Are the Miami Marlins Real Contenders?
For me, it's really no contest. I'm bumpin' with the Miami Marlins. Yes, the same Marlins that scored 85 fewer runs than any team in the majors last year. Yes, the same Marlins that had a .329 winning percentage in games started by somebody not named Jose Fernandez last year. Those Marlins.
Things are just a tiny bit different in 2014. These days, the Marlins are 16-15 and all the way up to fifth in numberFire's Power Rankings. While this start has been a ton of fun to watch, it makes you wonder: are the Marlins for real? Can they stick around .500 for the whole season? Fret not, fellow self-question-asker. We got cho numbers right here, comrade.
A good thing to turn to when you want to know whether or not a team is going to keep going at the pace they are is to look at their Pythagorean W-L. This is something that the demi-God Bill James invented that uses the number of runs a team has scored and allowed to determine their winning percentage. With their +24 run differential, Miami has a Pythagorean W-L of 18-13, which is actually a couple of games better than their actual record. You want legit? That's legit, my friend.
There are a lot of reasons to believe the Marlins are for real. The first and most prominent reason is that their pitching is straight gross (in the most beautiful way possible).
I know I've gushed about Jose Fernandez a nauseating amount already this year, but indulge me for a quick second. Both his FIP (1.69) and xFIP (2.10) are roughly a full run better than his totals last year. He didn't have his best stuff Sunday, and he still struck out 10 in seven innings. By allowing two earned runs, his ERA spiked to 1.74 from 1.59. Worthless.
Fun note on Fernandez: if he doesn't allow a run over his next nine innings, his career ERA will go below 2.00 at 1.99457. I'd marry him if I could. How long until he gets a restraining order against me?
A large part of this is his 1.17 BB/9 (five walks in 38.1 innings), which is the sixth lowest in the majors. When you add in a 8.22 K/9, you've got the recipe for a mighty fine hurler.
The only problem with Eovaldi is that most of these numbers will inflate at least a little bit in the future. His ridiculously low 2.6 home run to flyball percentage (league average is around 10.0 percent) won't stay that low for the entire season, and his groundball rate (55.5 percent) is a significant amount higher than his career average (45.6). So Eovaldi will normalize a bit, but he's still a big reason this team is above .500.
This team isn't all about the pitching, though. They can swing the stick a bit, too. And that all starts with the man-beast known as Giancarlo Stanton.
Stanton yoked a couple of balls again on Sunday to give himself 10 home runs on the season. That brings his slash to .285/.362/.602 with a .401 wOBA. While Stanton's average may come down a bit, regression isn't a word I'd use for this dude.
The big difference between this year's Marlins and the version from last year is that they're finally getting guys on in front of Stanton. In 2013, the combined on-base percentage of the Marlins' top two hitters was .586. Not good. In 2014, that number is .715. Muy bueno, señor.
The guy anchoring the top of the order this year has been Christian Yelich. Yelich has hit leadoff in 26 of the Marlins' 31 games, and while he hasn't turned into a superstar overnight, his numbers have been very good - his .343 wOBA and .348 are both in the area of what you should ask for from a leadoff hitter. Yelich, though, has a .364 BABIP with a very average 20.5 line-drive percentage, so his is numbers are going to come down a bit, but not to the point where Yelich is no longer valuable at the top of the order.
If you want to point to a reason that the offense may see a dip in production (aka if you're a cold-hearted fun-killer), I suppose you could point to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Salty has five bombs in his last 14 games, taking his slugging percentage from .426 to .573 along the way. This is the same player whose career high in the category is .466.
You can see that Salty's production isn't sustainable by looking at has BABIP. Right now, that sits at .385. Last year, that number was .372. However, in putting up that total last year, he had a line-drive percentage of 28.6 percent. That has dropped to 20.7 this year. His BABIP will deflate, and so will his other rate stats. But dude is still making this team a crazy amount better.
So there are a few reasons to think that some of the individuals on this team are going to come back to Earth. But that doesn't mean the entire team is going to crash and burn. There is a very good chance that this team could float around .500 for the rest of the year. If they do, then watch out, because this is a roster that is locked and loaded for the future. Until the next fire sale.