2012 MLB Predictions: Miami Marlins Season Preview

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2012 MLB Predictions: Miami Marlins Season Preview
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The Florida Marlins are gone. In their place are the Miami Marlins.

Make no mistake about it, this is a completely different Marlins team. They're moving into a beautiful new ballpark, they have a new high-profile manager in Ozzie Guillen and they spent the offseason throwing money at several high-profile free agents.

The Marlins, it seems, totally realize that South Beach is fast becoming a sports hot spot.

One thing we know for sure is that the Marlins are going to be a ton of fun to watch this season. They have some great young players, and there's rarely a dull moment when Guillen is around. The only question is if they're going to win enough games to compete in the National League East.

Good question. Here's a look at how the Marlins are shaping up heading into 2012.

 

2011 Record: 72-90

Key Arrivals (courtesy of BaseballProspectus.com): LHP Wade LeBlanc (from San Diego), RHP Heath Bell (FA), SS Jose Reyes (FA), LHP Mark Buehrle (FA), 3B Greg Dobbs (FA), RHP Carlos Zambrano (from Chicago Cubs), OF Ryan Patterson (FA), RHP Gary Glover (FA), 3B Terry Tiffee (FA), OF Austin Kearns (FA), C Orlando Mercado (FA), 

Key Departures: C John Baker (to San Diego), RHP Burke Badenhop (to Tampa Bay), RHP Chris Volstad (to Chicago Cubs), RHP Javier Vazquez (FA).

Projected Rotation (per official site)

  1. Josh Johnson (3-1, 1.64 ERA, 0.98 WHIP)
  2. Mark Buehrle (13-9, 3.59, 1.30)
  3. Ricky Nolasco (10-12, 4.67, 1.40)
  4. Anibal Sanchez (8-9, 3.67, 1.28)
  5. Carlos Zambrano (9-7, 4.82, 1.44)
  6. Wade LeBlanc (5-6, 4.63, 1.41)
  7. Brad Hand (1-8, 4.20, 1.47)
  8. Alex Sanabia (0-0, 3.27, 1.45)


Projected Starters

C: John Buck (.227/.316/.367)

Sarah Glenn/Getty Images
Gaby Sanchez

1B: Gaby Sanchez (.266/.352/.427)

2B: Omar Infante (.276/.315/.382)

3B: Hanley Ramirez (.243/.333/.379)

SS: Jose Reyes (.337/.384/.493)

LF: Logan Morrison (.247/.330/.468)

CF: Emilio Bonifacio (.296/.360/.393)

RF: Giancarlo Stanton (.262/.356/.537)


Bullpen

Closer: Heath Bell (R) (3-4, 43 SV, 5 BLSV, 2.44 ERA, 1.15 WHIP)

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Edward Mujica

Juan Oviedo (R) (1-4, 36 SV, 6 BLSV, 4.06, 1.21)*

Edward Mujica (R) (9-6, 17 HLD, 3 BLSV, 2.96, 1.03)

Mike Dunn (L) (5-6, 15 HLD, 4 BLSV, 3.43, 1.30)

Randy Choate (L) (1-1, 14 HLD, 1.82, 1.05)

Steve Cishek (R) (2-1, 3 SV, 2 HLD, 2.63, 1.17)

Ryan Webb (R) (2-4, 8 HLD, 4 BLSV, 3.20, 1.34)

Chris Hatcher (R) (0-0, 6.97, 1.74)

Jose Ceda (R) (0-1, 4.43, 1.38)

*You know him as Leo Nunez. Not unlike the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona, Oviedo is trying to free himself from a legal entanglement after admitting to falsifying his identity. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has reported that the Marlins are holding out hope of seeing Oviedo report to camp soon.

 

Scouting the Starting Pitching

Starting pitching was not a strength for the Marlins in 2011. Florida/Miami starters posted a 4.23 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. Both of those figures put them right around the middle of the pack in the National League, and in the end, Marlins starters made just 83 quality starts all season.

