Took a couple days off there- not much time left to do so before baseball season kicks off. Here’s a look at the last couple days in the 305.
- The Miami Dolphins extended by a year the contract of head coach Joe Philbin- without doing so, he would only be under contract to coach the team for this coming season. Now with a new deal in hand…he’s honestly still just under contract to coach this season; it’s playoffs or bust for Joe.
- The Miami Heat got sufficiently bulldozed by the Oklahoma Thunder Sunday night, 93-75. They still sit in 7th place however, just a game and a half back of the Milwaukee Bucks for 6th, and just two games ahead of the Celtics in 9th. Those same teams would just happen to be the Heat’s next two opponents.
- The Florida Panthers beat Boston 2-1 in a shootout Saturday night, gaining some critical ground in a tight race for the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. The Cats now sit 4 points back of Boston, and 3 of Ottawa.
- The Marlins officially signed Christian Yelich to his 7-year deal Sunday, with a club option for an 8th. On the field, they have dropped three spring games in a row, but even this afternoon’s 13-2 clobbering by the Mets can’t dull the optimism the Yelich move should bring.
- The Marlins also were the subject of some idle trade speculation this weekend as a possible solution to the Texas Rangers’ rotation issues (Brad Hand being the player discussed) but that seems to have fizzled out.
- Today in Sports: Planetary alignment seems to favor the people of Louisville, KY this day of the calendar year. This date saw Muhammad Ali reclaim his title in 1975 with a knockout of Chuck Wepner, and five years later, the Louisville Cardinals would beat UCLA for the NCAA men’s title.
- Today in the 305: In the spirit of March Madness, thought we’d give FGCU a shout out. It was two years ago today that they became the first 15 seed to make the Sweet 16.
Early Schedule Demands Spring Out of Spring
By Sean Millerick
With only 15 games remaining until the start of the 2015 season, and with bracket selections and fantasy drafts now behind me, the time seems right to size up the schedule awaiting the Miami Marlins when they break camp. And that schedule, suffice it to say, should give every friend of the Fish considerable pause. Some would argue the season doesn’t really start until the summer, with April numbers often being all but dismissed. Others rejoin that every game counts, while both sides tout out the timeless cliché that the season is a marathon, and not a sprint to make their case. But if this year’s squad wants to meet any of their well-deserved expectations, the schedule makers might well have denied them the luxury of an early stumble out of the gates.
It’s not that it’s an exceptionally difficult start to the year. The Marlins don’t play a team expected to finish above .500 in their first nine games, in fact taking on an April slate with a 12-10 split in favor of teams projected to finish far worse than them in the standings. The wrinkle is who those opponents are, as they would be almost exclusively division rivals. The split between NL East and not sits at a stunning 19-3, the exception being a three game set against the Rays (who ironically enough for you geography fans are also an Eastern division team). Every team in the division is faced, with a breakdown of Mets 7, Braves 6, Phillies and Nationals 3. The first seven games of May are no different by the way, resulting in a stretch of twenty-two consecutive games against the division following that Tampa series. That’s a 25-3 mark to start the year, meaning that the Marlins will have played nearly 33% of their total division slate for the season by the time they’ve completed barely 17% of the schedule overall. If the Marlins truly mean to challenge the Nats for the NL East crown, a strong April is a must.
That is particularly the case given what awaits the club in May. Including that first week, May holds 13 intra-division matchups, once more providing a taste of all four NL East teams. What May also adds however is a schedule weighted 19-10 towards teams projected to finish over .500. More to the point, all but three of those .500 plus matchups are against teams that made the playoffs last year. In fact, out of the season’s first fifty-one games, only ten are against teams that aren’t either a division rival or expected to be a fellow NL wild card challenger. And of the ten, three are against the Orioles- a contender for a Junior Circuit wild-card berth, if not the AL East itself. The final seven would be the aforementioned Rays and the lowly Diamondbacks- all seven of which will be played at Marlins Park. The overall home-away split for all of this excitement is 25-26, with a doozy of 10 game Nats-Giants-Dodgers road trip tucked within it.
