The Marlins short 20 year history have been marked by incredible successes and soul crushing disappointments often in close succession, 97-98, 03-05, 11-12. The Marlins have won two World Series but they never have had a history of outstanding success in the free agent market. They have, however, been able to trade and draft their way to incredible success.
In the spirit of the Thanksgiving season I want to recount the best seasons the Marlins should be thankful for. So here in no particular order are the top 5 pitching seasons in Marlins history.
It is important to note that Fangraphs.com rates a 5+ WAR player as a super star and potential MVP candidate, but the Marlins have never won an MVP or Cy Young award.
Kevin Brown 1996 6.6 WAR, 2nd in the Cy Young.
Kill the win. In 2013 that has become common wisdom, with Brian Kenny endlessly banging that drum on TV and on Twitter, there is even a hashtag #KilltheWin. But back in 1996, the world was oblivious to sabermetrics and advanced analytics and Kevin Brown paid for it.
John Smoltz won the 1996 Cy Young in which he went 24-8, had a 9.79 K/9 and 1.95 BB/9 and a 2.94 ERA. Those are very impressive numbers and at the surface Smoltz is very deserving but I think there is a very good case to be made for Kevin Brown having won the 1996 NL Cy Young.
Brown, although not as much of a power pitcher as Smoltz was in 1996, still looked very impressive. Anchored by a 1.89 ERA and 46 ERA-, the lowest in the Nl; his 3.6% walk rate was a the second lowest in the league behind only Greg Maddux. Furthermore, in numbers of sheer run prevention, a strand rate of 78.3%, allowing 0.31 HR/9 and that miniscule walk rate prove just how good Brown really was. He might have been the best pitcher in the NL that year and Smoltz only won the Cy Young because he won 24 games.
Dontrelle Willis, 6.0 WAR, 2nd in the Cy Young
2005 was one of the closest Cy Young races in recent memory. Chris Carpenter won, Dontrelle finished second, but they were pretty much dead even in every stat that matters. Carpenter struck out more and walked less hitters than Dontrelle did. If we count win/loss record Dontrelle won 22 while Carpenter won 21 and Carpenter only lost 5 and Dontrelle lost 10.
If we go deeper into the advanced metrics things look better for Dontrelle. He allowed 0.42 HR/9 and 4.9% HR rate and was luckier than all of his fielding independent metrics would indicate (a 3.86 SIERA, 3.68 xFIP, 2.99 FIP and 2.63 ERA) compared to Carpenter’s (3.03 SIERA, 2.93 xFIP, 2.90 FIP and 2.83 ERA) That could largely be thanks to the park effects of playing lots of games in the relative safety of Pro Player Stadium instead of old Busch Stadium. Carpenter probably would win the Cy Young again if the voters had a chance to do it again but it would be closer.
Josh Johnson 2010 6.1 WAR, 5th in the Cy Young.
Roy Halladay had a very impressive 2010 season and he fully deserved his Cy Young. There’s no use in questioning if anybody else should have won it. But JJ’s 2010 is an under-appreciated performance that was really much better than the 5th place in the Cy Young race that he ultimately received.
JJ’s numbers, like a 9.11/2.35 K/BB ratio and a 25.0% strikeout rate are just ridiculous . A pitcher’s primary job is to not allow runs to score and all of these numbers are superlative for JJ in 2010. A 79.2% strand rate, 56 ERA- and 2.41 FIP were just a few of them. His 2.41 FIP and 56 ERA- were both the lowest in the NL. If a pitcher is supposed to not allow hitters to reach base and score, it can be argued that JJ did that better than anyone in the NL in 2010.
Josh Johnson 2009, 5.5 WAR, no Cy Young votes.
Tim Lincecum won the 2009 NL Cy Young and only 4 other pitchers even received votes. That fact masks that there were other pitchers that had good seasons that didn’t even receive Cy Young votes. JJ was one of those pitchers that got robbed by not even getting recognized. A 8.22/2.50 K/BB ratio and 22.3% strikeout rate are all very impressive. His peripherals were equally good. Consider his 3.06 FIP and a 3.23 ERA; his 74.9% strand rate and 7.5% HR rate, are good every year, just not good enough in 2009.
There were no 20 game winners in 2010, assuming that matters and JJ had almost the same record as Linceum did. Again JJ’s 2009 will be probably forgotten by everyone except Marlins fans and sabermetric nerds because he never received any Cy Young votes.
Jose Fernandez 2013, 4.2 WAR, 3rd in the Cy Young.
Clayton Kershaw won the NL Cy Young on Opening Day, he threw a complete game 4 hit shutout and hit a go ahead homer that ultimately led his team to victory. So from the very beginning it was a race for second place and it was impressive that a 20 year old rookie could make that much of a splash and finish third in the Cy Young while winning the NL Rookie of the Year award. ‘
Regardless of age, Fernandez was impressive. His 9.75/3.02 K/BB ratio, 27.5% strikeout rate and 2.19 ERA are ridiculous. The best way to explain that 12-6 record and how it affected his Cy Young hopes is to talk about his run support, or lack thereof; his 4.12 RS/9 stat was 20th worst in the NL, which was the exact same as Kershaw’s (so maybe it doesn’t matter). In matters of run prevention and how important a pitcher was to his team, there was probably no one as important as Kershaw other than maybe Matt Harvey.
The old adage is pitching wins championships and the Marlins have had great some pitching seasons in their short history, highlighted by Brown, Willis, JJ and Jose. Which of these seasons do you think was the best in Marlins history? Or do you think it is one I didn’t mention?