Hopefully, the key difference this season will be the health of Josh Johnson. He was on his way to having a dominant season after nine starts in 2011, but then he got hurt and had to miss the rest of the season.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Josh Johnson

This, unfortunately, is the story of Johnson's career. He's only had one season in which he's made 30 starts.

When healthy though, Johnson is one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball. His fastball will come in in the mid-90s and he'll break off sliders that simply cannot be hit. It's saying something that he was holding hitters to a .185 batting average before he got hurt in 2011. He held them to a .229 average in 2010, a season in which he made 28 starts.

I'll have more to say about Johnson in just a minute, but for now it suffices to say that he's a huge part of Miami's plans this season. If the Marlins are going to compete for a playoff spot, Johnson needs to be healthy and he needs to be effective.

Signing Mark Buehrle to stabilize the rotation behind Johnson was a great move. He's a lock to pitch at least 200 innings. In fact, since 2001, Buehrle leads all pitchers with 2,425.1 innings pitched. The next closest pitcher (CC Sabathia) has pitched 2,364.1 innings.

Aside from the one day he was perfect, Buehrle is not a perfect pitcher. He's one of the best in the business in terms of limiting his walks, but Buehrle's stuff is very hittable. In the last four seasons, hitters have hit at least .275 off Buehrle and opponents routinely slug over .400 against him.

However, the move from the American League to the National League will work in Buehrle's favor and he ought to do well in the NL East. There are some below-average offensive teams in the division, most notably in Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images
Ricky Nolasco

There's a train of thought that Ricky Nolasco is a great pitcher with great stuff who is going to put it all together sooner or later to have a great season. I won't argue about the stuff, but it's worth noting that Nolasco is actually trending backwards as a pitcher. His K/9 has dropped in each of the last three seasons and his opponents' batting averages have increased. Over 33 starts last season, opponents hit .295 off Nolasco.

Has Nolasco been a little snakebit? Yes. Or at least, it seems like it. In the last three seasons, Nolasco has posted FIPs of 3.35, 3.86 and 3.54. His ERAs in the last three seasons have been significantly higher, a sign that Nolasco just hasn't been able to catch a break.

The definitive Nolasco season was his 2008 campaign, in which he won 15 games and had a 3.52 ERA, which wasn't all that different from his 3.77 FIP. By all rights, he should have duplicated that season three times by now, but he hasn't. That's because hitters have been putting the bat on the ball against Nolasco, and they've been hitting it where they aren't. There is bad luck at work, but the league's hitters deserve credit for figuring Nolasco out.

In plain English, Nolasco is more likely to be the pitcher he's been in the past three seasons than he is to be the pitcher he was in 2008. There are some trends that just cannot be ignored.

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Anibal Sanchez

I have much higher hopes for Anibal Sanchez. I didn't have him pegged for an elite strikeout artist before 2011, but there's no arguing with the 9.26 K/9 Sanchez posted last season. That was good for third in the National League, and Sanchez did himself a favor by dropping his BB/9 to a respectable 2.93.

Wins have been hard to come by for Sanchez, but over the last two seasons he's at least been consistent and occasionally brilliant, pitching four complete games and three shutouts. That his FIPs in the last two seasons closely mirror his ERAs is a sign that Sanchez's success has been legit.

So as far as No. 4 starters are concerned, Sanchez is pretty darn good. In truth, he should be the No. 2 starter in this rotation. Just saying.

And then we have Carlos Zambrano, who the Marlins are hoping will be motivated by a change of scenery. It's possible, but I'm skeptical about how much a change of scenery is going to change Zambrano's ever-declining velocity and ever-declining strikeout rate. It doesn't help that Zambrano still walks too many guys and he's coming off a season in which hitters hit .277 off him with a .441 slugging percentage.

On the bright side, I don't think even the Marlins are expecting Zambrano to be an ace. If he manages to give them 30 starts and 200 innings with an ERA in the 3.00 range, the Marlins will be happy.