So there it is- quite the opener to the season. Some variety will follow though. The Marlins will close May exactly the same way they’ll close April- against the Mets. Following that series, they next play an NL East opponent….on July 17th , after the All-Star break. By that point they will also have completed their season series against the Dodgers, Giants, and Cubs by the way- meaning that the best chance to gain an upper-hand in the post season race would definitely be on the front nine. Again, one could object that a lot could happen in 162 games. In fact, on first glance, a fairly obvious example of a slow start not mattering comes from our own history- just look to 2003. That team- the one that played well enough to get their manager fired at the 16-22 point, and dropped as low as 19-29 before truly righting the ship-played 20 straight games against their division in April, and would eventually go on to win the World Series. But that club was just a tick under .500 in April, and actually reached it May 1st before going on a cheery 4-14 slide. So they at least didn’t blow April(9-11 against the East), and didn’t face the Braves or Phillies again until the last day of June, by which point they’d rounded into form. A lot of similarities have been thrown around between that ’03 squad and this ’15 model. It would be in this year’s squad’s best interest not to make an early hole one of them. There’s a reason 2003 was remarkable after all.
Admittedly going through the motions here folks, as I am in crunch mode for my fantasy draft. But a few tidbits to report for you from this Friday.
- The Heat won their third in a row Friday night, topping the Nuggets 108-91. The Heat now actually sit just 1.5 games out of sixth place, not bad for a team that was flirting with missing the playoffs entirely not that long ago.
- The Miami Marlins notched a Spring Training win against the Braves 5-1, with Martin Prado delivering a key hit and Dan Haren scattering a run and four hits across five innings.
- The Miami Dolphins resigned Matt Moore and Louis Delmas- moves that should by no means be sneezed at. No word as of yet on Michael Crabtree’s decision.
- Today in Sports: In 1934, Babe Didrickson pitched a hitless inning for the A’s against the Dodgers in an exhibition game.
- Today in the 305: Happy Birthday Pat Riley. Really all that needs to be said.
Alright, alright, alright sports fans- let’s get to it:
- The Buffalo Bills officially signed Charles Clay this afternoon, the Dolphins opting to let him walk rather than resign him. Long term, likely the right move. For 2015, it would seem the team made a mistake in not using the franchise tag- the difference in salary was only a million dollars. You’ll be happy Clay is gone in 2016- but likely not before that.
- Jaromir Jagr moved into 5th place all time in goals scored, as the future Hall of Famer and a finally-back-on-the-ice Roberto Luongo led the Panthers to a 3-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. Florida now sits 3pts back of Ottawa and 5pts behind Boston in the race for the 8th and final playoff slot with just 11 games left to play. Every game counts for a team that has only won three in a row four times in the last three seasons, but on the bright side, Florida has three games left against Boston and one against Ottawa. Boston lost tonight- to Ottawa- and plays the Panthers Saturday.
- The Marlins lost 6-3 today to the Braves in the first of a two game series that is actually being televised. Tom Koehler allowed six hits and three runs in four innings, which is not terrible for a spring start by any means. What might be terrible for Koehler is that one of his chief competitors for the final spot in the rotation- David Phelps- was not charged with a run during the next three innings. Then again, they both balked, so both might want to put the day behind them.
- Iowa State lost their NCAA tournament opener- this matters because it means my top competition in my bracket pool just totally blew it. Then again I had Iowa State and Ole Miss making it to the Sweet 16, so not exactly in first place after day one either.
- Today in Sports: On March 19th, 2014, Cal Poly became the first team in over 50 years to win an NCAA tournament game despite having 19 losses on the season. Not particularly famous, but still funny.
- Today in the 305: On March 19th, 2008- and I’m gritting my teeth here- the Heat put up 54 points in a loss to the Toronto Raptors, which was the third lowest score since the invention of the shot-clock. That would also be the franchise low for points overall, points in the first half, and shooting percentage. ‘Course the Heat have gone 18-6 against the Raptors since then, so rest assured that account has been settled.
Happy Post St. Paddy’s to all you loyal readers. If you were celebrating properly, you likely missed at least a few things in the last 24 hours. So without further ado:
- The Marlins had their first two game losing streak of the spring, getting the blemish out of the way in just one day, dropping a pair of split squad decisions 7-1 and 6-4 to the Cards and Mets respectively.
