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Marlins Today


March 18, 2010 7:32 PM

Florida Marlins 2010 Season Preview

It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that the Most Valuable Network (MVN), Marlins Today's home for it's first four years of existence has shut down. However, it is with much joy that I let you know that thanks to the good people of RealClearSports.com, Marlins Today still has a home and is back for the 2010 season, which I will preview in this, our inaugural post on RCS. I want to personally thank everyone at RCS for inviting me to join their community, welcoming me so graciously and getting everything set up here for me so quickly. Everything is more than appreciated.

With that piece of business out of the way, let's get to another one: previewing the 2010 Florida Marlins.

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Being the only team not to sign a player to a major league contract, it's safe to say that the Marlins had the most uneventful offseason of any team in the league. Of the acquisitions they did make, all via minor league contract, only a few of them will hold substance this year. The rest will either be placed in the minors or released.

RHP Jose Veras 2009: 50.1 IP, 5.19 ERA, 2.17 K/BB - Introducing this year's career reclamation project ala Brendan Donnelly. After a good 2008 in which he posted a 3.59 ERA in the toughest division in the league, Veras saw himself outrighted to AAA after just 25 innings. From there he went to Cleveland where he wasn't as bad as he was to start the year but wasn't great either, posting a 4.38 ERA. His struggles lied in a total loss of control. In 2008, he posted a 2.17 K/BB. In 2009, that number shrunk to just 1.42. When he's on, Veras is the guy we all wanted Matt Lindstrom to be. His fastball tops out at around 98 MPH and he mixes in a low 80's slider with 6-9 inches of break. In theory, this really could go either way but considering Veras is transitioning to the weaker hitting National League in which a pitcher faces a Jeremy Hermida type hitter three times more often than they do in the AL, the odds are in Veras' favor.

RHP Seth McClung 2009: 62 IP, 4.94 ERA, 1.02 K/BB, 1.63 WHIP - A former Brewer, McClung has never been and probably will never be a star player and he's not exactly a model for good control but he has shown the potential to be very solid. In 2008, he posted a 4.02 ERA with a 1.6 K/BB in 105.1 innings, 37 games and 12 starts. By that line, you can tell that he has worked everywhere from the rotation to the closer's spot, has playoff experience, and will be willing to do whatever is asked of him to help the Marlins. Because of that and the fact that he valued an opportunity with the Marlins and forwent better offers to come here, this is the guy I foresee winning the aforementioned bullpen battle this spring.

1B/3B Jorge Jimenez 2009 (AA): .289/.366/.422, 13 HR, 87 RBI, 0.74 BB/K - Probably the most intriguing acquisition this offseason, Jimenez comes to the Marlins from the Astros in a trade involving Matt Lindstrom. This guy was high on Larry Beinfest's radar and for pretty good reason. In a four year career in the Red Sox's minor league system, Jimenez posted a .298/.377/.423/.800 line with 24 homers and a 0.82 BB/K. That line is better than the .297/.352/.430/.783 line Hanley Ramirez posted from 2002-2005 in the same system. This isn't to say that Jimenez will have a major league career better than Hanley's whatsoever. After all, Hanley was in the majors at age 22 while Jimenez didn't get drafted until age 21. However, if he can even tug on Superman's cape after having come over for next to nothing, the Marlins will have won the trade. Being a rule 5 draft pick by the Astros last year, Jimenez has to be on the 25 man roster this year and, as a lefty option off the bench, he definitely will be. However, Fredi Gonzalez hasn't ruled out the chance for Jimenez to be a dark horse competitor for a starting corner infield job. He would have to beat out the favorites Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez, the former of which was rated the 18th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America last year before having a .277/.408/.439/.848 year. It will indeed be a long-shot for Jimenez to win a starting job but considering he had 88 less strikeouts than Morrison in his minor league career, has spent more time above single A, and seems to have the love of the front office in his corner, I wouldn't rule the possibility out.

... and that's it. Three players of relevance acquired in the offseason. So if the Marlins are staying the course with the same team, they must be pretty confident that their in house options will improve tenfold, right? I definitely see an improvement but tenfold? You be the judge. Here's the projected starting lineup.