On paper, this is a pretty good rotation. The chief concerns are Johnson getting hurt, Nolasco getting worse and Zambrano blowing up, but the Marlins will do well if everyone stays healthy (and sane).

So cross your fingers, Marlins fans. If you're out there...


Scouting the Bullpen

The Marlins' bullpen was quite good in 2011. It had a 3.44 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP, both of which put the Marlins' pen among the leaders in the National League. 

The Marlins went out and bolstered their pen by acquiring Heath Bell, one of the most reliable closers in baseball over the last three seasons. In fact, Bell's 132 saves since the start of the 2009 season are the most in baseball.

There is, however, some concern when it comes to Bell. In 2009, his K/9 was 10.21. In 2010, it was 11.06.

In 2011, Bell's K/9 tumbled all the way to 7.32. He still managed to get outs, but he was far more hittable in 2011 than he was in 2009 and 2010, relatively speaking. He had trouble in particular with lefty hitters, as they hit .283 off Bell, as opposed to .164 for righties.

Marc Serota/Getty Images
Heath Bell

Still, the Marlins could certainly do a lot worse than Bell in the ninth inning. And if Miami's starting rotation stays intact and its hitters hit the way they're supposed to, Bell isn't going to have to protect many one-run leads.

The guys the Marlins will be using in middle relief will have to hold up their end of the bargain, though, and that's a tricky proposition.

Juan Oviedo (aka Leo Nunez) will be a great eighth inning option once he returns. If and when Oviedo does return, the Marlins will be getting a pitcher who will likely post an ERA in the 3.00s with a respectable K/9, though the Marlins would be very happy if Oviedo decided to give up fewer home runs (26 allowed over the last three seasons).

If Oviedo is unable to return or if he struggles setting up for Bell, there will be a lot of pressure on Edward Mujica to step up and perform. The Marlins can rest comfortably knowing that Mujica isn't going to walk the ballpark, but he is a guy who will give up a few long balls here and there. He's allowed 33 home runs as a reliever in the last three seasons.

Elsewhere in the bullpen, the Marlins will be hoping for the best from young hurlers Mike Dunn, Ryan Webb and Steve Cishek, and they'll be hoping that Randy Choate will go back to being himself after battling elbow trouble in 2011.

If all goes well, this is going to be a deep and talented bullpen. There's more than a little uncertainty, though, and that means things are hardly ideal concerning this bunch.


Scouting the Hitting

The Marlins had trouble scoring runs in 2011. They scored just 625 of them all season, good for 11th in the National League. They hit just .247 as a team, with a collective OBP of .318 and a slugging percentage of .388.

Miami's bats will have no such issues this season. On paper, their lineup is absolutely stacked.

It all starts up at the top with new arrival Jose Reyes. When he's not battling issues with his hamstrings, he's one of the most dynamic leadoff hitters in baseball. He peaked at the right time in 2011, hitting a career-best .337 to win the NL batting crown.

Marc Serota/Getty Images
Jose Reyes

Reyes is not going to take his walks in the leadoff spot. He's going to swing the bat, and that's something Reyes did better than ever last season. You can chalk his high batting average up to a 21.1 line-drive percentage and a 42.1 ground-ball percentage. Not unlike Willie Mays Hayes, the Marlins want Reyes hitting the ball on the ground so he can leg out base hits.

A word of warning though: it remains to be seen if Reyes will rack up as many extra-base hits with the Marlins as he did with the Mets in 2011. The spacious outfield of Citi Field presented Reyes with plenty of opportunities to find the gaps, and he did. Of his 16 triples, 12 came at home. For the season, he slugged .539 at home and .452 on the road.

Admittedly, I'm nitpicking. The only thing that's really worth worrying about when it comes to Reyes is his health. As long as he has that, he'll be great.

The Marlins are hoping Hanley Ramirez will go back to being great too. From 2006 to 2010, he was a .313/.385/.521 hitter. He never got on track in 2011, and injuries and drama took care of the rest. By the end of the season, there he was with a .243/.333/.379 line that looked pretty ugly.

