facility press conference area. After having received notice of an important Florida Marlins announcement, a throng of reporters was seated and looking around confusedly. One Miami Herald reporter in the second row turned to his colleague and whispered “is confusedly a word?” “I don’t know,” the response came, “but if it isn’t, it should be, because it’s definitely the manner in which I’m looking around right now.”
Momentarily a young, dark-skinned man of average build entered the room and sat down in front of the microphone. “Thank you all for coming here on such short notice. As you know from the press release, I have a short but very important announcement to make, which will be followed by a question period.” A reporter in the front row stood up and put forth the question on everyone’s mind: “Excuse me, but who are you?” A look of indignation came across the young man’s face. “What do you mean, who am I? I’m Alejandro de freakin’ Aza!”
A murmur of realization bubbled forth from the crowd. “Oh, that’s what he looks like!” “I thought it was that guy from Curb Your Enthusiasm!” “Who’s Alejandro de freakin' Aza?” (Okay, so it was only a murmur of half-realization. Or a half-murmur of realization. Or half a… never mind.)
“I’ve called this press conference today to dispel some myths that have been going around. No doubt you’ve heard about the bold predictions Jimmy Rollins, Carlos Beltran and Jeff Francoeur have made. Well, I’m here to tell you that those three men, fine players though they are, are flat out wrong. The 2008 Florida Marlins are the team to beat in the NL East.”
The murmur rose once again, and this time burst into a dull roar. After several minutes the crowd calmed down, and the press conference moderator announced: “Mr. De Aza will now take questions.”
Reporter: “Mr. De Aza, I find it hard to believe that you’ll compete given the team’s off-season moves. I mean, you lost Miguel Cabrera, your best hitter, and Dontrelle Willis, who, despite the fact that he had an off-year, may still have been the team’s best starting pitcher. I can’t think of many teams who can lose their best position player and starting pitcher and still be competitive the following year, not to mention the fact that you weren’t even competitive last year.”
Alejandro de Aza: “Certainly, losing Miggy and Dontrelle is a big blow to our team. Those guys were team leaders and it’s always sad to see good friends traded away. However, as much as it pains me to say it, I truly believe that this was a good baseball move for us, both for 2008 and for the future. Like many of you guys, I look at projections to analyze our chances for the season. PECOTA projects Cabrera and Willis at 7.7 and 3.8 WARP, respectively, while Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller and Mike Rabelo project at 3.7, 3.0 and 2.0 WARP. That’s 11.5 WARP going out and 8.7 coming in – but that’s only three of the players we got. Don’t forget we got six players in the deal, so if you double that 8.7 figure you end up with 17.4 WARP, which is a six win advantage over last year’s team.”
Reporter: “Alejandro, hold onto that thought because I’m going to tell you all the things wrong with what you just said after the press conference, but for now I will tell you this: you can’t count on young players to put up their projections. Many of them have some sort of trouble adjusting to the big leagues that projection systems don’t account for which causes them to spend some time in the minors, not contributing to the team. So of the three you mentioned, we can only really expect Mike Rabelo to put up his projected line. While Miller and especially Maybin are very good prospects who may one day end up as superstars, it’s likely that they’ll see some struggles this year. One more thing: it was unwittingly prescient of you to only mention the aforementioned three players, because the other three (Eulogio de la Cruz, Dallas Trahern, Burke Badenhop) are unlikely to sniff the big leagues this year, so it's irrelevant to consider their projections."
Alejandro de Aza: “Well, I thank you for your opinion, but I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. Next question.”
Reporter: "Your offense was your strength last year, though you were still barely above league average. How do you think you'll cope with the loss of your best hitter, Miguel Cabrera?"
Alejandro de Aza: “Well, let’s look at the line-up. Compared to last year, 5 of our 8 starting position players are the same: Hanley, Dan, Mike, Josh and Jeremy. Those guys’ ages range from 23-29, so it’s unlikely that they’ll regress too much, and there’s a pretty decent chance they’ll improve. Take Mike for example: in his 3 seasons in the big leagues, his OPS has been 1.085, .798 and .775. If you average those three values, you get .886, which I think would be a fair projection for him this year. That would have ranked him as the 20th best hitter in the NL as measured by OPS last year, ahead of such luminaries as Ken Griffey Jr., Carlos Lee and Carlos Beltran. Pretty darn good if you ask me.”
Reporter: “Excuse me Mr. de Aza, but I think your calculation is flawed. Mike Jacobs only had 100 ABs in his 1.085 OPS season, so it was most likely a fluke. I think a more reasonable projection for him would be an OPS of .805, which is what PECOTA projects. In fact, I’ve written down PECOTA projections for all your starting position players in a Data Table on this big piece of Bristol board, which I will now hold up.”