LINEUP

LF Chris Coghlan 2009: .321/.390/.460, 9 HR, 47 RBI, 0.69 BB/K - It was hard for Coghlan to do anything wrong last year but unfortunately, it has been hard for Marlins sophomores to do anything right for the past three years. Over that span (Hanley Ramirez aside because he is in a league of his own) qualified second year position players (100+ ABs) have hit just .249 and second year pitchers (30+ innings) have only managed to hold down a 5.37 ERA. Three of those pitchers, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco had their sophomore seasons cut short by injury. So Coghlan has some defying of the odds to do. However, if anyone can do it, it is the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year especially considering he now knows exactly where he will start the year. Last year, Coghlan's .321 average, the most striking number on his stat line, came by way of a slightly inflated .366 BABIP. As a result, I expect his average to drop but for him to still hit around .300 and thanks to his impeccable plate discipline (he only swung at 20.9% of pitches out of the zone and made contact with 84.2% of the pitches he saw last year), get on base at a similar clip. Defensively, Coghlan wasn't good last season (-11.1 UZR) but he had been thrust into a position he hadn't played since he was 11 years old. This year, expect Coghlan to be much more familiar with the outfield and to improve greatly on that side of the ball.

CF Cameron Maybin 2009 (AAA): .317/.399/.463, 3 HR, 39 RBI, 0.66 BB/K - After a miserable start to the 2009 season in which he struck out 31 times in 84 ABs, Maybin was sent to AAA. There, he had a good season but didn't get what he needed: time against major league pitching. Maybin's woes lied in the fact that he was having trouble recognizing pitches and differentiating his approach on fastballs and sliders, not exactly a problem that can be solved in the Pacific Coast League. He came back up for a cup of coffee stint in September and performed much better but still struck out twice as many times as he walked. Maybin suffered another setback in the offseason when he required surgery to repair a partial labrum tear in his left shoulder. That has Fredi Gonzalez questioning where he should place the 22-year-old in the lineup. Even if Maybin does wind up at the top of the order where the quality of pitches is much better (which I think he will), it will still be an uphill battle for Maybin as he learns to cut down on the Ks. The silver lining is that even a below average Maybin will be much better than any kind of Emilio Bonifacio, who got 400+ ABs at the top of the order last year.

SS Hanley Ramirez 2009: .342/.410/.543, 24 HR, 106 RBI, 0.60 BB/K - We already know this guy is great but just how great is he going to be? Feast your eyes on this comparison between him and perhaps the greatest shortstop of all time, Hall of Famer Honus Wagner.



Scary.

The OBP and SLG comparisons are similar as well, only Hanley didn't have the sophomore slump that Wagner did. Even scarier.

Hanley turns 26 this year. At age 26, Wagner had a career year. In a time in which hitters were .17 BA points better than they were in 2009, Wagner hit .381/.434/.573/1.007. Mortifying.

1B Jorge Cantu 2009: .289/.345/.443, 16 HR, 100 RBI, 0.58 BB/K - The oft injured Cantu was often injured again in 2009 but saved the big injury until the very end of the season and was able to play 149 games. With a .310 BABIP, 42 XBHs, and 100 RBIs, Cantu enjoyed arguably the best full season of his career last year. Good news for then, bad news for now. Cantu heads into the year still nursing a sprained ankle which he suffered in October. Despite getting a late start to his training regiment, Cantu says he will be ready to go on Opening Day. However, he will be taping the ankle up before games. This news brings the battle between Jorge Jimenez and Logan Morrison a bit less exciting. Should Cantu re-injure the ankle, they'll both wind up in the starting lineup.

2B Dan Uggla 2009: .243/.354/.459, 31 HR, 90 RBI, 0.61 BB/K - After a slow start to the 2009 season in which he hit just .227/.340/.429, Uggla, a perrenial better first half player, was staring at a pretty average year. However, Uggla defied the odds and came back to hit .262/.371/.496 after the All-Star break. It was the first time in his career that his stats favored the second half. Still, headed in to the offseason, after scratching and clawing not to give him $5 million in arbi, it was doubtful that the Marlins were going to give Uggla near $8 million but they were unable to get proper value for him and were pretty much forced in to retaining him. That's not exactly a bad thing, especially considering they were able to get a deal done before he hit arbitration where he likely would have made more than what the Marlins got him signed for. Furthermore, Uggla has become the mini Adam Dunn of second basemen, posting inflated walk and strikeout totals (92/150 in 2009) but also posting inflated power numbers. 2009 marked a third straight year in which Uggla hit at least 30 homers. For now, he looks primed to become the only 2B in MLB history to hit 30+ homers in four straight seasons as a Marlin. However, if the Fish are out of it by the deadline, they may jump on the opportunity to acquire the young pitching help they wanted for him from a contender.

RF Cody Ross 2009: .270/.321/.469, 24 HR, 90 RBI, 0.28 BB/K - Let's be frank: Cody Ross is a free swinging slightly below average right fielder with slightly above average pop. Don't take my word for it; look at the numbers: last year, amongst 28 eligible players, Ross' .271 BA ranked 19th and his .790 OPS and his 1.9 WAR both ranked 21st. The only two major above average figures he posted were his 24 homers (15th) and 122 strikeouts (7th). The average salary for the aforementioned 28 players which includes the elite Japanese import Ichiro ($17 mil), the overpaid Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome ($13 mil) and the severely overpaid J.D. Drew ($14 mil), the average right fielder salary is right around $6.5 million for 2010. Baseball-Reference.com says Ross is most comparable to Luke Scott, who signed a $4.05 million deal this offseason. Because Ross is two years younger, the Marlins offered him a tad bit more: $4.42 mil, just over 1/3 less than the average right fielder and $400K (ironically the league minimum) more than Scott. The figure befitted Ross' talent perfectly. Ross disagreed. He held out and took the Marlins to court, seeking $650K more.

"For me, it was strictly a business decision," Ross said. "I could have taken their last offer and it would have been OK. I just felt like I had a better season than that. When you have a good season you feel like you should be compensated properly for it."

Considering his batting line was worse, the career highs in doubles and homers could be attributed to a career high 604 PAs, and his UZR/150 was a -7.8 while in 2008, it was +18, it was a bit surprising that arbiters ruled in favor of Ross at all. However, they didn't rule completely in favor of him. They only gave him an extra $250K. Expect Ross to be Ross in 2010: streaky.

C John Baker 2009: .271/.349/.410, 9 HR, 50 RBI, 0.46 BB/K - In his first full year as the Marlins' primary catcher, Baker posted a more than solid offensive line. However, he also had more than solid luck. In 2009, Baker's 19.6 LD% ranked 16th in all of baseball, .2 points above league average. Using Ray Flowers' expected BABIP formula, a Baker of neutral luck would have posted a .316 BABIP. His actual BABIP was .332 so it's safe to say he was a slight overachiever. Alternatively, on the defensive side of the ball, Baker was anything but. He only threw out 20% of his runners, which was 10% below league average and his bF20% (percentage of bunts fielded that resulted in outs) was 80%, 6% below league average. If the Marlins come across a catcher of similar talent (and/or luck), expect Baker to move to the outfield.

3B Jorge Jimenez 2009 (AA): .289/.366/.422, 13 HR, 87 RBI, 0.74 BB/K - You're probably wondering why the heck I have Cantu listed as the first baseman. Here's why. There's always that guy that impresses and surprises in spring training to earn a spot on the team. This guy is my pick this year. As noted above, Jimenez is coming off of a very solid year in AA. According to Joe Frisaro, Jimenez was one of the first players to show up at Marlins camp and has been fielding ground balls at third ever since, proving that he wants to make this team. Fielding grounders is the area in which Jimenez struggled the most in in 2009, committing 23 errors. However, once Jimenez transfers the ball from glove to hand, he's better than Cantu and perhaps the best infield arm in camp. Red Sox prospects have worked out before (see Hanley Ramirez) as have Rule V draftees (see Dan Uggla). Jimenez is both. Because of his work ethic and because of the fact that Logan Morrison could probably use some more time in the minors, I'm really rooting for this guy.

BENCH

Thanks to key contributors Ross Gload and Wes Helms, the Marlins' bench had a .257/.328/.388/.716 line in 2009, amongst the best in the league. Gload and Helms combined for a total 118 on the year. Of those, 38 were pinch hits which broke the record for most pinch hits by a set of teammates set in 1936 by Ed Coleman and Roy Pepper of the 1936 Cleveland Browns. However, with Ross Gload jettisoning for Philadelphia this offseason after the Marlins declined to pick up Gload's player option and failed to meet his free agent price range, a new left handed hitting bench option will have to try to copy him in 2010.