- Rallying from that, the Marlins beat Washington 5-4 today on the strength of Giancarlo Stanton’s first home run of the spring- and more significantly, since last year’s shattering season ending injury.
- The Miami Heat followed up on Monday’s feel good shellacking of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named’s Cavaliers with a 108-104 squeaker over the Trailblazers on the strength of a pair of double-doubles by Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside. And oh yea, Dwayne Wade put up 30 points- doing so in consecutive games for the first time in nearly three years.
- CRABTREE!!!!!! The soothing tones of Richard Sherman spring to mind as reports indicate that Michael Crabtree will be paying a visit to the Dolphins.
- On the bright side, the Panthers might get star goalie Roberto Luongo back for Thursday’s game against the Red Wings. On the down side, they remain trapped in ninth place after failing to record a point in consecutive games.
- Lastly, the Marlins have apparently agreed on a 7yr/49.5 million dollar contract with Gold Glover Christian Yelich.
- This Day in Sports: On March 18th, 2001, Reggie Miller hit his 2000th 3-pointer. He was the first ever to hit that mark.
- This Day In the 305: On March 18th, 2013, the Miami Heat notched their 23rd win in a row, breaking a tie with the Houston Rockets for the second longest winning streak in NBA history.
By Sean Millerick
A little under two months ago, it would have seemingly made little sense for the Miami Marlins to sign James Shields. They had just swung trades for Mat Latos and Dan Haren, and completed a significant overhaul of an offense that provided the textbook definition of “middle of the pack”. All of this on the heels of inking superstar slugger Giancarlo Stanton to the richest contract in sports history. All of this at a time when it was becoming painfully apparent that LeBron James was going to be sorely missed indeed by the Heat, and that the Dolphins would once again be fading painfully down the stretch. The Marlins had actually won a PR battle for the first time in years, were being spoken of positively by national pundits, and were really the only feel good sports story in town. Enough had been done, there was little need for a splash to curry favor, and certainly not at the huge price tag that would have come with it. The club had made the big money move it had to, and could reasonably expect to contend the next season and in the future.
A little over two weeks ago, things started to change. Shields was still on the market, the only top target left after free agent crown jewel Max Scherzer signed a nearly record-setting contract for a starting pitcher. And while beyond understandable that the Marlins didn’t land Scherzer, especially if he wanted that much money,the problem was that the team that did was in their division- and already projected to win it. Yes, the Washington Nationals- those same Nationals with arguably baseball’s best rotation- had just ended any debate about the point. While never projected to win outright, the Marlins had at least been winning the offseason. In the blink of an eye, they had seemingly been upstaged. Signing Shields would be a pretty strong counter punch, but if it took over $200 million to sign Scherzer, nine figures would still likely be the rule to sign the next best option. So you stand by your rotation, convince Dan Haren to admit he’d at least consent to reporting for Spring Training, and you make a final splash by signing a future first ballot Hall of Famer to bolster your bench.
But today, Shields is still on the market. All thoughts of him getting anywhere near amount of money originally expected has come and gone. Eight years of 200 plus innings is quite the double-edged sword when pushing your resume across the table as a 33-year-old pitcher, 2015 is proving to be a unique situation where many of the big spenders have already either made their moves and/or have lower than usual expectations. And at this point, if the Marlins are serious about a playoff run in 2015, then they need to make this signing.
It’s really all about numbers. At the peak of his expected value- at least five years, at least $100 million- the risk of Shields arguably outweighed the reward. The risk being that Miami overcommits financially, risks angering the face of their franchise when they shed salary, and probably is forced to make an unpopular decision or two on some of the other young talent. But that number has by all estimations dropped dramatically. Shields’ numbers could well be off the book by the time the salaries of some of those other young stars would start to really ramp up. Latos is likely gone next year, and Haren might still ultimately be gone this year- so the financial sting is already mitigated. Plus at this point in the offseason, it would seem unlikely Miami would have to break its typically bedrock policy on no trade clauses; they could always cut bait along the way provided the overall momentum of the club continues to be forward. Money wise, opportunities like this don’t come along everyday.
