Perhaps the most surprising storyline in baseball this season is the success of the Miami Marlins. After back-to-back seasons finishing last in the NL East and in the midst of a rebuild, many had the Marlins meeting a similar fate for the third straight season. Instead, as it stands today, they are 16-16, good for third in the NL East and the seventh seed in the expanded playoffs. However, an even more surprising story may be how aggressive the Marlins have been on the basepaths this year. This aggressiveness may also be the key to the Marlins hot start.
There are two primary areas in which baserunning is clear: stealing bases and taking bases. Taking bases simply refers to advancing an extra base on hits; so a runner going more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double. The Marlins in previous years were not aggressive in these areas. This is clearest in their stolen base totals over the past three years.
|Stolen Base Opportunities
As can be seen in the table above, the Marlins didn’t run much in both 2018 and 2019. While they were still at the bottom of the league in terms of stolen base opportunities, they barely attempted to run. When they did decide to run, they weren’t very successful. This year, the Marlins currently have had the second fewest stolen base opportunities. Despite that, the Marlins have the fourth-most stolen bases in all of Major League Baseball, only behind the Padres, Rangers and Mariners. The Marlins are also the only team with a stolen base of home this season, as they actually have three, and they show that Don Mattingly trusts his team to run efficiently. Two of the stolen bases were by Jon Berti trusting his judgement; the first coming on an attempted caught stealing on a throw to second, and the second was a bit more memorable after Berti realized the Mets catcher was lobbing the ball back to the pitcher.
Another instance of running based on the scouting report and not necessarily with signs was in Sunday’s game, when the Marlins attempted a double steal, against the shift and before the pitch, with Jesus Aguilar as the lead runner. The play was ruled an error and not a stolen base, but the Marlins successfully moved two runners into scoring position. The Marlins almost already have as many steals as they did in the previous two seasons, all in about a quarter of the games it took them to reach those stolen base numbers.
A big part of the aggressiveness on the basepaths was due to Jonathan Villar, who was traded to the Blue Jays at the deadline. He was responsible for a third of the Marlins 42 stolen base attempts (9 stolen bases/ 5 caught stealing). This loss may affect the Marlins aggressiveness on the basepaths, but it shouldn’t affect it that much. While the Marlins lost Villar, they also acquired Starling Marte, who is another aggressive baserunner. Marte is currently 6/8 on stolen base attempts this year after his first steal for the Marlins on Sunday. Additionally, they just called up prospect Jazz Chisholm, who stole 13 bases in AAA last year. He showed off his speed by beating a throw down to second by a bit, but couldn’t stay on the base and was ruled out. These two additions should allow the Marlins to stay aggressive stealing bases despite losing Villar.
The second category of aggression on the basepaths is taking bases. This is actually a category the Marlins are below average in, as they have only taken 40% of bases when they could, whereas league average in 42%. Additionally, this rate was up from 2019, but the same as 2018 for the Fish. However, the aggression shows when it comes to taking bases in order to score a run (scoring from first on a double or from second on a single). The table below shows the percentage of times the Marlins have taken an extra base to score over the past three years.
|Extra Base Taken Total
|Went First to Home on Double
|Went Second to Home on Single
The table shows how the Marlins have been more aggressive trying to score runs. While they may not be taking extra bases at the league average rate, they are making the push to grab the bases when they matter. When looking at overall total bases taken, the Marlins have roughly the same rate in taking home as the extra base as the Cubs and Diamondbacks, who lead the league in extra bases taken percentage. This isn’t perfect, because it doesn’t take into account where the ball went, but it is still impressive that the Marlins have been able to use aggression to steal extra runs, despite taking bases at a below average rate overall. Additionally, the most impressive statistic out of all of this is that the Marlins have only had four outs on base all year, which is the least in Major League Baseball.
After two consecutive seasons putting up under four runs a game, the Marlins needed to change things to produce runs. They decided that they will do this by being more active on the basepaths. Not only are they attempting more stolen bases, doing so at a ridiculous clip, but they are also taking the extra base home much more efficiently than the previous two seasons. This has resulted in an uptick of .40 runs a game from last year and .54 runs a game from 2018.
Simply put, the Marlins have been running more, and it shows in the win-loss record.