Baseball Notes: The Fluctuating Marlins
Recently, Ichiro passed Pete Rose for the most hits at top levels of professional baseball. Rose wasn't exactly effusive about Ichiro's accomplishment saying, essentially, that his time in Japan was not against the top talent Rose faced between the '60's and 80's. There have been many articles about who the most legitimate home run champions are and the main take away is always that almost every season in the history of baseball has been tainted in some way to benefit the statistics of the better players in the league whether it is because of fewer numbers of black/latin/asian players in the league, widespread use of stimulants, or expansion.
Ichiro wasn't allowed to come to the US until he was 27, so he dominated the Japanese league in hitting. Much like Rose against less diverse teams or in seasons that had expansion (there were 20 major league teams when Rose joined the league and 26 when he left), Ichiro had to be the best based on the game he was playing in and not the game he was capable of playing in. Josh Gibson is considered one of the best home run hitters of all time, better than Babe Ruth, who knows about how he stands up to Barry Bonds, but he was not allowed to play in the major leagues, not because of contractual issues of the league he was in, but because of the color of his skin. He was able to grow comparisons to other greats because of barn storming events when he did play against white players. Ichiro was able to have a similar opportunity years before coming over to the MLB when he played with the Mariners for a spring training where he wowed American stars including Ken Griffey, Jr. who was at the peak of his career.
Both players have knocks against their hit records, but only one of them has more hits at the highest level of baseball available to them during their careers and right now that player is Ichiro. Additionally, Ichiro's hit mark for his time in the US is amazing on its own. Ichiro has played 16 years in the majors, from the ages of 27 to 42 (Rose played until he was 45), and is now only 20 hits away from 3000, the standard for greatness and a ticket to the Hall of Fame.
Ichiro is having a very good season as a fourth outfielder for the Marlins, getting quite a bit of playing time due to injuries and inconsistency of other outfielders as he has hit .349 in 146 plate appearances. He has also changed his approach to hitting that he has had his whole career and his on base percentage and number of walks is way up. As early in the season as it is, he already has the highest on base percentage he has ever had while only having his fifth best batting average.
This production has been welcomed as the two biggest power hitters from last year, Justin Bour and Giancarlo Stanton have had troubles with their batting averages at .261 and .210, respectively. The little, lanky guys seem to be prevailing even as Dee Gordon sits out a long PED suspension. Christian Yellich is hitting .319, Ozuna is tied for the team lead in homers and he's hitting over .300, and Martin Prado is hitting .325. J.T. Realmuto is threatening for a spot as a catcher in the All-Star game by hitting .305 in a very thin catching field in the NL.
Miami is currently four games over .500 and they haven't finished a winning season since 2010, mostly thanks to their pitching staff anchored by Jose Fernandez and a solid bullpen. Adam Conley and Tom Koehler have been very serviceable starters even as the big free agent signing of Wei-Yin Chen has not produced a very good season. It is quite impressive to see what the Marlins have been able to do this year in a difficult division.
It's been a very difficult time for baseball in Miami that was first difficult for them right after they first won the World Series. They were quick to become champions, the franchise had their first season in 1993 and won it all in 1997 thanks to Gary Sheffield, Bobby Bonilla, Moises Alou, Kevin Brown and Alex Fernandez. By the next season they lightened themselves of all of those players. They were back to winning it all in 2003 thanks to Ivan Rodriguez, Derrek Lee, Mike Lowell, and a solid rotation. By the next year they lost Rodriguez and Lee and Lowell was gone a year later. They had Miguel Cabrera between the ages of 20 and 24 but traded him away for prospects in 2007. Cabrera has gone on to grow into the league's best hitter and the first triple crown hitter since 1967 and the AL MVP for five straight seasons.
There was the idea that the Marlins would gain a lot of talent, do well, then have a fire sale. Jeffrey Loria bought the Marlins in 2002, just before their second World Series, already having a reputation for harming the team he ran for a profit. He bought the Marlins after selling the Montreal Expos to the MLB for $120 million after buying his stake just three years earlier for $28 million. This resulted in the Expos being moved out of Canada because Loria refused to have the team play at their stadium or to have a new stadium built.
Under Loria's ownership in the off season of 2012 the Marlins made a lot of big signings expected to make Miami a powerhouse team once again. One aspect of the contracts of the big time players signed was that their no-trade clauses were either limited or non-existent, contrary to trends in the league and in negotiations the players were told they could trust the team that they would not be going anywhere for a while. That team opened the season with Omar Infante, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, Logan Morrison, Emilio Bonifacio, Giancarlo Stanton, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, and Carlos Zambrano. By 2013 only Morrison, Stanton and Nolasco remained with the franchise. The results were records of 69-93 in 2012 and 62-100 in 2013. They were 12th out of 16 NL teams in attendance in 2012 and 15th out of 15 teams in 2013, 2014, 2015, and remain last in the NL this season as well.
The future of the Marlins is that they might win more games this year than in years past and they may do well in future years. Their top prospect, Tyler Kolek, is out for the year with Tommy John surgery, and Jose Fernandez is back from that surgery and back to a 2.57 ERA. They could have a good young rotation for years and the offensive cornerstones of this team are all between the ages of 24 and 28. The question is, can they regain the trust and excitement of their fans when they are well aware of their owner's bad reputation of selling away their best players in order to make a profit for himself? They have a new stadium, new uniforms, new players, but no fans.
For more team overviews check out: