The Marlins came in second place in the National League East, six games behind the Phillies and a game ahead of the Braves. Here is a quick quiz: The Marlins won 87 games and came in second because: A) Great young pitching or B) Batting. Most people would answer "A." But really, the answer is "B." There is no doubt that the Marlins have great arms and have a reputation for developing such arms. But 2009 was no different than the years before. Those arms failed to come together significantly and it was the hitting that carried them.
Some day, the Marlins, who always have to go on the cheap, will gel at the pitching position. Every year it seems they have the best young arms in baseball. But every year, those arms fail to materialize in a dominant staff. Maybe 2010 will be the year. They certainly have the talent. But two things seem to get in the way. First, they walk way too many batters. They finished 12th in the National League in that category out of 16 teams. Secondly, their defense is awful. Their defensive efficiency ranked 22nd in the majors out of 26 teams. They were weak in fielding at second, first, third, left and right.
On the Positive Side
They have the second best player in baseball in Hanley Ramirez. With his glove, he may be even with Albert Pujols because he plays shortstop. The guy's talent is unlimited and he is still only 25 years old, meaning his best years should still be ahead of him. He had an OPS+ of 148. He has a VORP of 79.9. Wow! They also had a break out year for Chris Coghlan who mercifully took over the lead off position from Bonafacio (more on him later) and ended up with 565 plate appearances. Coghlan's line ended up: .321/.390/.460. That's a line that's not too far behind Derek Jeter from the lead off spot. He played out of position in left, but with his age, there is no reason why he can't develop into a top flight outfielder.
The Marlins also got productive years from Jorge Cantu, Cody Ross and Dan Uggla, all who finished well above the league average in OPS+. They are solid at catcher with a nice platoon split of Paulino and Baker. Both finished league average at the plate but Paulino is more solid as a defender. Baker had too many passed balls and wasn't nearly as good as Paulino in throwing out runners. Nick Johnson was a nice addition at the end of the year. It is doubtful they keep him, but he was well worth the time he spent there.
The Marlins also have one of the best starting pitchers in the league in Josh Johnson. Johnson finished the season with some eye popping numbers. He went 15-5 with a 3.23 ERA. His WHIP was 1.158 and he had an excellent 3.29 strikeout to walk ratio. Johnson is the real deal and barring injury, should be a big time pitcher for quite some time. Ricky Nolasco also had a better year than his 5.06 ERA would indicate. His strikeout to walk ratio is off the charts at 4.43 and he struck out more than 9 batters per nine innings. He gave up too many homers, but other than that, he was a good pitcher. A little different luck and he would have been fabulous. The 1-2 punch of Johnson and Nolasco is an exciting one.
Out of the bullpen, Brian Sanchez and Kiko Colero (one of the great names in baseball) are big time arms and had much success. Wheeler was decent and the Marlins got great efforts at the end of the year from Brenden Donnelly and Tim Wood.
The Ugh Factors
It is truly unforgivable that the Marlins gave Emilio Bonifacio over 500 plate appearances. His 61 OPS+ is enough proof that they had to be out of their minds to do so. Plus, he was terrible in the field, giving the team fits for an entire season. And yet, they kept running him out there.
It is also clear that the Marlins can't keep Dan Uggla at second base. He's just not very good there, which is probably a charitable statement. If the Fan were in charge down there, it might be considered worth the risk to switch Uggla and Coghlan and put Coghlan at second. Uggla, despite a consistently low batting average, is productive at the plate with good power and lots of walks. But man, he just can't play second. Those memorable errors in the All Star game was NOT a fluke.
The Marlins need to decide what to do about right field. Brett Carroll might be the best outfielder in baseball. But he doesn't hit. Hermida has already been traded to the Red Sox. It would probably be a good idea to move Cody Ross to right and install Cameron Maybin in center. Maybin hasn't proved he can hit in the majors but he is a big time talent. If he can put it together, the Marlins could be on to something. But that's a big if.
The Marlins need a closer they can rely on. Wheeler is better as a setup guy and Nunez gave up 13 homers in just 68.1 innings of work. That's not what you want from a closer. They have a lot of good arms. One of them should be able to get that job done.
What happened to Chris Volstad is a bit of a mystery. He was great in 2008 but was really not very good in 2009. He gave up a whopping 29 homers and his WHIP ballooned up to 1.434. He is a talented pitcher though and perhaps he will bounce back. This Fan has little regard for Sean West. He has talent, but he seems so immature (check out the web for some of his nightlife adventures). Plus, his body language on the mound is weak. He lacks the confidence you need to have to make his obvious talent work for him.
As always with the Marlins, it's a question of whether the pitching can come together. A rotation made up of of Johnson, Nolasco, Volstad, West, Annibal Sanchez and Andrew Miller (the young phenom who showed flashes, but ultimately walked too many) could be dominant if they can put it together. They have some good arms in the bullpen and if they can develop a closer out of one of them, that could be a strength as well.
It's also obvious the Marlins can hit, but perhaps a few of the tweaks outlined above can make them a better fielding team, which is much needed. Hopefully, we won't have to endure another season of Bonifacio.
If the Marlins can get the pitching their talent indicates, continue hitting and improve their defense, they could be scary. There isn't much reason why they can't win 90 games. The Fan doesn't see them winning more than that, but stranger things have happened.