Revisiting '03: The Marlins' Best Player?


Welcome back to Revisiting ’03, where I look back through my saber-eyes at the 2003 Florida Marlins and see if I gain any more wisdom from that magical team. Today’s topic, a fairly simple one: who was the team’s best player?

Perception

In terms of perception, who do you think the team’s best player was? There were numerous options, as the Marlins were fairly impressive both on offense and on run prevention. By the merit of the team’s runs allowed, you would think it would be a pitcher. Between the team’s pitchers, you would have to think the choice would be either Josh Beckett or Dontrelle Willis. At the time, Beckett was the much-heralded fireballer with a crazy fastball and an even crazier penchant for injury. I remember back then he had huge problems with blisters all the time. The year before, the Marlins had brought Beckett up to the big leagues to see what the No. 2 pick in the 1999 draft could do. What he did was turn in 21 starts and a 4.10 ERA, hardly what you’d expect from a prime prospect, even one up in the bigs at age 22.

On the other hand, Dontrelle Willis came out gunning at the start of his career, starting off 9-0 and reminding us of another young pitcher who busted through the gates and eventually led us to a World Series (in case you don’t remember, that was Livan Hernandez). He ended the year with 14 wins and a solid 3.30 ERA.

What about the other starters? Well, they were all good. Mark Redman posted his second best career season thanks to a solid 3.59 ERA and 14 wins, and both Carl Pavano and Brad Penny approached 200 innings of work posting above average ERA’s as well.

And of course, back then you could not resist claiming some of the effect was due to newly acquired catcher Ivan Rodriguez and his “handling” of the pitching staff. I bought it then, I don’t buy it now, but there’s no doubt Pudge was a valuable player for the team. As far as position players go, you would expect him to be the most valuable given his free agent status and the superior defense aspect. Other potential position players to consider were Derrek Lee and Juan Pierre, who I believe won the the team’s MVP award that year and was a distant runner-up in the MVP voting (I think he placed 16th).

Through the Lens

How did it turn out? As always, we’ll use WAR as a decent approximation. I looked at the WAR values from both FanGraphs and Rally’s historical WAR database. The results? Check out the table.

Name Position WAR (FanGraphs) WAR (Rally)
Beckett SP 3.9 3.4
Castillo 2B 4.4 5.0
Lee 1B 4.1 4.1
Lowell 3B 4.3 3.7
Pavano SP 3.4 2.3
Penny SP 3.0 2.5
Pierre CF 4.3 1.6
Redman SP 3.7 3.4
Rodriguez C 4.7 4.0
Willis SP 3.3 3.7

(Note: bUZR from FanGraphs does not contain data on catcher defense, so I just gave the same defensive adjustment as the one on Rally’s database, based on TotalZone’s measurements. I’ve seen the results, and they’re generally very good in terms of measuring what we can measure from catchers.)

Bolded are the team leaders in WAR in the respective databases. One thing that jumped out at me when looking at these WAR totals was how absolutely balanced the team’s offense and pitching was that year. According to FanGraphs, ten players on the Marlins that year posted a WAR over 3.0, and five of the team’s eight regular position players posted a WAR of over 4.0. To put that in perspective, this year’s Marlins had only three players over 4.0 WAR, and since that 2003 season, the club has had only 14 players put up 4.0 WAR years, spanning five years.

There was healthy balance in the pitching staff, which goes with the team’s emphasis on pitching. The Marlins accumulated 20 WAR that season according to FG, but consider that 17.3 of those wins came from the five starting pitchers on the staff. The Marlins were lucky that year to have all their starters healthy and active, and that played a huge role in bringing up their value. The Marlins starters as a group put up 176 runs above replacement, good for eighth in the majors.

Now, let’s get down to the question of the best player. If you buy WAR as an accurate way to determine production for that season, you would still have a whole lot of names to go over. Both FanGraphs and Rally’s database have the majority of the position players worth more than the pitchers, so we’re going to be looking at a position player as the answer. Among the choices, only three players received credit for over 4 WAR in both databases: D-Lee, Pudge, and Castillo. For the time being, I won’t go into too much analysis here, but rather I’ll just taking the average of each player’s WAR from each database.

(Note: I know that there are small differences in the way Rally and FG measure their WAR. Based on Rally’s TotalZone, he has slightly different positional adjustments for each position; in particular, catchers only get ten runs instead of 12.5 in TotalZone. In addition, the replacement runs rate is slightly different, at 20 runs per 650 PA for Rally and 20 runs per 600 PA at FanGraphs.)

If we did that, it’s pretty clear who we would get. And the answer is Luis Castillo. Truthfully, it’s not my first choice either, but he had an excellent year that year. Again, I won’t go into too much, especially since I’ll be covering Castillo later on in the series, but the key to this year was Castillo’s glove. UZR liked him at 8.6 runs above average, while TotalZone loved him at 15 runs above average between his Zone and DP runs. This was not terribly surprising, as Castillo had already had a good reputation as a prime second baseman, but this was among his best seasons based on either defensive metric. This paled in comparison to Pudge, who had an average season defensively despite a great reputation as a Gold Glover. This proved to be much of the difference between the two.

Again, later on in the series we’ll go into many of the cogs of the Marlins a bit more exhaustively, but today served as a fun chance to tackle the often asked question of who the best player on a team was. If you ask me next time, I might just surprise you with Luis Castillo.

Next time on Revisiting ’03, I’ll examine one thing the 2003 Marlins were supposedly built upon, speed. Expect a lot of Castillo (see, that’s when he’s coming in) and Pierre.

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Tags: Dontrelle Willis Ivan Rodriguez Josh Beckett Luis Castillo Miami Marlins Revisiting '03