How to Explain the Souza Trade to MASNCommenter

Yesterday, the Washington Nationals wedged themselves into a three team trade with the San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays which involved sending fan favorite backup outfielder Steven Souza Jr. to Tampa. In return, they got back two young players Trea Turner, a first round draft pick shortstop, and Joe Ross, a right handed pitching prospect from the Padres.

In an offseason where the Nats have been pretty quiet, fans have anxiously been awaiting how to address the 2B/3B/1B paradox, and/or just hoping to find a way to “get rid of Werth/Strasburg/WhateverOtherBumIHaveAPersonalAxToGrindeWith,” no one really expected to trade fan favorite Souza Jr. away for essentially prospects.

It’s not a move that immediately addresses the needs of the onfield product. It’s not a move that MASNCommenter liked, for sure

I mean, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. Anyway, while this won’t go down as the Fister/Lombo trde of last year (at least not anytime soon), let’s at least try to explain to our country cousins the thinking behind this very good trade for the Nats. Continue reading

Division in Review: 2014 Washington Nationals

 

NL EAST W L Win %
Washington Nationals 96 66 .593
Atlanta Braves 79 83 .488
New York Mets 79 83 .488
Miami Marlins 77 85 .475
Philadelphia Phillies 73 89 .451

Washington Nationals 2014 Preview

Nationals 2014 Overview:

The 2014 Nationals picked up 10 more wins over their 2013 season en route to their third consecutive winning season and their second NL East Division title. They accomplished this without any significant changes or upgrades to their 2013 lineup. The offense did improve slightly, scoring 686 runs (30 more than 2013) and increasing their wOBA from .311 to .317 (wRC+ 95 to 99), which was still slightly behind 2012’s .324 (wRC+ 101); but that increase was only from slightly below average to average on offense. Considering the injuries that were suffered by several key cogs in the lineup, this is somewhat of a victory.

The real gains were from the pitching staff, who gave up 555 runs, only 1 behind the Mariners for the MLB lead and 71 and 39 runs fewer than 2013 and 2012 respectively. The staff as a whole dropped their ERA by over half a run from 3.59 in 2013 to 3.03 (3.30 in 2012) and their FIP from 3.55 to 3.18 (3.54 in 2012); both were league bests by a significant margin, especially FIP. The starting rotation pitched slightly better, 3.58 to 3.24 FIP, but for significantly more innings at 1002 1/3 (5th in MLB), 35 more than 2013 and nearly 50 more innings than 2012. The bullpen made significant improvements in terms of FIP (3.50 to 3.05) and ERA (3.56 to 3.00), with a jump from 7.88 K/9 to 8.24 K/9. The bullpen also had an extremely low HR/9 rate at 0.50 (5.5% HR/FB), so it seems unlikely that those numbers will be able to stay that way consistently.

The Offense:

The biggest revelation in 2014, or course, was Anthony Rendon. He increased his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentages during his first full season with the Nationals. His ISO jumped from a slightly below average .131 to a slightly above average .186, taking his wOBA from .318 (wRC+ 100) in 2013 to .361 (wRC+ 130) this season. In a little over half a season, Rendon was a 1.5 fWAR player in 2013. With the increase in playing time, the strides he made at the plate, and his increased effectiveness in the field (more time at second and being moved to his natural third base position), Rendon turned in a fantastic 6.6 fWAR season in 2014. That puts him on the same level as Andrew McCutchen, Michael Brantley, Alex Gordon, Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Jonathan Lucroy. (P.S. Only one of those seven players failed to make an All-Star team.)

Two players that made strides at the plate in 2014, as compared to 2013, were also two players that were generally thought of as an either or with regards to them being with the team in 2015: Denard Span and Adam LaRoche. Span had his best offensive season in the majors since his first full season in 2009, slashing .302/.355/.416 (gaining .030 on each over 2013) and posting a wOBA of .341 (wRC+ 117) over his below average .313 (wRC+ 97) in 2013. But Span only picked up an extra .4 in fWAR in 2014 (3.8), as his defensive metrics fell precipitously. LaRoche saw a similar jump in wOBA, from an average .321 (wRC+ 102) to .356 in 2014 (wRC+ 127), mostly due to a jump in power (ISO .166 to .196). Even with the increase in offensive production, LaRoche was still only a 1.6 fWAR player, putting him squarely in the middle of the pack of first baseman in MLB. With Ryan Zimmerman needing a place to play, and the relative values of the two players, the logical conclusion was for Span’s option to be picked up at the expense of LaRoche’s.