As for why this is such an opportunity, well that’s about the numbers as well. Specifically the positive side of that “Eights years of 200 plus innings” coin. So let’s put aside that we’re talking about a veteran pitcher with World Series experience. Let’s just focus on the regular season, on those 200 plus innings and what they represent:
- 2014: 90% (60%)
- 2013: 80% (70%)
- 2012: 50%* (90%) *Would be 70% if adjusted to be 198 IP
The above figures represent- over the course of the last three seasons- what percentage of the teams that made the post season a.) had at least one starter log 200 or more Innings Pitched and b.) had at least one starter rank in the top ten totals for Quality Starts. In 2014, 60% of the starting pitchers that led the Majors in IP pitched in October, 50% of teams that made the playoffs had multiple starters break the 200 inning plateau, and most importantly 90% of teams that made the playoffs had a pitcher throw more innings and log more quality outings than Miami’s leader in that category. And he isn’t even with the team anymore- Nathan Eovaldi led the club with 199.7 innings and 20 quality starts.
So obviously a couple of things to point out in the spirit of objectivity. One, Nathan Eovaldi probably didn’t need to be in the rotation this year- there’s more to pitching than hanging around games, and Nathan still needs to iron that out. Secondly, the Marlins had a pitcher tally over 200 innings in 2012, and it was one of the most disappointing seasons in club history. So it’s by no means a guaranteed ticket to the postseason. But on the other hand, 50% of 2014 postseason participants had more than one pitcher hit the innings mark, and each of the last three seasons has seen at least one club with two or more such pitchers advance to the World Series (the 2013 Red Sox are the only time the winning club was not one of those teams). Shields has personally ranked in the top ten in both categories in all three of these years. If Latos turns in a full season, there is every reason to expect him to offer such a contribution. But unlike Shields, there actually is a recent injury history in his case and legitimate grounds for skepticism he won’t miss some time. The best argument for Shields missing time, at the end of the day, is that he’s due to miss some. Optimism for 2015 is also heavily hinging on the swift return of Jose Fernandez to, well to Jose Fernandez form. Shields provides an added cushion, further eliminating both any temptation to rush Fernandez back and simultaneously allowing for the possibility it takes him a few weeks to regain his presence on the mound. Finally, the price for upgrades at the All-Star Break is always more expensive, and the Marlins just spent an offseason trading in many of their assets to improve. In short, it would be better long-term to simply break the bank a little more now, than to either fall flat or bankrupt the farm in July. The bottom line is there is an awful lot to like about the acquisition, and the asking price will likely never be cheaper.
By Sean Millerick
Capping off an offseason far more reminiscent of, well reminiscent of ballclubs not located south of Turner Field, the Miami Marlins officially introduced former Seattle Mariners’ legend Ichiro Suzuki this week as the team’s fourth outfielder. Front office brass actually journeyed to Japan to make the announcement, part of a bounty of All-Star treatment for the 10-time All Star; for full details on the journey and the contract, check out Joe Frisaro’s article here.
Of special interest to the avid fan however might be the fact that as part of the red carpet treatment, Suzuki will once again be wearing 51- his number for the majority of his professional career. Now obviously when you hear 51, the name Bernie Williams likely springs to mind fairly quickly- it’s for that reason that Suzuki did not wear that number as a member of the New York Yankees. As detailed by MLB.com’s Brad Lefton, the availability of “51” was part of Miami’s appeal for Suzuki. And while Lefton does detail who wore the number the longest as a Marlin- pitcher Terry Matthews- there is a bit more history to the number. And since pitchers and catchers haven’t even reported yet- let’s take a moment to dive into it.
Ichiro will in fact be the 12th Marlin to wear the number, according to Baseball Almanac. The 2015 season will also be the 12th season a Marlin has worn the number. It has been worn once since 2010, and that was in a brief 2013 appearance by Derek Dietrich (Dietrich wore #32 in ’14). On an ominous note, no Marlin wore the number in 1997 or 2003- the club’s two title years. But most interestingly of all, the FIRST Marlin to wear the number will very likely be there in Cooperstown to greet Ichiro when he himself arrives: Trevor Hoffman debuted as the first 51 for the club on April 6th, 1993.