Monday, June 24, 2013

Retired Numbers Series: Miami Marlins

The Marlins’ short history has been unlike any other team in baseball. In just over two decades, they have seen both higher highs (two World Series titles) and lower lows (their numerous fire sales) than most other teams. Those extremes have meant a large cast of players in their history, one that is both incredibly talented and very fleeting. But what does it mean for their retired numbers?

Notes on the Numbers

Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.

There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers, until recently (as in, after I started this series), only went back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.

The Already Retired Numbers

The Marlins currently have no retired numbers, but that wasn’t always the case. Until last season, the number 5 was retired for Carl Barger, the team’s first president, who died prior to the team’s first game. The team responded by retiring 5 in honor of his favorite player, Joe DiMaggio. When the new stadium was completed, the Marlins instead decided to add the number back into use and honor Barger with a plaque.

Compared to the League

No matter how you consider it, the Marlins fall more or less at the bottom of the rankings. They currently have no retired numbers, tying them for fewest in the league with the Mariners and the Rockies. If you do decided to count their former number, it was done in honor of a non-player, meaning they still don’t have any stats to use in ranking them with the other teams. The Rays and Diamondbacks are the only other teams with one retired number.

So Who’s Next?

The Marlins’ history of fire sales have left them in a different place than their fellow 1990s expansion teams. Unlike those three teams, the Marlins have no clear-cut candidates for future honors. Only two players have even played more than 1000 games for Miami: Luis Castillo and Jeff Conine. It’s not one of them that leads the franchise in WAR, though.

In his short time there, Hanley Ramirez took the franchise WAR title, scoring 30.6 fWAR and 26.8 bWAR. That’s an impressive amount for spending only seven seasons there, and if he goes on to a Hall of Fame career, it would make sense for Miami to retire his number. He’s been hurt for most of his time with the Dodgers, but he is still only 29. If he falls short of the Hall, he still may get his number retired under the “first franchise star” reasoning (see Jimmy Wynn or Luis Gonzalez, among others), although I don’t know if 7 seasons is long enough (or if his time in Miami ended on a sour note). Either way, he’s probably the most likely candidate, considering everything.

After Ramirez on the batting leader boards is Luis Castillo. He leads the franchise in games and plate appearances, and is second in both Wins Above Replacement (22.3 bWAR, 21.2 fWAR). His time wasn’t especially dominant, though; was he ever the star any Marlins team? Maybe post-fire sale (the first one), but even then, I can’t say I think of him before Mike Lowell or Cliff Floyd or Derrek Lee. Really, Castillo’s case seems to be based entirely on being with the team longer than anyone else, and with only 1128 games with the team (not quite seven full seasons), that’s not saying much.

Miguel Cabrera is the exact opposite of Castillo; in only four and a half seasons, he rocketed up to third among the team’s position players with 18.3 bWAR and 20.3 fWAR. That’s impressive for the age that it occurred, but it’s not a huge sum for any non-Marlins team. And he’s already played more games with the Tigers. Maybe when he inevitably makes Cooperstown, the Marlins will retire his number because they did develop him and he did play on a World Series winner and all that. But it’s almost certain he won’t even be inducted as a Marlin, which just feels like another degree of separation between him and the team.

Dan Uggla (17.8 fWAR, 15.5 bWAR), Cliff Floyd (16.1 fWAR, 16.8 bWAR), and Mike Lowell (17.6 fWAR, 14.2 bWAR) are all next, but I really can’t see anything that gives any of them an advantage over Castillo. They all reached higher peaks than he did (although none were ever as good as Ramirez or Cabrera), but Castillo at least has the longevity going for him.

Really, for past hitters, there are only two other people worth examining: Gary Sheffield and Jeff Conine. Conine is mostly notable for being “Mr. Marlin” and for being second in team history in games played. So, like Castillo, he will rely heavily on that longevity factor. His numbers aren’t quite with Castillo’s (16.9 fWAR, 13.7 bWAR), but Conine has an advantage in that he was on both World Series teams (Castillo was in the pros for some of 1997, but was not on the postseason roster). That and the nickname makes me think he’s more likely than Castillo, but neither was brilliant enough to really force the Marlins’ hand. It’s worth noting his number 19 hasn’t exactly been kept out of circulation, either.