Most of the rest of the team saw a regression at the plate in 2014. Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman missed significant portions of the season with injuries resulting from base running. Harper saw a drop in power and increase in K%, clipping his offensive output and, with the time missed limited, him to just a 1.3 fWAR player. Zimmerman posted numbers similar to what he has done since 2011 with a wOBA of .346 (wRC+ 120), but he played in just 61 games this season. His offensive output is slightly below LaRoche’s, and at first base won’t be as valuable as it would be at third anyway, but hopefully a full season with less wear and tear will help him at least recoup LaRoche’s value. Jayson Werth saw a big dip in power (ISO .214 to .163) from his stellar 2013. Werth had an outstanding 2013 at the plate, so regression was to be expected and his 2014 was still very good from a value perspective. Ian Desmond saw almost an entire win drop from his fWAR from 2013 to 2014 (5.0 to 4.1), and his offensive output has continued to decline from his breakout 2012 season. His slugging and on-base percentages have not dropped significantly year over year, but his batting average dropped from .280 to .255 while his K% went up 6% to 28.2%. Desmond’s value is still solid, but he needs to start making more contact to get things going back in the right direction.

Wilson Ramos also had a tough offensive 2014, going from an above average hitter in 2013 to below average. He posted a wOBA of only .307 (wRC+ 93), and while his batting average and on-base percentage only dipped slightly, he had a significant drop in power (ISO .199 to .132). That drop in power correlates well with what is expected to happen after the hamate bone injury Ramos suffered on Opening Day, so 2015 should see him regain some of those numbers. The catching position overall saw improvement, mostly due to the off season acquisition of Jose Lobaton. Ramos missed significant stretches of time with the aforementioned hamate injury and with hamstring issues once again this season, leaving that playing time to the backup catcher. While Lobaton did not hit very well, posting a wOBA of .266 (wRC+ 66), it was still better than what Kurt Suzuki produced in 2013. Combine that with the pitch framing and defensive skills Lobaton offers, and the position itself saw a 1.1 fWAR gain over 2013.

In the spring, I wrote about improving the Nats’ bench hitters as a need for the team to address last off-season, and it looks like it will be one to address again this year. Scott Hairston, Nate McLouth, and Kevin Frandsen all produced negative fWAR this season. Frandsen was the only player that had a semblance of offensive success, and his wRC+ was 72 as compared to the others that were in the 50s. Nationals pinch hitters posted a wOBA of .225 (wRC+ 38) this season, worse than the .265 (wRC+ 64) of 2013 that we all thought was horrible, and slashing a .144/.245/.236 line that put them in the bottom three of the league. There will be spots to fill with the departures of Hairston and Frandsen, and hopefully whoever fills them will be able to produce.

Second base will once again be a position that the Nats will need to look long and hard at for an upgrade. When Anthony Rendon was moved to third base due to the Zimmerman injury, Danny Espinosa was once again given the starting second baseman job. While he did hit better than he did in 2013 (not hard since his wRC+ was 22!), he was still well below average with a wOBA of .280 (wRC+ 75) and a K% of 33.5%. This lead to the deadline acquisition of Asdrubal Cabrera, who over the last 50 games of the season, produced the same 0.6 fWAR that Espinosa did the first 100. Cabrera himself was still a below average hitter, with a wOBA of .310 (wRC+ 96), and only produced 1.8 fWAR over the course of the entire season. Even if he is brought back, Cabrera can only be expected to produce at that same minimal level for a major league regular. That may be all the Nats need, but this is the position best suited for an upgrade this off-season.

The Pitching:

Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg were an outstanding 1-2 punch at the top of the Nationals rotation this season. ZNN had the best season of his career, posting a 2.66 ERA, 2.68 FIP, and a career high in K/9 at 8.20. Strasburg’s improvement was not nearly as drastic as Zimmermann’s, but he lowered his FIP from 3.21 to 2.94 while pushing his K/9 back above 10 from 9.39 to 10.13. He also made 34 starts and pitched 215 innings, completing his first “full” season in the majors, while still pitching at a dominant level. Zimmermann may be set for some regression, but he will also be in the second year of a 2 year, $24 million, arbitration-avoiding, audition for upcoming free agency deal, so he may have that contract year motivation to drive him. It is hard to see how his performance this year hurt his upcoming payday/made it any easier for the Nationals to work out an extension.