OF Bryan Petersen 2009 (AA): .297/.368/.413, 7 HR, 49 RBI, 0.76 BB/K - That new face belongs to this guy. Petersen isn't the most talented player or the hottest prospect in the world but judging by the way he's flown through the Marlins' minor league system, you'd wonder why you've never heard of him. At 23, Petersen has made it from A- to AA in just two years with good lines to show at each level. His most recent stop was AA Jacksonville where he had a .297/.368/.413 year with 49 RBIs and seven homers. This fall, he partook in the Arizona Fall League and posted the second highest batting average in it (.379). Petersen doesn't have great speed or an above average arm nor, with top prospect Michael Stanton due up next year to take his place in an already crowded outfield, does he have much of a future with the Marlins which makes him a perfect candidate to come off the bench this year. He was also recently touted by Fredi Gonzalez as one of the hardest working guys in the system and someone who is willing to do anything to help. Petersen will have to beat out veteran Mike Lamb for the job this spring but considering Lamb, 33, is coming off of a dreadful .261/.299/.370/.669 year in AAA, that shouldn't be too hard to do.

2B/SS/OF Emilio Bonifacio 2009: .252/.303/.308, 1 HR, 27 RBI, 0.36 BB/K - Let's try to be positive here: he's fast. When he was in scoring position last year with less than two outs, it was pretty nice to be able to add a run to the Marlins' total at the moment of decent contact. Furthermore, this offseason, Bonifacio worked out with Luis Castillo every morning while in the Dominican Republic. According to Bonifacio, he taught him how to work longer counts. Considering he swung at 66% of pitches outside of the zone which led to a 63.1 first pitch strike percentage, both above league average, this would be a welcome sight. Castillo also worked with Bonifacio on bunting. In both cases, Boni couldn't have been learning from much better. In his career, Castillo has only swung at 55.1% of pitches out of the zone (more than 10% below league average) and is 92-192 (.479) when bunting for a hit. Needless to say, hopefully Bonifacio puts Castillo's help to good use. A glance at his stats in the DWL would suggest he's at least started to. In 130 ABs, this winter, Bonifacio posted an OBP bordering on .350 with a 0.67 BB/K.

1B/3B Wes Helms 2009: .271/.318/.364, 3 HR, 33 RBI, 0.24 BB/K - The unsung hero of the 2009 season, Helms turned in his best year since 2006. In the first year of a two year contract as the Marlins' primary bench bat, he turned in a .346/.382/.536 line in high leverage situations, earning him the nickname The Closer. The way he went about doing so was a bit peculiar. A year after his splits favored Sun Life Stadium, Helms was over 100 BA points better in more ABs away from it even though it is one of his best career parks in which he has seen over 100 ABs. That fact leads me to believe that his unsuccessful-ness in Miami last year was a bit of a fluke. If he can keep up his road production and get back to his normal self at home, I would approve.

C Ronny Paulino 2009: .272/.340/.423, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 0.52 BB/K - Paulino was brought in last year for one reason: hit lefties in stead of John Baker. He hit .290/.343/.458 against them. Apart from being one of the Marlins' third best hitter vs LHP, Paulino was also the team's best defensive catcher, throwing out 11% more of his runners than John Baker. I'd say he did his job and so would the Marlins as they brought him back for 2010 via a $1.1 million contract. Expect him to be both once again in 2010.

OF Brett Carroll 2009: .234/.306/.383, 3 HR, 18 RBI, 0.33 BB/K - Carroll had a bit of a breakout year in 2009. The bad thing about that is that when you're a career .208 hitter, almost anything is a breakout year. Still, Carroll finally found himself a spot where he can regularly contribute something offensively: against lefties. In 66 ABs, Carroll held down an .801 OPS vs southpaws. All three of his homers came against them as did nine of his 13 XBHs. Carroll will settle in to that part time niche again in 2010 but his real strength is his outfield arm. Perhaps the best in the game and definitely right up there with Rick Ankiel, he'll once again be primarily a late inning defensive replacement.

