Now that the Philadelphia Phillies have surprisingly signed Cliff Lee and created a Super-Rotation in Philadelphia, Marlins fans may feel that the team has fallen behind further in the race for the NL East. With Cliff Lee in the fold for the Phillies, how much more difficult will it be for the Marlins to compete?
While it may seem much more difficult for the Fish, the truth is that Lee’s acquisition is going to have little direct impact on the Marlins.
Last season, the Marlins faced the Phillies in 18 games. In those 18 games, the Fish faced Roy Halladay in five contests, while they faced presumptive second starter Cole Hamels in three games. If we split the average, we should expect the Marlins to see new #2 starter Lee in about four starts.
So the key question is what is the difference between the performance of someone like Hamels in four starts and Lee in those same starts. Well, if we are to believe the projections of the Fans over at FanGraphs (by the way, you should go vote for your favorite Marlins now), Lee will have a 3.16 ERA/3.00 FIP, while Hamels will post a 3.43 ERA/3.71 FIP. If we split the difference between the ERA-FIP projections, we would expect Lee to allow about 0.22 runs per nine innings less than Hamels. We would also expect Lee to pitch almost a full inning more than Hamels per start, so Lee would throw about 28 1/3 IP compared to Hamels’ 25 1/3. If we assume the Marlins are an average National League offense (not a bad assumption, as I have them at around 10 runs worse than average over a full season right now), then that means that the Marlins could expect to lose, over the course of those 28+ innings, an extra 0.3 additional games by facing Lee instead of Hamels.
In other words, the change from Lee to Hamels seems very small over the amount of time we would expect to see either pitcher. But the effect that the Lee signing has on the Phillies is much greater. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs has the Phillies crudely estimated at 98 wins, which would certainly be among the best in the National League. What about the Marlins? Using a similar process, with the support of some math done with the ZiPS projections and my own defensive numbers, I have the Marlins crudely estimated at 84 wins next season, barring any assistance from their back end of the pen. Given that, it seems quite difficult for the Fish to make the leap against the Phillies in the division, but it likely would have been difficult either way; the Phillies are likely getting similar production from the incoming Lee than they would have gotten from the departing Jayson Werth.
The landscape of the NL East has not yet changed. The Phillies are still on top, with the Marlins on the fringes of contention with teams like the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, and Colorado Rockies likely a bit ahead of them. If anything, it will be an interesting 2011 season for the team as it transitions into a new era. But don’t think that the Phillies’ newest acquisition is going to bury us any further than where we were last year. Our team still has to be focused on our issues.