As for the other rotation members, the third member of the Nationals’ current three-headed monster, Gio Gonzalez, had another solid season in 2014. He lowered his FIP from 3.41 to 3.03 by increasing his strikeouts and cutting his walks over his rates from 2013. But, he only pitched 158 2/3 innings this season, cutting his overall value to that of 2013 when he arguably pitched worse. Tanner Roark pitched another stellar season with a 2.85 ERA and 3.47 FIP over 198 2/3 innings, the most he’s pitched as a professional. Roark only started 5 games in 2013, so it is hard to definitively say his numbers are trending upwards, but based on his minor league track record, a step back in 2015 should be expected. Doug Fister’s season, by the numbers, was arguably one of his lesser years in the majors. While his ERA was a fantastic 2.41, his FIP was only 3.93, second highest of his career to only his rookie season. Fister lowered his BB/9 rate, but also his K/9 rate, so he relied mainly on an incredibly low BABIP of .262 this season to get outs. With those numbers, the time missed to injury, and an increased HR/9 in a new park, Fister posted only 1.3 fWAR, which was actually less that 2013 Dan Haren’s 1.4 fWAR.

Much of the Nationals’ bullpen had bounce-back seasons in 2014. Tyler Clippard lowered his FIP from 3.82 to 2.75, the best of his career, and performed much like he did in 2011 and 2012. Drew Storen dropped his FIP from 3.62 to 2.71 and his ERA dropped from 4.52 to 1.12, both of which also looked more like his 2012 numbers. Rafael Soriano’s season, as a whole, also looked a lot more like his 2012 year (his last with the Yankees), with a 3.08 FIP compared to last year’s 3.65. Soriano’s performance tailed off dramatically in August and September, costing his overall value and his chance at having his 2015 option guaranteed. Off-season acquisition Jerry Blevins had enigmatic year much like Doug Fister; Blevins posted career bests in K/9 (10.36), HR/9 (0.47), and FIP (2.77) with career worst ERA (4.87) and a higher BB/9 (3.61 over 2.55 in 2013). Aaron Barrett had a solid rookie season, posting a 2.66 ERA and a 2.59 FIP with a 10.84 K/9. He had a rather high 4.43 BB/9, and, as with any breakout rookie season, should be expected to regress a little in his second year. Finally, Ross Detwiler’s first complete year out of the bullpen put him in the same class as 2013 Zach Duke, 2013 Henry Rodriguez, and 2013 Ian Krol in terms of value. His numbers were not far off from his 2012 season (his best year): 5.57 to 5.75 K/9, 3.00 to 2.85 BB/9, 4.16 to 4.04 FIP; but he only pitched in 2/5 the innings he did in 2012, and was far less effective as a bullpen arm.

Off-Season Outlook:

The 2014-2015 off-season will be an interesting one for the Nationals. The big decision has already been made: Span was kept, LaRoche was not, Ryan Zimmerman will presumably move to first base to replace him. The biggest need remains second base, which at the moment is occupied by Danny Espinosa, and regardless of if he is going to stop switch hitting, it is unlikely someone else is not brought in to compete/platoon with him. The other “needs” are the same needs as every other team: bullpen and bench help; second base is the only major piece missing.

The real issues for the off-season have more to do with the long-term goals of the team itself. Zimmermann, Detwiler, Blevins, Fister, Clippard, and Ian Desmond are all in the last year’s of their contracts. Strasburg, Storen, Stammen, and Ramos will all be in the last year of their contracts in 2016. Extending Desmond, Zimmermann, and/or Fister are going to be the top priorities before they hit the free agent market next off-season. It is hard to see both Clippard and Storen staying with the team long term as both will want to close. Strasburg, too, will be looking for the same big payday that Zimmermann is, so the signings this year may have a large impact on how much they can offer him as well.

When it comes down to it, 2015 may be the last season that the gang is all together for the Nationals. After that, without a significant change in payroll spending habits, the team may be moving on to the next crop of players.

Division in Review: 2014 Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves Logo

NL EAST W L WIN %
Washington Nationals 96 66 .593
Atlanta Braves 79 83 .488
New York Mets 79 83 .488
Miami Marlins 77 85 .475
Philadelphia Phillies 73 89 .451

Atlanta Braves 2014 Preview

Braves 2014 Overview:

The biggest question for the Braves coming into the 2014 season would be how the pitching staff would perform after losing 40% of the starting rotation to injuries in Spring Training. Remarkably, there was not too much of a drop-off in production from the 2013 season to the 2014 season. The staff ERA went up a fifth of a run (3.18 to 3.38) and the FIP was essentially the same (3.44 to 3.47). There was an increase in BABIP, and a corresponding increase in hits allowed, and there was an increase in BB/9; putting the increase of hits and walks together lead to an increase in runs allowed (548 to 597). If 10 runs is equal to a win, that’s 5 more losses caused by the pitching staff; which still makes the Braves a 90 win team.