ROTATION

SP Josh Johnson 2009: 15-5, 3.23 ERA, 3.29 K/BB - After coming back from shoulder surgery eight months early to post a 7-1 record with a 3.61 ERA in 2008 then going on to have a 15-5, 3.23 year last year, the Marlins had seen enough out of Johnson to offer him a long term deal. There are those that have said that the only reason the Marlins got a deal done with Johnson is because of the MLB stepping in to say that the team needs to spend more revenue sharing money on the team. This is only half true. Negotiations with Johnson were already well at hand before Selig contacted the Marlins. In fact, negotiations may have started before 2009 even ended. However, Johnson wanted a four year deal. Before the league piped up, the Marlins would only offer him three years. A few days after Selig's comments, Johnson had signed a four year contract. The league may have had something to do with the speed in which this deal got done but even though it might have taken a little longer, one would have gotten done regardless. However, the same people that spoke this half-truth couldn't stand being half right. They just had to be completely wrong. So, not long after that comment, they made one saying that we shouldn't expect any more multi-year deals any time soon. The same people said this after Hanley signed in May 2008. Wes Helms signed a two year deal five months later. That didn't stop them from saying it again. Here we are, less than a year later with Johnson. Low and behold, they said it again. With a good year in 2010, the Marlins have already said they will explore a multi-year deal with Ricky Nolasco. Then of course there's that whole stadium opening thing in 2012. Keep saying it though, guys. The reverse psychology seems to be working.

SP Ricky Nolasco 2009: 13-9, 5.06 ERA, 4.43 K/BB - We just looked at someone who had good luck last year, now let's look at someone who had exactly the opposite. A glance at his ERA last year would lead one to believe that Nolasco regressed and that his fabulous 2008 might have been a fluke. This is why sabermetricans are beginning to scoff at ERA which was once considered the best way to gauge a pitcher's season. They'd much rather look at FIP. FIP  (fielder independent pitching ERA) only accounts for things in which a pitcher is specifically responsible for. Therefore, it takes any kind of bad luck the pitcher suffered at the hands of his defense out of the equation. Nolasco had plenty of that in 2009. His ERA was 5.06 but his FIP was 3.35, which is better than league average and actually lower than both the ERA and FIP he posted in 2008. In other words, Nolasco himself might have actually been better in 2009 than he was in his fabulous 2008 season but he won't get credit for it thanks to the two runs the defense put on his ERA which he himself was completely helpless to stop. All of Nolasco's other numbers were similar enough to his 2008 totes. In fact, he may have even gotten a little better as in more IP, he gave up less homers and struck out more. With a better defense behind him this year, Nolasco's ERA should come down.

SP Chris Volstad 2009: 9-13, 5.21 ERA, 1.81 K/BB - The fluke was here. The question is was it his fabulous 2008 or his egregious 2009? Don't believe in the sophomore slump? Consider this. Before last year, Volstad had never given up more than eight homers at any level. By his eight start, he had tied that mark. By July 4th, he had doubled it. The interesting thing is that his control numbers weren't too far off of what they were last year (both years they hovered right around league average) and his first pitch strike percentage was actually better. The hitch was in his inability to keep the sinker down. His GB/FB ratio shrunk by .19 points and his XBH% rose by more than three points. What's worrisome is that this offseason, Volstad hasn't been working on perfecting his primary pitch and instead working on a new pitch, a slider. Volstad could use another pitch in his arsenal but not before he can throw the ones he already has for strikes (and not the kind of strikes that go 400 feet). Unless Volstad is trying to re-invent himself, that wasn't the most advantageous way to spend the offseason. Although I think Volstad's 2009 was indeed a fluke, I highly doubt he'll have his best stuff to begin the year.

SP Anibal Sanchez 2009: 4-8, 3.87 ERA, 1.54 K/BB - Unlike Volstad, Sanchez had a very productive offseason as he made strides to get back to his rookie year form. His offseason was so good the Marlins are saying he may even be better than the guy he was when he posted a 2.83 ERA and threw a no-hitter in his first 114 major league innings. The first reason why is the fact that Sanchez showed up at camp 30 pounds lighter. Sanchez's diet, which was put together for him by fellow athlete, former NBA forward John Salley, has helped him improve his stamina, which has been one of the biggest knocks on his game. The increase in stamina has also given Sanchez a little extra on his fastball. For the first three years of his career, it has topped out at 90 MPH. In camp, Sanchez has already been clocked at 92. Of course, until he proves that he can remain healthy all year again, Sanchez's health is worth keeping an eye on but because of his drive and determination, we'll be able to push it a bit further back in our minds this year.