|Uggla ||Dan ||28 ||2B ||627 ||83 ||25 ||88 ||58 ||132 ||7 ||.260 ||.336 ||.470
|Willingham||Josh||29||LF||589|| 85||23||82||69|| 117||7||.271||.365||.482
|Rabelo||Mike||28||C||299|| 29||5||32||20|| 60||2||.246||.308||.370
|Hermida||Jeremy||24||RF||532|| 80||19||71||68|| 106||9||.284||.380||.485
|Jacobs||Mike||27||1B||551|| 66||24||85||47|| 117||4||.262||.329||.476
“Aside from Rabelo, that's a pretty solid top 5... offensively, at least. Hanley is one of the best hitters in the game, Uggla is one of the better hitting 2B around, Willingham is above average for a LF, Jacobs is a solid 1B, and Hermida may yet fulfill his once highly-regarded potential. The table doesn’t include projections for CF or 3B, though, because those positions are up in the air. 3B is a battle between a fielding robot with no offense chip (Jose Castillo), a former top prospect who has been consistently mediocre and consistently injured (Dallas McPherson), and a guy who had one good season once upon a time (Jorge Cantu). Not exactly an awe-inspiring group to fill Miguel Cabrera's shoes. Center field used to be Cameron Maybin's to lose, but with the recent tightness in his left hamstring, the chances of his opening the season in the minors have increased. In addition, it's unreasonable to expect Maybin to become a superstar right away, considering he's not yet 21, and he didn't exactly blow anybody away in his big league shot last year. You guys scored 790 runs last year, good for 6th in the NL, and the offense is clearly your strength, but I see the run total decreasing this year due to the loss of Cabrera and minimal improvement."
Alejandro de Aza: "Look, I understand where you're coming from. However, I think it would be in your best interest to go home and look up linear regression. It's an important concept in projecting performance, though I don't expect most people to know about it, so don't feel bad. Once you figure out linear regression you'll understand how losing Miggy will actually cause our offense to improve this year. Next question."
Reporter: "You guys had the worst Runs Against total (891) in the National League last year. If you're going to contend this year, that needs to change in a big way. How can that possibly happen?"
Alejandro de Aza: "As they say, pitching wins championships, so you're right - our run prevention does need to change in a big way. However, I feel that our pitching will be outstanding next year. First of all, we just got Andrew Miller, who was ranked as the 10th best prospect in baseball in 2006 by Baseball America. Care to guess how many NL pitchers were ahead of him in the ranking? One - Homer Bailey. Well, now Andrew Miller is a big leaguer. Therefore, as prospectively the second best pitcher in the NL two years ago, it's not unreasonable to now consider him the second best pitcher in the NL, or in other words, a front-runner for the Cy Young. Great pitching staffs start with a true ace, and that's what we have."
Reporter: "Okay, I'm not touching that one, but I would like to comment on your rotation. Josh Johnson is out for the year. Anibal Sanchez is out until the all-star break - at least that's what he hopes. Dontrelle Willis is gone. What's left?"
"You've got Andrew Miller, who, as you said, is a great prospect, but it's a rare prospect who fulfills their potential in their first full year. You've got Scott Olsen, who got worse in just about every way last year for no apparent reason - the logical assumption is that hitters simply figured him out. You've got Sergio Mitre, a sinker baller who never had an ERA+ above 82 with the Cubs from 2003-2005... and now he's got Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla scooping up (on occasion) those grounders. And you've got Mark Hendrickson, an unimpressive innings eater who has seen 4 teams in 6 years for good reason. The back end of the rotation consists of a couple of Rick(y)s: Vanden Hurk, who may actually be a good pitcher but is probably too young at this point, and Nolasco, who also has some potential but is coming off an injury plagued year. Your rotation has some upside, but I don't see it coming up to that side this year, partly because of youth and inexperience, and partly because of the absence of Johnson and Sanchez."
"The bullpen was middle of the pack last year, which is a strength as far as you guys are concerned, and it's mostly the same this year, so I think we can expect a similar performance. However, I just don't believe it will be enough to make up for the subpar rotation."
Alejandro de Aza: "I'm sorry that you feel that way. Next question?"
Reporter: “How can you expect to be a contender with the worst defense in the league?”
Alejandro de Aza: “My friend, I think you’re mistaken. Our defense is in fact one of the best in Major League Baseball. I’ve studied Chris Dial’s defensive metrics on Baseball Think Factory extensively, and Chris is one of the leading authorities in defensive analysis. He rated our defense last year at -70 runs, which was the lowest figure in baseball. And as we all know, defense is all about saving runs, so a low total is desirable, no?”
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “our defense will be taking a bit of a hit this year with the loss of Miggy. Did you know that, after adjusting for the Green Monster Effect, Miggy’s -28 score rates him as the best fielder in baseball? Luckily, we still have most of our top fielders: Dan Uggla (-18), Hanley Ramirez (-13) and Josh Willingham (-11) will continue to ensure that we have one of the best defenses in baseball, though Tampa Bay and Seattle will challenge us, and Houston will be especially tough to top now that they’ve come to their senses and ditched Adam Everett.”
"Are there any more questions?"
Silence filled the room as the press attempted to digest what they had just heard.
Finally, one bold reporter stood up and announced: "I think I speak on behalf of all my colleagues when I tell you that I'm too shocked by how you've... ehm... illuminated us today to find any words." A general wave of agreement emanated from the sea of reporters.
With that, Alejandro de Aza began his conclusion. "I know that I've said some things today that may have challenged the way you think about baseball. I hope that it's been for the best, though - from now on you'll have a much better understanding of how a winning team is created, and you'll recognize a winner when you see it. I'd like to close by predicting that we, the 2008 Florida Marlins, will finish 94-68, winning the NL East."
(for my real prediction, multiply what I just said by -1 or something like that)