So, if the Braves pitching staff still performed at a level to get the team to 90 wins, how did they end up finishing the season with a losing record? Specifically, from 2013 to 2014, the Braves hit 58 fewer HRs (181 to 123), and the overall power output dropped just as precipitously; the Braves’ Isolated Power (ISO) dropped from .153 (above average) to .119  (below average). The team’s overall batting average and walk rates also declined slightly. Having few men on base and far fewer extra base hits, their wOBA dropped 22 points (.318 to .296), dropping them from a slightly above average offence (wRC+ 101) to a below average offence (wRC+ 86) which scored 115 fewer runs than it did the season before (688 to 573).

The Offense:

In the spring, I had mentioned three areas of concern for the Braves offense: replacing Brian McCann, getting Uggla and B.J. Upton back on track, and the regression of Chris Johnson:

The Braves were not quite able to duplicate the offense they got out of the catching spot that they did in 2013. Gattis certainly did his part, creating slightly more runs than McCann did in 2013, but the tandem of Bethancour and Laird could not match the results of Gattis and the 2013 version of Laird. Still, this was not the entirety of the drop-off, as it was only a drop of about 25 wRC.

Dan Uggla continued to struggle, leading to his benching, and eventual release, and my predicted call-up of Tommy La Stella. But La Stella did not even match the down year output of Uggla in 2013; he hit much better than Uggla, but with far less power. B.J. Upton did improve upon his dismal 2013 at the plate, but he still only hit .208/.287/.333 in 2014 and his wRC+ was only 74, meaning he was merely a bad hitter this season instead of the terrible one he was last year. These two spots were essentially a wash in the overall offense.

Chris Johnson had a career best offensive year in 2013, so expecting him to duplicate that output would be unrealistic and a regression was expected. When a regression is expected, one would hope that it is a regression back to the mean, back to career averages. Unfortunately for the Braves, this was not the case with Johnson, as he followed up one of his best seasons at the plate with one of his worst in the Majors. His batting average, on-base percentage, and wOBA all dropped by 60 points from last season and his slugging percentage dropped nearly a full 100 points. In 2013, Chris Johnson was in the same class as Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, and Jayson Heyward in terms of wRC+, all in the 120 to 130 range. In 2014, his peers were La Stella, Ramerio Pena, and Phil Gosselin, all in the 75 to 85 range. That’s a big drop for someone who was a key contributor.

There was one other key player that regressed mightily at the plate this season for the Braves that covers most of the rest of the drop in offense: Andrelton Simmons. In 2013, Simmons was a slightly below average hitter at the plate, and in the spring, I had expected him to improve upon that to league average. He did not, and continued a downward offensive trend since his debut season in 2012. In a season where the team knew going in that the offense would be less formidable and players would have to pick up the slack, the regression of Simmons and the extra large regression of Johnson were too much to overcome.

The Pitching:

Much of the continuity of success can be attributed to Ervin Santana who was able to match the Kris Medlen’s fWAR of 2.8 in 2013, essentially replacing the value lost to injury. Julio Teheran and Alex Wood made big enough strides this season to make up for the value lost by Tim Hudson signing with the Giants. Mike Minor’s performance went off a cliff, picking up nearly a run of FIP and a run and a half of ERA. But this was offset by a remarkable season by Aaron Harang, and Minor’s numbers were not too terrible for a de facto 5th starter.

Aside from Minor, the Braves’ bullpen, most notably Luis Avilan, also had a bit of a regression, with an ERA nearly a run higher than in 2013. But, 2013 was a year on the plus side of the ledger anyways, so this may been seen as more of a return to normal than anything.

Off-Season Outlook:

Looking forward to 2015, the Braves have to expect a similar amount of bounce back in the offense that they expected to regress in 2014. Simmons and Johnson should have better years than this season and La Stella has not reached the offensive potential of which he is capable. Ryan Doumit and Gerald Laird are free agents, so Christian Bethancourt is likely here to stay. Center field is the obvious position to improve in the Braves’ lineup, but B.J. Upton and the $46 million he is still owed will present the biggest headache for whoever the new General Manager will be. Santana and Harang are both free agents after this season, and Medlen and Beachy are recovering from their respective Tommy John surgeries, so the biggest question mark for the Braves may once again be the starting rotation.

Division in Review: 2014 New York Mets

New_York_Mets

NL EAST W L WIN %
Washington Nationals 96 66 .593
Atlanta Braves 79 83 .488
New York Mets 79 83 .488
Miami Marlins 77 85 .475
Philadelphia Phillies 73 89 .451

New York Mets 2014 Preview

Mets 2014 Overview:

In the spring, I wrote that the Mets had essentially replaced like for like their offseason losses in terms of production. On the hitting side of the ball, this was very much the case. As a team, they hit marginally better (.297 to .299 wOBA) and scored a few more runs (619 to 629). But they won five more games this season than they did last season, and much of that gain rests on the pitching. While the FIP was relatively the equal (3.75 to 3.79), the Mets gave up 65 fewer runs this season as compared to 2013. Almost all of that gain came from the bullpen, which is still a team weakness, but much less of one at least in 2014.