SP Rick VandenHurk 2009: 3-2. 4.30 ERA, 2.33 K/BB - With a slew of guys vying for one spot, the battle for the fifth starter spot will be the most highly contested in spring training. This is my pick to win it. Before 2009, the 6'5" Dutchman had a great curve ball... and that's it. When you have one effective pitch, hitters sit back on it and mash it. That's exactly what they did to RVH. He threw the curve ball 5.3% of the time and was -1.1 runs above average when doing so. He threw his slider just 10.2% of the time. The numbers were even more lopsided in 2007. That year, he threw the curve 12.1% of the time and was -4.7 runs above average with it. He threw the slider just 5%. In 2009, VandenHurk completely re-invented himself. He perfected his slider in the offseason and that year, he threw it 24.7% of the time, more than twice as much as he did the year previous. With that pitch, he was 2.4 runs above average, a career high. He maintained the Holland Hammer but only broke it out a handful of times per game (1.2% of his total pitches). His stats showed the dividends having a bigger arsenal paid. After a good showing in the WBC, he posted a 4.30 ERA, easily a seasonal best and dropped his career ERA from 7.00 to 5.98. This offseason, VandenHurk has reportedly added a cut fastball to his repertoire, giving him a viable four pitch attack. Not only do I expect VandenHurk to make this team but depending on the springs of Sanchez and Volstad, he could be slotted a bit higher in the rotation.

BULLPEN

LRP Burke Badenhop 2009: 72 IP, 3.75 ERA, 2.38 K/BB - Badenhop, a throw in piece in the Miggy/Maybin trade in 2007, has turned out to be more of a contributor than one of the main pieces, Andrew Miller thus far in his tenure as a Marlin. The 27-year-old has been fantastic in long relief, posting a 3.28 ERA in 74 IP. The most striking (no pun intended) number the Hopper has posted has been a 2.54 K/BB. He's been good in both the band-aid low leverage role and in close games. Unfortunately for Badenhop though, part of long relieving is starting. In that endeavor, he has struggled. In 10 starts as a big leaguer, he has posted a ghastly 6.98 ERA. The Marlins will sacrifice those few bad outings a year though (last year he only had to make two starts) for his long relief work, that is unless someone else (Clay Hensley?) makes more of an impression this spring. Badenhop can probably sleep soundly, though. That someone else would have to do a lot.

MRP Brian Sanches 2009: 56.1 IP, 2.56 ERA, 1.96 K/BB - After winning a job in spring training and getting off to a 1.25 ERA start in which he at one point worked 24 1/3 scoreless in the first half, Sanches became the bullpen's anchor in the second half. There, he was called upon more frequently. In five more games and 13 more innings, Sanches saw his ERA rise more than two full points. He wound up throwing 56.1 total innings. His previous career high was 21.1. As one of the only certainties in the bullpen headed in to spring training, Sanches will likely be relied upon heavily in 2010. Undoubtedly Sanches' 2009 was a breakout year but without the best day-to-day stamina in the world, without overpowering stuff, and with his age working against him, expect Sanches to come back down to earth a bit in 2010.

MRP Dan Meyer 2009: 58.1 IP, 3.09 ERA, 2.67 K/BB - Meyer's transition from starting to relieving went off without a hitch. In 58.1 innings, he posted a 56/21 K/BB. Because of his lowly .167/.227/.267/.494 against line in high leverage situations, Meyer should be at the top of the list for save ops when Leo Nunez isn't available. Again though, as I believe will be the case with Sanches, I expect Meyer to regress a little bit in his second full year facing the same hitters.

MRP Renyel Pinto 2009: 61.1 IP, 3.23 ERA, 1.29 K/BB - Pinto was effective as the second lefty behind Meyer last year, posting a 1.60 WHIP and a 58/45 K/BB but for a second straight year, spent time on the DL. Trying to avoid giving him a raise, the team explored trading him but after failing to find a partner, he was been confirmed as a member of the bullpen. However, with fellow lefty Hunter Jones on the rise and younger, don't be surprised if Pinto is jettisoned before the break.

