With 30 games to go the Marlins are 65-67, they have won as many games through 131 games this year as they did all of last year. The reasons for their success are easy to point out. Giancarlo Stanton is having an MVP year. Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna are great up and coming outfielders. Casey McGehee has surprised everyone with his solid approach at the plate and a steady if unspectacular presence at the hot corner.
Garrett Jones isn’t great but he is a lot damn better than Greg Dobbs, Logan Morrison and a litany of other rejects. Jarrod Saltalamacchia hasn’t had a great year both at the plate and behind it but compared to Rob Brantly, Jeff Mathis and Miguel Olivo anything is an upgrade. The much maligned Adeiny Hechavarria has improved raising his wOBA from .251 last year to .289 this year.
Hechavarria is still a barely a replacement level player but he has still improved from last year. Donovan Solano, Derek Dietrich and Jordany Valdespin have likewise been unimpressive but at least less bad than Marlins second basemen were in 2013. All told Marlins batters have accumulated 13.8 WAR on 100 wRC+ which gives them the sixteenth best offense in MLB this year. The Marlins offense has been league average.
With Jose Fernandez’ injury, Jacob Turner’s regression and trade, and Nathan Eovaldi’s inconsistency the Marlins rotation hasn’t been nearly as good this year as it was in 2013. The Marlins have had to piece a rotation together with starts from Randy Wolf, Brad Penny, Anthony DeSclafani, Andrew Heaney and Brad Hand. Those prospects and veterans retreads have contributed nothing in terms of WAR and all sported ERA- and FIP- over 100.
Henderson Alvarez has unquestionably been the team’s best starter with 65 FIP- and a 54.6% groundball rate and 2.2 WAR Tom Koehler has been unimpressive but has contributed with league average FIP- and has pitched in good FIP and strikeout to walk ratios. Nathan Eovaldi has been inconsistent but as a tribute to his stuff he still sports the second best K/BB ratio at 3.41 behind the injured Jose Fernandez.
Cosart in his two starts with the Marlins has also been impressive working the lower half of the strike zone and pitching to contact. Marlins starters have 7.7 WAR and a 110 FIP- both in the bottom third of MLB in both stats.
The Marlins bullpen this year has been marked by its great strengths, Steve Cishek, 31 of 34 in save opportunities. Cishek has piled up a 30% strikeout rate and a FIP- of 55 which highlights his strengths in not giving up the long ball and not walking batters. Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos, Bryan Morris and Chris Hatcher likewise have all filled their roles admirably in the past few months. Seventh and eighth innings guys as well as LOOGYs must have high strikeout rates and must keep inherited runners from scoring and must minimize the long ball. The Marlins are tenth in bullpen ERA and have sparkling ERA- of 91 and 3.32 SIERA.
The weakest part of the Marlins team so far in 2014 has been their infield defense Matthew Carruth at Statcorner evaluates teams by RAA (runs above average) based on BaseRuns which is a run estimator based on linear weights. According to Statcorner the Marlins infield has cost them 46.6 runs the worst mark in Major League Baseball. This is not surprising, given Casey McGehee’s limited range, Garrett “Clank” Jones’ overall awfulness, the mediocrity out of the second base position and the much talked about case of Adeiny Hechavarria. But that is a subject for another article.
In short the Marlins are -14.1 RAA which gives them the sixteenth best RAA in the Majors. According to Baseball Prospectus’ third order win percentage metric the Fish are 62.3-68.7 or .475. The Marlins are at -22 in plain scoring differential. Which again suggests that the team is outperforming their underlying stats. Run estimators like BaseRuns and third order win percentage account for how teams should be doing given their run creation, run prevention and fielding metrics. The beauty of baseball in particular and baseball in general is the ability of teams to outperform their statistics
The Marlins are playing and winning lots of close games and especially 1 run games because they’re not actually good enough to win games by three, four or five runs. The outfield, the bullpen and the top of the rotation are consistent and more usually than not contribute to the Marlins winning. The infield, in particular the infield defense is a question mark. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a question behind the plate and the rotation outside of Alvarez, Cosart and Koehler more often hurt the team than help it.
The Marlins are hovering around .500 because this is how good this team it is. It can win games, especially with Giancarlo Stanton having a career year. But they also find ways to blow games, from Clank Jones botching a simple play at first base, Saltalamacchia’s inconsistency behind the plate and the Casey McGehee’s GIDPs. If the Marlins plan to contend in the future while Giancarlo is still here, they must address these issues.
If Jose Fernandez returns as him old self after Tommy John surgery, if Derek Dietrich gets a starting job at either first or second base. Adeiny Hechavarria further improves what is stellar if inconsistent shortstop play and the Marlins solve their dilemma at third base the infield could be greatly improved. What 2014 has shown to me is that this core, the young outfield, the rotation and the bullpen are strong what they need is some additions to take this team from .500 to a deep run into the playoffs.