The Offense:

The big success story for the Mets offensively was that someone finally stepped up and won the first baseman job. Ike Davis continued his struggles from 2013, and after posting .208/.367/.375 in 12 games, he was given a change of scenery. This left Lucas Duda as the undisputed champion, and he rewarded the Mets with a career year. Duda hit 30 HRs while driving in 92; he also had a wOBA of .361 (good for a wRC+ of 136) and an ISO of .228, putting him in a power peer group of Andrew McCutchen and Justin Upton. If Duda can keep up these numbers, he should remain a cornerstone of the Mets offense for the next three seasons.

Another player who made a big step forward at the plate for the Mets was Juan Lagares. Lagares increased his batting average and on-base percentage by .040 from 2013 to 2014. His wRC+ jumped from a paltry 76 in 2013 to a league average 101 in 2014, which combined with his superb defense, makes him an above average option in center. The increased offensive output also made free agent signing Chris Young and his somewhat predictable struggles at the plate expendable; Young was released at the beginning of August.

Aside from those two spots, there was not much else to be happy about with the Mets’ offense. Travis d’Arnaud improved at the plate, so he is at least trending in the right direction. But he only accumulated a fWAR of 1.6, which is exactly the same as John Buck in 2013, and he was so bad at the plate they force the Pirates to take him in order to get Marlon Byrd. Curtis Granderson, who signed a 4 year/$60 million deal, is in full decline mode, playing as only a 1.0 fWAR player in 2014. Granderson has hit around .230 with an on-base percentage around .320 for three seasons now, and his power and defense have declined in each of those years. Left field was a bit of a mess for the Mets this season, with Eric Young Jr. getting the most time there, but Chris Young, Matt den Dekker, and 5 others all got starts. Both Young and den Dekker were below average hitters, and how Chris Young faired has already been stated. Shortstop, too, is another position in flux, as Ruben Tejada had another season that fell short of expectations, and the job was turned over to Wilmer Flores, who hit about the same but with better defense. Both left field and shortstop will be positions the Mets will be trying to upgrade this offseason

The biggest disappointment this season, however, was David Wright, who battled shoulder issues for much of the season. Wright had two superstar seasons in 2012 and 2013, posting a fWAR of 7.5 and 6.0 respectively. From those heights, Wright fell to a mere mortal 1.9 fWAR this season, mostly due to his lack of offensive production. While his batting average and on-base percentage both fell a long ways, the most dramatic drop was in power: Wright’s slugging percentage dropped from .514 in 2013 to just .374 and his ISO went from .207 to a mere .105. Wright’s 2014 season most clearly resembles his 2011 season, a season also shortened and hampered by injury. His health may be as big a topic this off-season as Matt Harvey’s was for last off-season.

The Pitching:

On the pitching side of the ball, things went about as well as could be expected. No one replicated the tremendous 2013 season that Matt Harvey put together, but it would be hard for anyone to do so. Bartolo Colon did what he was brought in to do, and was a productive member of the starting rotation. Zack Wheeler improved upon his 2013 numbers while pitching for an entire season and Jon Niese turned in another serviceable season. Jacob deGrom turned in a great rookie season, posting a 2.69 ERA, a 2.67 FIP, and a 9.24 K/9, making him arguably the Mets’ best starter for 2014. The only starter who regressed was Dillon Gee, presumably because teams not named the Nationals have caught on to the type of pitcher that he is. This makes him the most likely candidate to be the odd man out when Harvey returns in 2015.

The Mets’ bullpen was the most improved unit for the 2014 season, which is fairly remarkable considering they lost their best reliever from 2013 in the first game of the season. Bobby Parnell was injured on opening day and had Tommy John surgery a little over a week later. This left the closer position open for a while and, after a few other candidates had come and gone, Jenrry Mejia took the job and never looked back. Much of the Mets’ bullpen had decent seasons, and many of them improved over their 2013 performances, but none seemed to have a standout season. The improvement really only made the unit as a whole more of a middling bullpen, instead of just a bad one.

The 2014 Mets came very close .500 and ended up tied for second place in the NL East. With Matt Harvey and David Wright coming back, and presumably producing at pre-injury levels for most of the season, the Mets have a good shot of being a winning team without making any major moves. As long as the bullpen produces as it did this season, the pitching staff itself should be enough to carry them past that threshold. If they can sign a left fielder who can be an above average hitter and find a better solution for shortstop, it is not hard to see them as contenders for the division title in 2015.

