The Miami Marlins were universally projected to be cellar dwellars. We all know their story: fire sales, young players, random vets. After 31 games, the Marlins stand at 16-15 and are sort of tied for last place in their division. They have found their way into the cellar, but it's more like a wine cellar instead of a dank, miserable place. The Marlins are like a new winery whose harvest was aided by fertile soil and perfect weather. How have they achieved success in the
wine baseball market this season?
JOSE FERNANDEZ! Fernandez ranks 2nd among all pitchers in fWAR. He leads all qualified pitchers in strikeout rate, he doesn't walk batters much, and he limits homers; the kid does it all. He's their flagship wine; not aged, but still crisp and delicious. Not far down on the rankings is Nathan Eovaldi, whose secondary stuff may be taking a leap forward this season. He's their spiced wine. Despite his middling strikeout rate, Henderson Alvarez is a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy due to his extreme ground ball tendencies. He's their cheap, bulk product. Their bullpen has been essentially replacement level overall so far, but bullpen guys have a pretty small sample of innings at this point.
On the strength of solid offense and defense, the Marlins' position players rank 3rd in fWAR. So far, the position players have walked a fair amount and struck out a fair amount. Giancarlo Stanton is launching bombs, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia is picking up where he left off with the Red Sox, though with a higher walk rate (15.9%) and more power (.270 ISO). Young guys Yelich, Ozuna, Dietrich, and Hechavarria are not embarrassing themselves at the plate. Random veterans Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones are getting on base. Things seem to be clicking for the Marlins' offense. They rank 2nd in the NL in runs scored. These guys are the market differentiators, the variety of the Marlins' winery.
Well, wait a second. I basically just heaped a ton of praise worthy more of a playoff team than a .516 ballclub. That fertile soil and perfect weather I mentioned earlier? The Marlins rank 1st in the league with a .334 BABIP. All those great things the offense is doing? BABIP. In fact, here's a table below that shows the position players' plate appearances and BABIP.
BABIPs that stand out the most are Saltalamacchia's, Yelich's, and McGehee's. Salty posted an enormous BABIP last year, but we can't reasonably expect it to continue, right? Right? Yelich is a fast guy who appears to focus on line drives and ground balls, so perhaps some of Yelich's BABIP has some staying power. McGehee's batted ball profile and history don't suggest such a high BABIP. Stanton has a high BABIP for a fly ball hitter, but he hits the ball so hard that fielders run away from the ball instead of toward it.
So, even with a very BABIP-driven offense and a pretty good top 3 in the rotation, the Marlins are only 16-15. What happens when the BABIP regresses? How far will it regress? It's difficult to say. As a team, the Marlins have decent plate discipline, but they're not contact-oriented. I imagine the offensive philosophy is summed up like this: "Be selective; however, when you get your pitch, swing the living daylights out of the bat". By the end of this season, perhaps the Marlins could sink down into a dank cellar. For now, I'll enjoy the wine.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Kevin Ruprecht is a Featured Writer for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royal Stats for Everyone. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.