Mike Stanton had one of the more memorable rookie seasons from a Marlin in recent times. When you stack that next to Gaby Sanchez‘ solid rookie season and Logan Morrison‘s late-season surprise year, the Marlins had a nice triplet of solid rookie performances in 2010. If it weren’t for the crop of amazing rookies that debuted this year in the majors (hello Jason Heyward, Buster Posey, and Stephen Strasburg), the Marlins may have had another Rookie of the Year award on their hands.
This got me thinking about the past rookies in Marlins history. The Fish have always been a team that depended on young players for its success, and so a plethora of rookies have contributed to the Marlins in their past. Who were some of the best the Fish have ever debuted? Let’s take a look at some of the top rookie performances according to Rally’s WAR (rWAR), as shown on Baseball-Reference.
(Note: All Off runs include runs above average on baserunning, double play avoidance, and reaching on errors. Defense runs do not include positional adjustment.)
The preceding players were all rookies for the Marlins who posted seasons with 2.0 or more WAR. The list includes important names like Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Dontrelle Willis, and Dan Uggla. It also includes a couple of unknowns like Quilvio Veras and Chuck Smith. Let’s discuss a few of these names.
Hanley Ramirez is one of three Marlins to have ever won Rookie of the Year, and that should come as no surprise, since he put up the best rookie season in Marlins history. As you can see, Ramirez’ season was heads and shoulders above every other year. He had the best offensive season in Marlins rookie history; though his slash line does not particularly stand out as amazing, he supplemented that by swiping 51 bases that season while only being caught 15 times. Overall, Ramirez tacked on +7 runs on the basepaths alone, which boosted him to a total value of +26 runs on offense.
The other two Rookie of the Year campaigns were interesting in their own ways. Willis was part of a phenomenon, as he took the league by storm in 2003 after being called up in early May. Willis’ first half was amazing, as he posted a 2.06 ERA and a 24.0% K% in 82 1/3 IP, culminating in an All-Star Game appearance. His second half did not go as smoothly, but he was still good enough to win the award even as hitters began seeing him and his kinky delivery better. In retrospect, the second half struggles (18.6% K%, 10.0% BB%, 4.60 ERA) and the playoff problems (12 1/3 IP, 10 K, 10 BB, 8.53 ERA) should have shown that his first half was a mirage, though an enormously fun one.
Chris Coghlan‘s season was also phenomenal, but unlike Willis, his outburst came in the second half. Coghlan famously hit .372/.423/.543 after the All-Star Break, including two 50+ hit months at the tail end of the season. This catapulted him from anonymous Florida left fielder having a decent year to Rookie of the Year. Unfortunately, nobody noticed that another anonymous rookie, Pittsburgh Pirates‘ Andrew McCutchen, was having a similar season at the plate (.286/.365/.471 compared to Coghlan’s .321/.390/.460) and was playing a harder position and doing it better. While it can be argued that McCutchen was a better player than Coghlan in 2009 (3.3 rWAR versus Coghlan 2.3, for example), it can’t be doubted that Coghlan had an excellent year at the plate.
The other names take me back to an uglier era of Fish baseball. Mark Kotsay‘s 1998 season is an excellent example of this. Amidst the rubble of the fire sale, Kotsay ended up with a solid year, though his plate numbers were not very good. However, he was an excellent outfielder playing primarily right field. Kotsay displayed a strong arm, posting 20 outfield assists and posting a +4 run mark with his arm, but his range was what dominated on defense. While we can’t be sure that these numbers are “correct,” the eyes could tell that Kotsay was a dominant outfielder in his younger days, and he provided a lot of value with his glove.
I was surprised at how good Bruce Aven and Quilvio Veras were. Both players were similar in that they drew a lot of walks; both had BB% over 10%. Veras was your typical speedster, an aspect he displayed in his rookie year when swiped a league-high 56 bases (and was caught a league-high 21 times). But with his walk rate and solid defense at second, he could have been a very valuable player, and indeed he was around an average player the next few years. The Marlins dealt him after a disappointing 2006 year and eventually acquired Cliff Floyd from the ensuing trades, which of course turned out to be a good thing. Aven, on the other hand, appeared to be a one-hit wonder. He was the best hitter on that 2000 Marlins team, but that was not much of an accolade given how awful that team was at the plate. The Marlins dealt him at the end of the season surprisingly, and he never was able to show anything after that.
A lot of the names on the pitchers list look familiar. Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, and Chris Volstad all will be featured in the 2011 Marlins rotation. Of the three, obviously Johnson shined the brightest, as he will start on Opening Day and be counted on to help carry the rotation. Sanchez’ 2006 may have looked impressive, but as you can tell from the K% and BB%, it was pretty lucky. In 2010, Sanchez finally delivered on the tools he has shown, and hopefully he can become a solid rotation member in 2011 and beyond. Volstad has gone through a lot of problems since that lucky 2008 season when, despite the poor strikeout and walk numbers, he got by by not allowing many home runs. His 2009 was a home run fiasco, and 2010 fixed that but saw continued poor performance. He is quietly slipping in terms of pedigree and could see himself non-tendered in the future if he does not shape up.
The only odd name on the pitcher list is Chuck Smith, a 30-year old rookie who started 19 solid games for the Marlins in that embattled 2000 season. As you can tell from the K%, Smith wasn’t pitching like a nobody; he had legitimate strikeout stuff that season. The next year, however, he faltered in 11 starts, giving up a 4.70 ERA and allowing 10 HR in 88 IP, four more than he allowed in 122 innings the previous year. The Colorado Rockies purchased him after 2001 and he never came to the majors again. It appears he too was another Bruce Aven case of a one-year wonder who outperformed then never worked out.
Mike Stanton‘s season fit somewhere in between all of these years. At 2.8 WAR, Stanton’s year ranked sixth among former Marlins rookie position players, right behind Charles Johnson’s strong 1995 campaign. A good deal of that value came from defensive contributions, but I find it difficult to believe that Stanton was worth +15 runs in his time in right field. I think he was very good and he continued to show that he is a strong defensive outfielder, but 15 runs seems like a bit of an embellishment. I’d like to think that Stanton’s year ranks somewhere along with Coghlan’s and Veras’ years, with Stanton hurt by the fact that he lacked the PA the other two received. Still, it was an impressive season that earned its place among the top Marlins rookie years of all time.