How you get to “Should we Trade Jordan Zimmermann?”

Jordan Zimmermann unleashes the fury. -Photo Credit @AshburnNatsFan

Jordan Zimmermann unleashes the fury. -Photo Credit @AshburnNatsFan

Last night, MLBRumors posted a juicy Natstown rumor that the team is deep into talks to trade Jordan Zimmermann to the Cubs. Arguably their most consistent and best starting pitcher over the last three years, you can imagine the horror and outrage at the suggestion by fans that JZ would be on the trading block. Sadly, the happy imagination land of fans (myself included) where every player always wants to play for your team ever and its only a matter of deciding which ones to keep is not the real world. General Managers, even very good ones like Mike Rizzo, need to make decisions about not just who the good players are but which ones they can afford. Hold onto too many fan favorites, and suddenly you’re the Philadelphia Phillies begging folks to take their old, terrible players.

“But it’s Jordan Zimmermann” you protest. I know. Trust me. I know. I’m right there with you. But reality is reality folks, and so I present to you what would be my thought process (as uninformed as it is) as to how I might also come to the conclusion its time to trade JZ.

Continue reading

Division in Review: 2014 Miami Marlins

Marlins Logo

NL EAST W L WIN %
Washington Nationals 96 66 .593
Atlanta Braves 79 83 .488
New York Mets 79 83 .488
Miami Marlins 77 85 .475
Philadelphia Phillies 73 89 .451

Miami Marlins 2014 Preview

Marlins 2014 Overview:

The Marlins made great strides from 2013 to 2014, improving their record by 15 wins after a 100 loss season, and for a couple of months, inserted themselves into the division title picture. I had expected them to still be somewhat of a doormat when the season started, but they managed to finish in the middle of the National League. They also did not make any major improvements over the off-season, so how did the Marlins make such a big jump in wins?

The pitching staff in 2014 was just as good as it was in 2013; and in 2013 they were a top 10 staff, despite the 100 losses. That the staff was able to maintain its level of production in 2014 is fairly remarkable considering Jose Fernandez was lost for over two-thirds of the season. The ERA and runs allowed went up a little, but so did the K/9 rate and the FIP and the BB/9 rate both dropped as well.

So, if they maintained pitching, they must have made the improvements on offense. In 2013, the Marlins offense was dead last, and by a wide margin, in runs scored and posted a wRC+ of 72, which was worse than having a team full of 2014 Danny Espinosas. In 2014, the Marlins scored 132 more runs than they did the season before, good for 16th in the MLB, and had a wRC+ of 93, still below average but much improved. In the spring, I wrote that if the 2013 Marlins had a top 20 offense, they would have been close to .500; that is essentially what they got this season, 5 wins away from a winning season.

The Offense:

The strength of that resurgent Marlins offense is the outfield, which was one 5th in all of MLB in terms of fWAR and second in the NL to the Pirates. Obvioulsy, Giancarlo Stanton is a cornerstone of that outfield in terms of value. Stanton slashed a .288/.395/.555 with a ridiculous .403 wOBA and 159 wRC+. He was 4th amongst qualified hitters in MLB in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and wOBA and was 2nd in home runs (and might have given Nelson Cruz a run for the title if he hadn’t been hit by that pitch). In addition to Stanton, the Marlins got full seasons out of Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, who where the second and third best outfielders in 2013 in terms of fWAR even though they only played for 40% of the season. Both Yelich and Ozuna had above average offensive seasons, and turned in solid fWAR performances of 4.3 and 3.7 respectively. This trio should remain a force to be reckoned with in Miami for at least the next two seasons, and beyond if Stanton is extended.

The other bright(er) spots for the Marlins offense were free agent signees Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Casey McGehee. Saltalamacchia, by all accounts, did not have a good season. He posted a .220/.320/.362 slash line with a .304 wOBA (91 wRC+); good for only 1.3 fWAR. But considering the two main catchers for the Marlins in 2013 posted wOBA’s of .236 and .238, Salty’s season was an incredible improvement at the plate. McGehee, who played his 2013 in Japan, played his best season in terms of fWAR since 2010 with a decent 2.0. He hit .288 with a .355 on-base percentage, but he had an ISO of just .070, leading to about a league-average .319 wOBA. If McGehee had hit for any more power at all, he would have been in the conversation with the outfielders. These two did not have stand-out seasons by any means, but when comparing 2013 to 2014, the Marlins did not need All-Star seasons, they just needed not terrible seasons.

The rest of the Marlins infield is still a work in progress. The three remaining positions, first, second, and short, all posted positive seasons in terms of value, which was not the case in 2013. Free agent acquisition Garrett Jones posted another sub-par offensive season at first base, and barely performed above replacement level. He’s signed for the 2015 season as well, but the team may wish to turn the position over to Justin Bour and let him run with it. Rafael Furcal was supposed to be the everyday second baseman this season, but he played in only 9 games all year. This left the position to be split once again between Donovan Solano and Derek Dietrich, and while they did slightly better than 2013, neither was all that good. Adeiny Hechavarria played another full year at shortstop and had another well-below average year at the plate, albeit his best in the majors thus far. His .276 batting average was decent, but his on-base was only .306 and he hit for about as much power as McGehee (ISO .080). He may continue to make progress, but it is doubtful he will ever be an average hitter and his defense, by almost is any measure, average at best.

The Pitching:

The Marlins starting rotation did remarkably well in 2014, all things considered. Jose Fernandez, who was on a pace to match if not better his 2013 Rookie of the Year performance, went down with an injury and had Tommy John surgery in May. He is not expected to rejoin the rotation until at least June. The good news was Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi both turned in solid full seasons after have good half season efforts in 2013. Alvarez lowered his ERA by nearly a run to 2.65, but his FIP went from 3.18 to 3.58, mainly due to a huge jump in HR/9. His HR/FB% is near to a typical 10%, so this season may be more indicative of the way he will pitch going forward. Eovaldi did the opposite, lowering his FIP to 3.37 while having his ERA jump to 4.37. Eovaldi has lowered his FIP each of his major league seasons, best explained by lowering his BB/9 as the rest of his numbers are fairly stable, and may yet still improve. The other starter that had a solid season was Tom Koehler. Koehler’s numbers are not that great, and this season may be his ceiling, but it was a very good year for someone who will be a fifth starter.

In addition to Fernandez’s absence, the struggles of Jacob Turner created a bit of a vacuum at the back end of the rotation. Turner’s FIP only marginally increased from 4.43 in 2013 to 4.52 as a starter, but his ERA skyrocketed to .603 and his BABIP was .358. His struggles lead him to be demoted to the bullpen before being released and picked up by the Cubs. Essentially losing two starters during the season lead to a litany of guys who tried to fill those 4 and 5 roles: Brad Hand, Brad Penny, Randy Wolf, Anthony DeSclafini, Andrew Heaney, and others. Of these, the most successful would have to be Brad Hand, who posted a 4.33 ERA and a 4.11 FIP over 18 starts, and the rest fell steeply from there.

To bolster the back end of the rotation, the Marlins traded 2013 1st round pick, and third baseman of the future, Colin Moran and outfield prospect Jake Marisnick to the Astros for starter Jarred Cosart and utility man Kike Hernandez. Cosart had struggled with the Astros, but put up a 2.39 ERA and a 3.32 FIP in 10 starts after moving to the friendly confines of Marlins Park. The question about Cosart is control, and if he can keep his numbers at the levels he had after the trade, he should be a solid contributor to the Marlins in 2015.

As for the bullpen, it was essentially the same in terms of production from 2013 to 2014. Steve Cishek enjoyed another great season as the Marlins closer, dropping his FIP to 2.19 while increasing his K/9 to 11.5. Mike Dunn and A.J. Ramos both turned in near identical seasons to 2013 and put up solid numbers. Chris Hatcher had a breakout season, with a FIP of 2.56 and ERA of 3.38 and a K/9 just under 10. The rest of the bullpen was essentially made up of those spit out by the revolving door of the starting rotation, and none fared particularly well. The two off-season acquisitions for the Marlins played very sparingly; Carter Capps was on the DL with an elbow injury most of the year and Carlos Marmol was, well, Carlos Marmol before getting released.

Off-Season Outlook:

This off-season, the Marlins have to be looking to upgrade their infield. All four positions are due for below average seasons once again, though McGehee’s success may continue. Even if they will roll with McGehee and Hechavarria on the left side of the infield, second base and first base will desperately need upgrades. The other major priority will be to convince Giancarlo Stanton to stay in Miami. The longer he goes without an extension, the more costly he becomes and the more likely it is that he will be gone come 2017. The Marlins are on the upswing and the “let the kids play” attitude is working out for them so far. They are hoping that success, and the continued building of the core of the team, will be enough to convince their best player to remain a part of it.

Division in Review: 2014 Philadelphia Phillies

Phillies-Logo1

 

NL EAST

W L WIN %
Washington Nationals 96 66 .593
Atlanta Braves 79 83 .488
New York Mets 79 83 .488
Miami Marlins 77 85 .475
Philadelphia Phillies 73 89 .451

From the Pre-Season, read the Philadelphia Phillies 2014 Preview.