On the bright side, it's not like Ramirez was going up to the plate and hacking away at bad stuff. His walk rate actually increased from the mark he posted in 2010, and he only saw a small increase in his strikeouts. The key problem was simply making solid contact, as his BABIP fell all the way to .275.

If Ramirez can steer clear of injuries and drama this season, there's not a doubt in my mind that he'll rebound. He's simply too good to be that bad again.

If you don't mind, I would now like to start drooling over Giancarlo Stanton's raw power. He still has a lot of maturing to do as a hitter, but I'd like to point out one number that pretty much tells the whole story: .275.

Marc Serota/Getty Images
Giancarlo Stanton

That was Stanton's ISO (isolated power) in 2011. That's a very high number, and in 2011, it was good for the third-best mark in baseball behind Jose Bautista and Curtis Granderson.

For the record, Stanton did actually cut down on his strikeouts while increasing his walks last season. Heaven help the National League if that trend holds true in 2012.

I'm also excited to see what Logan Morrison has in store or us this season, and that's not just because he's the baddest mofo on Twitter. He hit 23 bombs last year, and was hitting well over .300 by the end of May. He was pretty inconsistent after that, but Morrison is a young hitter who can only get better. If he slides into the No. 5 spot in this lineup, all he'll have to do is keep the power coming. That's something we know he can do, as his ISO last season was an above-average .221.

Gaby Sanchez will provide some pop too. He doesn't have Stanton's or Morrison's power, but he's shown over the last two seasons that he has the potential to be a 20-25 home run guy with a respectable batting average and a slugging percentage in the mid-.400s. The Marlins will gladly take production like that in the lower third of their lineup. 

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Emilio Bonifacio. My presumption is that he's going to slide into the No. 2 spot behind Reyes and ahead of Ramirez. If so, the Marlins are going to have three hitters at the top of their lineup who can hit .300 and steal upwards of 40 bases. No other team in the majors can boast to have a similar trio at the top of its lineup.

Make no mistake about it, this is going to be an exciting lineup. There's speed and explosiveness at the top, a ton of power in the middle, and Guillen is going to be able to put some solid hitters at the back end. 

We talk a lot about National League teams with American League lineups. That's exactly what the Marlins are dealing with in 2012.


Pitching Stud

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Let's talk some more about Josh Johnson.

For kicks, let's pretend that Johnson isn't a huge injury risk, and that the Marlins know they're going to get a carbon copy of the pitcher who made 61 starts in 2009 and 2010. What then?

They'll be getting an ace. Plain and simple.

Combine 2009 and 2010, and you get a pitcher with a 2.80 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and an 8.6 K/9, not to mention one with a 26-11 record. 

And now consider this: Johnson was on track to be even better in 2011 before his shoulder started acting up.

The Marlins don't have any choice other than to hope for the best concerning Johnson. If he can stay healthy, he's going to be the ace that the Marlins simply didn't get to enjoy down the stretch last season. He'll keep the Marlins in the postseason hunt, and he'll compete for the NL Cy Young.

Believe it.


Hitting Stud

Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

It's a tough call between Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez, but I have to go with Ramirez here simply because of how good he was from 2006-2010.

I've already pointed out Ramirez's numbers over those five seasons, but what's important is how Ramirez achieved those numbers. 

Patience had little to do with it. Ramirez's walk rate never climbed higher than 13.3 percent, and he struck out roughly 15 percent of the time he went to bat. His M.O. was to go to the plate looking to swing.

When Ramirez did swing, good things tended to happen. His BABIP from 2006-2010 was .347, which was good for fifth among hitters with at least 3,000 plate appearances over that span.

If Ramirez starts making contact in 2012 like he did in 2006-2010, I see no reason why he wouldn't be able to get back to being one of the top hitters in the National League. And if he is, Miami's lineup is going to be better than it already looks.