Gary Sheffield, like Conine doesn’t have the numbers from his time in Miami to make him stand out (14.4 fWAR, 13.1 bWAR). However, he does have 500 home runs; should he make the Hall (and he does have the numbers), he actually might go in as a Marlin (they were his longest stint, as well as the location of his only championship). If that happens, he might get his number retired. However, since the Hall voters haven’t inducted Mark McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro, I can’t see them inducting Sheffield right away. I do think they’ll all make it someday, but who knows how long that will be.

The pitchers are a lot like the hitters. Another recently-traded star, here Josh Johnson, leads everyone else. Johnson actually has a substantial lead, as he’s the only pitcher in franchise history with more than even 18 WAR (with either version-25.4 bWAR, 21.2 fWAR). Injuries kept him from reaching the heights that Hanley or Miguel did, and he doesn’t even have longevity going for him, with only 916 innings in his eight Marlin seasons (he’s third in innings pitched, behind Ricky Nolasco and Dontrelle Willis). I have trouble thinking of any reason to retire Josh’s number at the moment that doesn’t apply to anyone who’s already mentioned.

After that is a clump of good pitchers, some of whom went on to greater fame elsewhere. Only Ricky Nolasco (17.0 fWAR, 10.5 bWAR) is still with the team, and that probably won’t even be the case by August. Anibal Sanchez (12.8 fWAR, 13.7 bWAR), A.J. Burnett (14.1 fWAR, 12.0 bWAR), Josh Beckett (12.6 fWAR, 10.7 bWAR), and Brad Penny (11.6 fWAR, 8.7 bWAR) are four of the others. Again, I can’t see a reason to retire any of those five. Beckett, Penny, and Burnett have all spent more time away from the Marlins than with them. Sanchez will certainly wind up that way, given his new contract with the Tigers. And really, none of them was really ever great with Miami. They were all not bad, at least, but none was ever a Cy Young contender with the team like Johnson.

Kevin Brown is here too, and he stands out. He’s the only free agent from the group, and his best season undoubtably came in Florida. He was also their ace for their 1997 championship. And that was it-he only had those two seasons in teal. Granted, they were worth 15.0 bWAR and 12.8 fWAR, but I can’t see him getting his number retired. The only situation I can see is a Gary Sheffield-type exception. Until this last year (when Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling joined the ballot), I would argue that Brown was the best pitcher not in the Hall. He bounced around in his prime a lot, too. Overall, though, he spent more time with the Dodgers and Rangers, and while neither was as good as his Miami seasons, that extra time does mean something. We’re dealing with several levels of hypotheticals at this point, though, since Brown fell off the ballot after one try.

One from this mass stands out, though. Dontrelle Willis had a short career than any of them, with only nine years and five Marlin seasons to his name. But at least his best years came in Florida, including a Rookie of the Year award and a Cy Young runner-up finish. The shortness of his career means it probably won’t happen, though, barring a boatload of nostalgia in his favor. We’re really digging up the dregs at this point, but that’s the ownership’s fault more than anything. We may as well move on from the past, though.

And what of the present team? Well, in the interest of covering all the bases, I may as well throw out as many names as possible. Jacob Turner, Marcell Ozuna, Nate Eovaldi, and Logan Morrison have all been seen as good prospects at different times, and they’re all young. Christian Yelich has a lot of hype around him, too, but he’s still in the minors.

Obviously, there are two more likely choices among the present crop of young Marlins. Jose Fernandez has made waves since his call-up early this season, although he’s just a 20-year old rookie at this point. It’s still very early, but if you have to project right now, Fernandez would probably be the pitcher you go with.

And there’s Giancarlo Stanton. Only 23 and already at 100 home runs, he looks like he’s well on his way into the record books. If he stays with the Marlins long-term, a big if in this case (and something that would be greatly aided by a new ownership), then I would feel even more confident in his chances. As is, he’s probably still the favorite, if only because there’s a (small) chance he’ll be in Miami long-term.

So, In Closing...

As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the Miami Marlins in the future are, in order:

Giancarlo Stanton-27
Jose Fernandez-16
Hanley Ramirez-2
Miguel Cabrera-24
Gary Sheffield-10
Jacob Turner-33
Jeff Conine-19
Christian Yelich
Marcell Ozuna-48
Logan Morrison-5
Nate Eovaldi-24
Dontrelle Willis-35
Josh Johnson-55
Luis Castillo-1
Kevin Brown-27
Ricky Nolasco-47
Anibal Sanchez-19
Josh Beckett-21
A.J. Burnett-34
Brad Penny-31

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