Phillies 2014 Overview:

In the spring, I had thought that the Phillies had made the moves that they needed to in order to hang with the Braves and the Nationals for maybe 4 or 5 months, and then fall off to a third place finish. This, however, may have just been a symptom of my watching too many baseball movies (or a lack of “something to bring it all together”), as they turned in an identical record to 2013. As a team, the pitching marginally improved: ERA dropped from 4.34 to 3.81, FIP from 3.94 to 3.81, slight gain in K/9, slight drop in HR/9. Most of those gains were realized in a vast improvement in the pitching by the bullpen. These gains, though, were offset by the continued drop in production by the offense, which had a .008 drop in wOBA best explained by 15 fewer HRs. This resulted in essentially a wash, which explains why the team had a similar record.

The Offense:

The questions for the Philly offense coming into the season centered around whether Marlon Byrd, Cody Asche, and how soon decline would set in for the aging core of position players. Marlon Byrd did not match his 2013 season, but the decline was not huge: he managed a 1.9 fWAR, which is what you expect from a regular. Cody Asche was below average at the plate, though slightly better than he was in 2013. Maikel Franco got his cup of coffee this September, but he also failed to produce offensively, making third base a question mark for another offseason.

As for decline, Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz had bounce back years, and Chase Utley was able to produce at his normal levels. The team also got a full year of Ben Revere, who maintained his rate of slightly below average production (wRC+ 92). Ryan Howard, however, seems to be in full decline. Howard put in his first full season since 2011, but only managed to obtain a .306 wOBA, good for a wRC+ of 93. His 2013 had shown promise before his knee injury, maybe making 2012 to be an outlier, but in 2014 he lost .043 off of his batting average, and more discouragingly, .085 off of his slugging percentage. $25 million was A LOT to pay for a player that ended up producing at below replacement level, according to Fangraphs.

In the spring, I had said Dominic Brown took a huge step forward in 2013. If we count a huge step as two normal steps, then Brown took about five steps back this season. His slugging percentage dropped nearly .150; the lack of power caused him to lose about .070 off of his wOBA. This dramatic drop in hitting caused him go from a 1.7 fWAR player in 2013 to a -1.7 fWAR in 2014. If you are looking for an explanation of the decline in offense, this would be a good place to start.

The Pitching:

On the pitching side of the ball, the Phillies’ rotation had a down year compared to 2013. Cole Hamels improved upon his 2013 numbers and produced at the level to which everyone is now accustomed. Cliff Lee produced at a high level as well when he was not injured; he is expected to be ready for Spring Training. But, A.J. Burnett did not produce at the same levels that he had with the Pirates. His FIP jumped from 2.80 in 2013 to 4.14 in 2014; he walked nearly a batter more per 9 innings while striking out nearly 2 batters fewer per 9. Burnett has a mutual option with the team, so it will be interesting to see if he is brought back. Kyle Kendrick had another middling season, though worse than last season, and has not had a FIP under 4 in any of his complete seasons with the Phillies. Kendrick is a free agent, and it is hard to see him being brought back. The other off-season signing, Roberto Hernandez, had a similar year to Kendrick, and was shipped to the Dodgers in August. David Buchanan, who filled in for Lee and Hernandez during their time missed, pitched fairly well for a #5 type starter, though his 4.27 FIP was just slightly better than Kendrick and Hernandez.

The unit with the most improvement was definitely the Phillies’ bullpen. Jonathan Papelbon and Justin De Fratus both improved by over half a win over their 2013 campaigns, and Antonio Bastard and Jake Diekman produced at the same level as in 2013, but for more innings. The biggest revelation for the bullpen however was rookie Ken Giles, who produced at Kimbrel-like levels: 1.18 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 1.34 FIP, 12.61 K/9. Having those innings go to Giles instead of the likes of J.C. Ramirez was most of the improvement, and if he can keep those numbers up, there may be a Games Finished watch in Philadelphia in 2015 like there was in Washington in 2014.

Off-Season Outlook:

This off-season will be an interesting one for the Phillies. Their offense was one of the worst in the league last season, but they don’t really have the flexibility to do too much because of the big contracts given to the right three fourths of the infield. They have two third baseman with decent minor league offensive track records, but both have failed to produce at the MLB level. Which Dominic Brown is the real one, 2013 or 2014? Center is an obvious spot for an offensive upgrade, but the market as it stands now doesn’t look that great. The Phillies will also be looking to upgrade the back/middle of their starting rotation as they did in 2013. Much of those decisions will depend on if A.J. Burnett comes back for another season. The Phillies are entering into a rebuilding mode, so it will be interesting to see what they do the next two seasons, and what they look like on the other side.