AnalysisNL East

Silver linings from a gloomy first half in Miami

The Miami Marlins: a good baseball team. Wait – scroll back, let’s start over. These are the six teams currently occupying last place in their respective divisions:

American LeagueNational League
EastBaltimore OriolesMiami Marlins
CentralKansas City RoyalsPittsburgh Pirates
WestTexas RangersArizona Diamondbacks

There is only one team out of those six with any feasible (albeit quite small) chance of making the postseason. That ballclub is the Miami Marlins, and although it owes that chance at least partially to the collective mediocrity of the NL East, there’s more to the story than that.

Miami doesn’t have the biggest fanbase – in fact, only the Blue Jays, who haven’t played a game in their home ballpark yet, have a lower attendance number. Add that to the general consensus that they overachieved in 2020, and on the surface not many are surprised with them coming back down to earth and posting a 39-50 record by the All Star break.

Eleven games below .500 at this point in the season can be quite discouraging, but once you take a step back and get an overview of this entire division it isn’t quite so bad. It doesn’t take too much poking around to find a glimpse of hope. Take this graphic, for instance.

Don Mattingly’s ball club might not lead the NL East in runs allowed, they certainly don’t in runs scored, but when it comes to Run Differential would you venture a guess as to who’s at the top? According to their Pythagorean Win-loss record, which is calculated based on run differential, the Fish should have a 47-42 record. This record would place them comfortably in second place in the division, which would warrant a whole different narrative and outlook heading into the second half. So how did they get here? Before looking at what has gone wrong in Miami, let’s first analyze this team’s strengths.

Where the Marlins are strong

It seems as though with the dismantling of the three headed-monster leading the Rays rotation during this past offseason the Marlins decided to pick up the slack for Florida and create one of their own.

Pablo Lopéz, Sandy Alcantara and Trevor Rogers are the best starting trio no one is talking about, They are responsible for over 40% of the 784.1 IP by this pitching staff that leads baseball in FIP (3.58) but it doesn’t stop there;

Despite the performance from those three, the bullpen might be the strength of this team or at the very least just as imposing as the rotation. As a group, they boast the second lowest bullpen ERA in the National League behind only the San Diego Padres. Former Dodgers in Yimi Garcia and Dylan Floro are flourishing in high leverage situations and unknown names such as Anthony Bender continue to come out of nowhere to perform really well.

How about the weakness?

Offensively the picture is not as pretty. The team is below league average in every major category.

Starling Marte is having a pretty good season with his new found ability to post a good BB%, but it has tailed off since a scorching hot start. There’s a big hole at Third Base without the usual production from Brian Anderson, who was having a horrendous season before going on the 60 day IL.

Jazz Chisholm and Miguel Rojas form an intriguing double play partnership up the middle, and the trio of Garret Cooper, Jesus Aguilar and Adam Duvall are all producing at an above average rate. Cooper has been especially important as the best hitter for the Marlins in 2021 with a 139 OPS+. Still, overall the lineup isn’t anything to write home about.

Now for the problem.

Don’t be fooled by the sight of a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers having the second best record in baseball in spite of a comically bad 1-8 extra innings record and a 11-16 campaign in one run affairs. Most ball clubs, in order to fight for a playoff spot, need to perform well in close games or they’ll find themselves fighting an uphill battle for the entire season. The Fish, meanwhile, are tied for the league lead in one run losses (20) with the 26-66 Arizona Diamondbacks (it must be noted that Miami has 9 wins to Arizona’s 3, but that’s barely a silver lining from their standpoint).

There’s bound to be some regression to the mean with these sorts of things, but at this point it’s more than likely just a little too late for the Marlins to make any sort of run. Their playoff odds at FanGraphs are 0.1%. Then again, they’re just 9 games back in one of baseball’s weakest divisions with a lot of baseball left. Dare we dream.

For a team in last place there’s a lot of positives to take out of their first half. 

Featured Photo: Miami Herald

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