MRP Jose Veras 2009: 50.1 IP, 5.19 ERA, 2.17 K/BB - As mentioned above, this career reclaimation project could go either way but because he's a fresh face to NL hitters, I like the odds. With a good showing in spring training, Veras could open the year as Nunez's setup man.

MRP Tim Wood 2009: 22.1 IP, 2.82 ERA, 1.60 K/BB - This final pen spot will be contested between this guy, Chris Leroux, Hunter Jones, Hayden Penn, and pretty much everyone else in camp. I'm going to give it to Wood because he appears most big league ready. During his stint in the majors, most of which came via a cup of coffee at the end of the year, Wood held down a 2.82 ERA. He spent most of the year in AAA where he also posted respectable numbers: a 3.18 ERA and a 2.17 K/BB in just under 40 innings of work. Wood is also probably the most versatile of the bunch and can start in a pinch. He's been known to give up a few too many hits, posting a 9.1 H/9 in his minor league career. He carried that reputation in to his big league berth, giving up 22 hits in 22 innings. It is something Wood is going to have to improve upon but at 26, there's still some time. Again, this spot really is up for grabs and could go to virtually anyone in camp this year so stay tuned.

CL Leo Nunez 2009: 68.2 IP, 4.06 ERA, 2.22 K/BB, 26 SV - Nunez was quite effective after he took over the closer's role from Matt Lindstrom in 2009, converting 26 of his 31 save ops, a career high. With a decent spring, Nunez will open the year as the closer. The Marlins haven't had the same closer for an entire year since 2006. They're hoping Nunez can be that guy.

PREDICTIONS

In 2009, the Marlins slightly outperformed their projected Pythagorean record because they were 30-20 in one run games and won two rain shortened contests. Whether the Marlins perform on a similar scale in 2010 depends on if the bullpen is as lucky as it was in 2009. Last year, the Marlins' bullpen's BABIP was .303, just a thousandth of a point under what the rotation's was.  Still, the pen was able to hold down a 3.89 ERA while the rotation's neared 5.00. The difference lied in the distribution of hits. As a team, the Marlins' pen's strand rate was not all that great (it was actually below league average) but it's most frequently used assets all posted strand rates well above league average. With an 82.3 LOB%, Kiko Calero, ranked 11th in the NL, Brian Sanches ranked sixth with an 85.3%, Renyel Pinto (79.5%) ranked 17th, and Leo Nunez (79.4%) ranked 18th. That's 4/7 of the bullpen in the top 20 in LOB%. Futhermore, if we look at starters' average FIP compared to the pen's average xFIP, we find that the pen's average xFIP is a few thousandths higher than the rotation's, meaning that the pen received much better defensive backing than the rotation. With Calero no longer on the team, all of the projection systems projecting both Sanches and Nunez to regress in their second full seasons in the NL, and fairly similar defensive potential (especially if Jorge Cantu winds up back at third base), the Marlins shouldn't expect this kind of production from the pen again in 2010. Accordingly, if the team were to have remained static, I wouldn't be expecting to win as many one run games. Although the Marlins were quiet this offseason, this team is far from the same. Fortunately, there is a good chance that the Marlins, fifth in the league last year in high leverage PAs, will be involved in less close games because of an improved offense and that the bullpen won't have to toss as many innings thanks to an improved rotation. Whoever winds up winning the job between Jorge Jimenez and Gaby Sanchez will certainly be better than 500 ABs of Emilio Bonifacio and Cameron Maybin, although I'm not expecting huge numbers, should still outproduce Jeremy Hermida. CHONE projects Maybin to create 60.7 runs and Sanchez (they think he will win the job) to create 52.9. Together, that comes out to 0.69 runs created per game, about a tenth of a run better than what Bonifacio and Hermida were worth in 2009 (0.60). It doesn't seem like much but that extra nine thousandth of a run per game comes out to a total of 16 runs better for the season. As noted, I expect the rotation to improve with Rick VandenHurk having a career year, Chris Volstad bouncing back a bit after sophomore slumping in 2009, and Anibal Sanchez returning to form. Good pitching will always beat good hitting and the Marlins should get more of that this year out of their starters. My prediction: the Marlins improve upon their 2009 record, going 91-71, finish second in the NL East, and make a serious run at the wild card.

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