The Marlins Are Nowhere Near the Nationals (or maybe even the Mets)

By: Brian P. Mangan

Apparently we are turning into Fire Joe Morgan. My apologies, but certain information must be disseminated to the public, and certain misinformation must be debunked. Let’s start with one that has bothered me all offseason, perhaps the most problematic theme of them all: the idea that the Marlins are going to be really good in 2015. They aren’t.

Let’s walk that back slightly in the interest of accuracy: it would be a big surprise if the Marlins were much better than a .500 team next year. They would need a lot of luck, and then some, in order to present a real challenge to the Nationals. If Giancarlo Stanton comes back healthy and as good as ever, if Mat Latos pitches a full season at a high level, if Christian Yelich emerges as a star, and if Michael Morse can rewind to 2011 and hit 30 home runs … then maybe we’re on to something. But even then, the Marlins would, in all likelihood, still be looking up at the Nationals.

Despite this obvious truth, Phil Rogers of MLB.com published a piece today entitled “Marlins built to give Nationals run for their money.”  Aside from being, well, wrong and kinda lazy, it makes no mention whatsoever of the Mets, a team who, on paper, might be superior to the Marlins. I’ll take a look at the Mets next week, but for now, I’m going to pull apart Rogers and tell you exactly why the Marlins have no shot to “give the Nationals a run for their money.”

Excerpts from the Rogers article in bold.

[The Nationals] are a powerhouse, without question. But they’re not a sure thing. Not with the Miami Marlins signaling their intent through a $325 million contract to Giancarlo Stanton and a series of smart trades and free-agent signings that added to the impressive young core that played .500 ball through Aug. 25 last season, even though they lost 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner Jose Fernandez in mid-May.

We’re off to a bad start here for Rogers, as Fernandez will still be out this year through June at least, and he admits that the Marlins were a sub-500 club last year. Not only that, but he acknowledges that their biggest move was merely standing pat — extending Stanton, not bringing in new talent.

Stanton has never played more than 150 games in a season … Yes, Stanton faces some questions about his toughness after his MVP-caliber campaign ended ugly when he was drilled by Milwaukee’s Mike Fiers on Sept. 11 … The first time Stanton gets knocked down with a pitch, he’ll be watched closely. But the chances of him developing an allergic reaction to inside fastballs seem slim.

The Marlins best player, their only legitimate star, already has a question mark hanging over his head the size of Bartolo Colon. Stanton and Fernandez, about whom there are no guarantees post Tommy John surgery (and who would have to rush back to contribute in 2015) are supposed to be the Marlins’ strengths.

Consider how closely Miami’s reworked lineup stacks up to the Washington lineup, position by position. Using fWAR from last season, the Nats get an edge at six of the eight positions, but the eyeball test looks more like a split decision.

Rogers acknowledges that the Nationals have a stronger lineup, 6 to 2, but calls it close. Is it? In a word, no, no it is not.

nats zipsmarlins zips

The Nationals are projected by ZiPS for approximately 23 WAR from their starting eight, and that is before substituting Yunel Escobar in for Danny Espinosa, and with criminally low projections for Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth.

The Marlins on the other hand are projected for 17 WAR from the group above, although they improved themselves subsequent to this projection. Let’s say that Michael Morse and Martin Prado can combine for 4 WAR (an extraordinarily friendly projection for the two of them, given that they are north of 30 and did not reach that figure last year) and replace the 1 WAR from McGehee/Jones. The Marlins would still be at 20 WAR, plus whatever Dee Gordon gives them beyond 2 WAR, and that’s including 5 from Stanton, who hasn’t faced a pitch since his near-death experience of being beaned in the face.

In reality, this matchup isn’t even as close as ZiPS makes it out to be. Rendon was worth 6.6 WAR last year, and Desmond has averaged 4.66 WAR over his last three seasons, but together they are projected here for only 8. The Nationals outstrip the Marlins here somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-26 to 20-21.

Rogers continues:

Miami’s rotation doesn’t stack up with Washington’s — none of the other 29 teams has one that does — but Henderson Alvarez and Mat Latos should be solid at the front of it, and Tom Koehler, Jarred Cosart and either David Phelps or — if they can talk him into giving them a chance — Dan Haren make it a deep rotation.

I would gloss over this too, if I was him. The Nationals starting five is projected to put up — and this is not a typo — a combined 21 WAR between them, after subbing in Scherzer for Roark. In contrast, the Marlins starting five is projected to put up somewhere around 11 WAR, even after subbing in Latos for Koehler, and before subtracting Eovaldi.

marlins sp nationals sp

Let’s be real here — this is not even close. You can even add another win or two to the Marlins side of the ledger if you assume Fernandez returns mid-season and is a win better than whoever he replaces. As for the bullpens, they are essentially a tie, with Storen/Barrett/Stammen/Roark probably comparing favorably to Cishek/Ramos/Dunn and company.

Don’t be surprised if the Marlins give the Nats a serious scare in 2015.

ACTUALLY I WOULD BE INCREDIBLY SURPRISED.

The result of the above projections leaves the Nationals in the neighborhood of 46-47 WAR and the Marlins in the neighborhood of 31-32 WAR, an enormous gap of ~15 games. (Side note: I am sorry, Dan, I know you say not to do this).

Even if you don’t believe in WAR-based or projection-based analysis, the Nationals are simply the better, deeper team. The Nationals have 12 batters projected by ZiPS to be capable of posting 1 WAR or more, and the Marlins have eight. On the pitching side, the Nationals have thirteen and the Marlins have ten.

Tanner Roark would be the ace in Miami, and he doesn’t even get to start in Washington, while the Nationals lineup, top to bottom, is projects to score more runs than the Marlins. The only positions on the diamond where the Marlins are superior to the Nationals are right field (Stanton v. Harper) and left field (Yelich v. Werth) while being outclassed at the other six positions — in some instances, by wide margins (Rendon v. Prado and Desmond v. Hechevarria primarily).

A much better question would be where the Mets fall on the Marlins-Nationals spectrum. I’ll tackle that next time.

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Brian Mangan is an attorney living in New York City.

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