This offseason’s Marlins fire sale wasn’t the worst we’ve ever seen — that one back in 1997, after a World Series win, was pretty brutal, and so was the 2012 one after a big spending spree the previous year. But the trades of Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and others really stung, because they came under a new ownership group. It turns out Bruce Sherman (no, not Derek Jeter) is just as bad as Wayne Huizenga and Jeffrey Loria.
The season itself started a couple of weeks ago, and at first glance, the Marlins haven’t done that badly. At 3-7, they’re not even the worst team in the NL: The Padres are languishing at 3-8, and the Reds are stuck at 2-7. But dig a little deeper — go beyond the box score, if you will — and you’ll see the sordid result of all those trades. Miami is stumbling out of the gate like few teams in recent history.
Our friends over at Baseball Prospectus have a few different metrics to evaluate how well a team has played. They’re all archived, not only by year, but also by day. Since the Marlins have played 10 games thus far (gotta love those round numbers!), I went back to 1998 — when MLB expanded to 30 teams — and pulled data from the first 10 games of the season for each team I could find.* This gives us a sample of 569 clubs to compare the 2018 Marlins with.
*A couple of caveats here: 2010 isn’t included in the sample, because the game-by-game data for that year begins on April 23, for some reason. The sample also excludes the 1999 Twins, who played their 10th and 11th games in a double-header. Still, 95 percent is pretty good.
We’ll start with first-order record, which uses runs scored and allowed to give a team’s “expected” record. (It’s sort of like Pythagorean record, but a little different.) Here are the worst clubs through 10 games in the 30-team era:
Worst 10-game first-order records — 1998-present
This isn’t really surprising. While the Marlins might not have the worst record in baseball, they do have the worst run differential. They’ve gone 1-0 in one-run games, which means all seven of their defeats have been by two or more. This much red ink is not a recipe for success:
That 20-1 meltdown against the Phillies bears some of the blame for this, but not all of it. Good teams win big and lose small; bad teams, vice versa. You can guess which one the Marlins are in this scenario.
And that run differential isn’t just bad luck, either. By second-order record — which uses peripheral statistics to gauge how many runs a team should have scored and allowed — the Marlins are just as awful:
Worst 10-game second-order records — 1998-present
Miami’s offense has posted 32 runs over its 10 games, which is pretty dismal. The second-order metrics are actually slightly more pessimistic — they think the team should have scored 30.6 runs. The Fish have the third-lowest wOBA in the majors, at .274, as well as the sixth-lowest BsR, at -1.5, which is bound to lead to a whole bunch of zeroes. A high ERA-FIP gap on the other side of the ball doesn’t compensate for that.
Lastly, there’s third-order record, which is pretty much the same thing as second-order, except it adjusts for the quality of a team’s opponents. Adding that context won’t save the Marlins, though:
Worst 10-game third-order records — 1998-present
|4||2001||Tampa Bay Rays||3||7||.300||27.3||59.0||2.0||8.0||.197|
|5||2006||Kansas City Royals||2||8||.200||31.6||63.5||2.0||8.0||.204|
|6||2008||San Francisco Giants||4||6||.400||26.2||53.3||2.2||7.8||.216|
|8||2002||Los Angeles Angels||3||7||.300||25.3||50.5||2.3||7.7||.225|
|10||2009||San Francisco Giants||3||7||.300||34.5||66.5||2.3||7.7||.229|
|13||2016||San Diego Padres||3||7||.300||24.2||46.7||2.4||7.6||.236|
|14||2017||Toronto Blue Jays||1||9||.100||24.0||46.7||2.4||7.6||.238|
|23||2011||Tampa Bay Rays||2||8||.200||28.8||50.9||2.6||7.4||.264|
|24||2013||San Diego Padres||2||8||.200||34.7||59.0||2.6||7.4||.264|
The Fish started the season with a tough schedule — they played six games against the Cubs and Red Sox, both of whom PECOTA expects to top 90 wins. Since then, however, they had a three-game set against the Phillies (PECOTA projection: 81-81) and a series opener against the Mets (PECOTA projection: 84-78). Those aren’t exactly world-beaters.
As weird as it may sound, the Marlins are kind of lucky that they’re 3-7. All of their losses have been big (to varying extents), they’ve clustered their hits well to score more runs, and their schedule isn’t all that rough. Not only is Miami’s start the worst in the majors, it’s one of the worst for any year, and that’s saying something.
None of this is groundbreaking information, of course; we all knew going into the year that the Marlins would suck. But seeing this up close — witnessing them crash and burn in such spectacular fashion — feels like poetic justice, given the ruthlessness with which Sherman and company tore the club down. As the Pirates and Mets dominate and the Indians and Dodgers remain in a funk, we can at least take comfort in the fact that Miami is right where it’s supposed to be.