X-Factor

Marc Serota/Getty Images

This is another tough call, but I have to go with Carlos Zambrano here.

The Marlins are rolling the dice on Zambrano. They have no assurances that he's going to be able to be productive just because he's finally free of Chicago. Like I said above, a change of scenery is only good for so much. It cannot be taken for granted that Zambrano is going to pitch better than he did in 2011 just because he's wearing new threads.

Plus, you have to worry what could happen if Guillen and Zambrano find themselves in a disagreement. If ever there was a volatile pairing, this is it.

If all goes well, Zambrano will stay cool and give the Marlins 30 starts and 200 innings, something he hasn't done since 2007. Given his tendency for walks and the dwindling effectiveness of Zambrano's stuff, I still anticipate him putting plenty of runners on base, but he'll be able to win plenty of games with Miami's offense supporting him.

If all doesn't go well, Zambrano will be just as easily frustrated as he was in Chicago, and that could lead to a situation that drags the whole team down.

Either way, the Marlins can rest easy knowing that they're barely paying Zambrano.


Prospect to Watch

Photo Credit: MILB.com

The Marlins don't have a particularly strong farm system, which is thanks in large part to the fact that a couple of their best prospects from recent seasons (Stanton, Morrison, et al) are with the big club now.

One guy to keep an eye on, though, is Christian Yelich, a sweet-hitting outfielder who tore up Single-A in 2011. 

In 122 games for Single-A Greensboro last season, Yelich hit .312/.388/.484 with 15 home runs and 32 stolen bases. That's pretty good power and discipline for a guy who's still just 20 years old, and you have to love the speed too.

ESPN's Keith Law has Yelich ranked as the No. 48 prospect in all of baseball, and he thinks he projects as a circa 2009 Adam Lind clone.

That's high praise.


What the Marlins Will Do Well

Offense won't be nearly as big an issue for the Marlins in 2012 as it was in 2011. They'll be banking on Reyes staying healthy, Ramirez staying both healthy and happy and Stanton continuing to progress as a hitter, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a lineup with a potential for more explosiveness than this one.

The Marlins can also look forward to enjoying better pitching in 2011. The Buehrle signing will be well worth it, and the Marlins are going to be dangerous if Johnson stays healthy and Sanchez pitches like he did in 2011.

Simply put, the Marlins are going to hit and they're going to pitch. Hallelujah. 


What the Marlins Won’t Do Well

I have my doubts about Miami's bullpen. Bell took a few steps in the wrong direction in 2011, and it remains to be seen how his set-up corps is going to arrange itself. There are some good arms in Miami's pen, but there are a lot of things that could go wrong too.

If the Marlins miss out on the postseason, my gut tells me their bullpen is going to be a big reason why.


Final Thoughts

Where will the Marlins finish in the NL East in 2012?

Submit Vote vote to see results

When I look at this Marlins team on paper, I like what I see. You could probably tell as much if you bothered to read every last word of this preview (if you did, bravo).

So if the question is whether the Marlins are capable of winning the NL East, I think the answer is a resounding yes.

But I have them finishing fourth in the division.

There are a couple problems facing the Marlins. Chief among them is the fact that the NL East is going to be the hardest division in baseball to win this season. The Phillies and Braves both have outstanding pitching staffs, and the Nationals are very much a threat to win the division after the changes they made over the offseason.

Yes, the Marlins got better, but they didn't get better than the competition. They merely caught up to it.

My main concern is Murphy's Law. There's a lot of things that could go wrong with this Marlins team. And as we all know, what can go wrong will go wrong.


Projected Record: 83-79, fourth in NL East.

 

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Zachary D. Rymer is a lifelong baseball junkie with an impressive collection of Nomar Garciaparra rookie cards and a knuckleball that is coming along. He loves the Red Sox and hates the Yankees, but he has a huge man-crush on Derek Jeter and would like nothing more than to have a few beers with Nick Swisher. He's always down to talk some baseball, so feel free to hit him up on Twitter:

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