Apr 5, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (39) at bat against the San Diego Padres during their game at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The Marlins offense has been very surprising in 2014 to say the least. In 26 games in April the Marlins scored 116 runs and scrapped to a 12-14 record an average of 4.46 runs per game . So far in May the Marlins are 7-5 in 12 games but have scored only 47 runs an average of 3.91 R/G. Part of the reason the Marlins were able to have the third highest scoring offense in the National League was the hot start that players got off to. Omitting Giancarlo Stanton’s monster season so far.
The three players who have made the biggest difference for the Marlins offense so far in this season both positively and negatively have been Christian Yelich at the top of the lineup, Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the middle of the order and Marcell Ozuna playing center field and hitting mostly second and seventh.
Derek Dietrich, Casey McGehee, and Garrett Jones contributions are not as clearly parsed out. McGehee and Jones have had hit better in May than April but Dietrich has struggled so far May.
The Marlins offense has been much better than expected in 2014 but the main reason it was so good in April particularly was because the Marlins were able to follow Wee Willie Keeler’s old dictum “you have to hit it where they ain’t.” The glib way of putting that is to say that the Marlins relied on “luck” as the basis for their hot start in April.
BABIP, batting average on balls in play, is the stat most commonly cited to explain seemingly inexplicable stats. Or less severely to find a reasonable explanation for why Player X is either under-performing or over-performing his career track record. BABIP is an interesting stat because it illustrates clearly both the skill in involved in hitting and the amount of “luck” involved.
Hard hit line drives to the gaps will raise your BABIP. But so will seeing eye singles through the hole. The tendency is for those two to reach some equilibrium through a season and through the even longer term
The table below shows the the most relevant stats for the players most responsible for run creation in the Marlins lineup excluding Giancarlo who has been supremely consistent so far this season.
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At the top of the order Yelich who had a BABIP of .385 in April has been really unlucky in May with a BABIP of only .241, although he has slugged for more power and his OBP is roughly the same his batting average is way down.
His production is roughly the same primarily because of Yelich’s other tools. His plate discipline and an improved power stroke. Yelich has a .293 ISO and 30% HR/FB rate in May. This shows the importance of being a well balanced offensive player who can rely on multiple tools to contribute offensively.
My fellow Marlin Maniac writers have had many spirited discussions about the value of analytics and engaged debate about the validity of “regression to the mean” when it comes to explaining a player who is not conforming to his career levels. The important thing to take away from these arguments is for baseball fans, the media and personnel people to find out what is sustainable.
The question one must ask is. “Is Player X’s performance sustainable in the medium to long term?”
I think it is not a stretch to say that the Ozuna, Salty and Dietrich has unsustainable Aprils.
Salty has slashed .247/.312/.421 in his career but he looked like an superstar last month slashing .299/.409/.571 this was in large part to an insane .391 BABIP and a 20% HR/FB rate. It is easy for players to look much better than they really are in small sample sizes. As hot as he was in April he is in the middle of a deep slump in May. Over the length of a season we expect things to regress to somewhere close to his career numbers.
Ozuna and Dietrich are with Yelich’s maturation as a legitimate Major League left fielder the Fish most exciting players. The power tool that both players display is what makes me excited. But power can’t be taught. What the Dietrich and Ozuna seemed to have figured out is how to cut down on the strike outs and raise their walk rates and on-base percentages.
Ozuna had 8.2% walk rate and a good strikeout rate under of 20% in April. Dietrich likewise showed better plate discipline. Both players got on base at well over a .350 clip. Ozuna still has not drawn a walk in May and has struck out in a third of his plate appearances. Dietrich has also walked less and struck out more and is in the midst of a severe slump.
The easiest trap to fall into as a baseball fan is to overrate a hot start or to panic after a slow one. Hot starts for mediocre teams are probably unsustainable and bad starts for good teams are probably an aberration.
Veterans may click one month and be in a slump the next, inexperienced players might look they have figured out the game one game and look lost the next. But tools are sustainable in the long term. The most important of these are the ability to hit for extra base hits and plate discipline. While BABIP may swing wildly from month to month or year to year. You can bet that a player’s ISO and walk rate will remain more consistent.
When we speaking of “regression to the mean” what we mean is that a player is going to revert to a more sustainable level of production.