I would say we are watching history, but the “we” who is actually watching the Marlins has to be limited to just about the 50 players present at any game, the managers, the broadcasters, and the odd Florida resident who fell asleep during the SunSports “Inside the Rays” special on Sam Fuld and then awoke to find a Marlins game on television.
The Marlins offense is bad. It is very bad. If you want to hear about the redeeming elements of the Marlins offense, this article may not be much help. Yes, Giancarlo Stanton is to home runs what Moses is to water-spewing rocks — he hits them — but the remainder of their eclectic crew of rushed prospects and aged veterans has offered little praiseworthy bat-action.
And if the situation deteriorates even a little, if their narrow balance of awful totters or teeters just a bit worse, this offense has a chance to engrave its poor results in the most inglorious stone of history: Worst offense of modern times.
So here’s the deal: Since the advent of the designated hitter, it has been much easier for an NL offense to aspire to be The Worst Offense Ever, and likewise much easier for an AL team to likewise aim for Bestest Offense Ever. Comparing the Marlins offense against the history of all offenses is not as simple as sorting every team’s individual seasons by weighted runs created plus (wRC+). But that’s a start.
Tied for No. 19 out of 2745. In the pursuit of Worst Ever, consider No. 19 a soft dribbler to the first baseman — it’s a good start, but not quite the three-pitch strikeout we’re looking for.
We certainly have some curiosities on this list. Eight of the teams ahead of the Marlins had fewer than 2000 PA*. Many of these teams were playing partial seasons as the early league and its teams shifted, morphed, and disappeared throughout the year. If you’ve seen Ken Burns’s documentary Baseball or know even a few tidbits of baseball history, you likely well know those first 30 or so years of baseball were a bit Wild West compared to the modern organization.
So lets truncate the sample and look at teams from 1900 and forward. Why 1900? Well, it’s a nice, even, centennial kind of number. It’s also around the time that game scoring became a more serious business and records, schedules, and so forth became more codified league-wide.
Where does our present-day cala-Miami-ty rank? Drag the “Season” slider in the above visualization so that our criteria thins to 1900 through 2013.
No. 9 of 2370? Tied with No. 7 and 8? In our progress analogy, I consider this a foul out on a two-strike bunt attempt. We’re definitely getting there, but if we want to compare the Marlins to modern baseball, allowing 2 or 3 Dead-Ball Era teams (depending on how you count the 1920 Athletics) into the mix sort of throws us for a loop.
Okay then, let’s start it at 1921. We’ve still got some oddities here and there — like a strike-shortened 1981 Blue Jays team — but as a whole, these are modern baseball teams (well, modernish) playing by generally modern rules. And the Marlins, in this selection, rank tied for No. 5 out of 2026, a mere 2 wRC+ points away from first place. A cold month, an (unlikely) Giancarlo Stanton trade, a no-hitter or two — any little swaying of the wind could push this Marlins team over the brink!
But that’s just me being optimistic. As I mentioned before, the Marlins are handing about 5% off all their PA to fellas who throw balls, not hit them. So to make this comparison even more fair, we probably should compare to other teams sans pitchers. *puts hands in pockets; kicks a pebble*
Pitchers used to be able to hit, is a thing I used to tell myself. And you know what, as long as we consider the term “hit” relative and vague, yeah, pitchers could at one time “hit.”
Pitchers used to hit about twice as bad as a shortstop. Now they hit about $FLAGRANT_ERROR times as bad as a ham sandwich. This oddity has also been undermining our ability to cleanly, simply compare the Marlins’ golden terribleness to the vastness of history. Those early teams, were they to square against our present Marlins in an AL park, would be benefiting marginally less from the DH than the Marlins because their pitchers could actually rasp out a single here or there instead of just flail around like a psychotic person attacked by invisible bees.
So what do we get by looking at non-pitcher offenses?
Oh no! A 78 wRC+?! A 6-point gap in wRC+?! This is not looking very good for a chance at history. Tied for 8th isn’t bad, but it’s not the majesty for which we’ve all come here.
So it comes down to a matter of definitions. Are the Marlins the worst offense of all time? No. Probably not. At least not yet. Even then, the 1920 Philadelphia Athletics probably deserve that credit, even though the true talent level of that Athletics offense was not as bad as their on-field results; they had several above average hitters having pretty awful seasons (methinks there may be another park factor peculiarity at work there, but I couldn’t find any evidence to suggest that).
And even then, there were some pre-1900 teams that, for all we know, could have sustained their terrible-ness had they managed to play more than just a few dozen games. BUT: If we consider “modern” something like the last 80 or 90 years, then shoot, the Marlins are pretty dang close to the lowest wRC+ in non-strike seasons since 1921 (the 1930 Red Sox, 1963 Mets, 1981 Twins and 1992 Angels, all at 76 wRC+).
If we consider “modern” the last 30 years, then the Marlins are chasing only the 1992 Angels for history.
Can the Marlins sustain their awful? Well one has to really hope against hope they trade Giancarlo Stanton and perhaps Logan Morrison, but if these two have a chance of escaping Loria’s Nightmare, that chance probably exists in the 2013 offseason, not the narrow remaining time before the non-waiver trade deadline.
But hey, we can dream.
Want to feel good about the state of your favorite non-Marlins team? Take a gander at their projected depth chart for the remainder of the season. Why yes, that’s a projected .303 wOBA from the position players — and miraculously, that would be a 17-point INCREASE in the team’s current wOBA. To the die-hard Marlins fans: I am in awe of you. I long for your level of focus and commitment. A season like this would destroy a lesser person; I suspect it would destroy me.
*NOTE: I dropped a ninth team, the 1884 Brewers and their 13 games, from the dataset due to obvious data errors.
Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.