What Have the Marlins Done Right in May?

MIAMI, FL - MAY 29: Giancarlo Stanton #27 of the Miami Marlins rounds first on an RBI double during a game against the Washington Nationals at Marlins Park on May 29, 2012 in Miami, Florida. Stanton has carried the Marlins' offense during their fiery May. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Miami Marlins set a club record last night by winning their 20th game of the month of May, pulling their record up to 28-22 after a dismal 8-14 start in April. The Fish have climbed all the way back to second place in the NL East after burying themselves into a deep hole to start the year. The club's 20 wins are the best among the major leagues in the month of May, ahead of the Los Angeles Angels by three thus far and the Los Angeles Dodgers by four.

So how did the Marlins manage to pull themselves back up on their feet. How could they perform so poorly in one month and be so red hot in the next? For that, we have to take a look at a number of factors in the month of May that have contributed to positive outcomes for the team. Some of these factors are based on good fortune and a well-placed infusion of luck. Other aspects are simply players playing up to their name and talent level, something that we correctly predicted at the end of April.

Baseline

Here are how April and May look next to each other.

Month Runs Runs Allowed wRC FIP RA + UZR* Win% PythWin%** FanGraphsWin%^
April 73 87 75 92 .364 .423 .409
May 126 112 125 108 .714 .554 .567

*FIP RA represents FIP earned runs allowed scaled to runs allowed . This is then added to the team's UZR performance, with UZR being a measure of defensive runs saved versus league average.

** PythWin% represents Pythagenpat Win%, as calculated using runs scored and allowed

^ FanGraphs Win% represents Pythagenpat Win% as calculated using wRC as the offensive runs scored component and FIP RA + UZR as the defensive runs allowed component.

The bottom line about the above numbers is that they are estimations of how many runs the Marlins have scored and allowed in both months. In addition, the last three columns represent estimates of the team's win percentage based on those run totals. In the month of April, the Fish were legitimately bad on most accounts, though both methods based on run scoring suspect that they could have at least one more game.

Meanwhile, in the month of May, Pythagenpat winning percentage shows the first interesting point in our analysis of how the Marlins managed their fiery month: a lot of close wins.

The One-Run Wins

Media guys like to make a big deal out of one-run wins, but the truth of the matter is that they are obviously the worst quality wins in terms of determining future outcomes. The spectrum of one-run wins is inherently an even proposition; one would not expect teams to do much better or worse than .500 over a long period of time in those types of games. But the Fish thrived in one-run affairs in May, going 8-3 in 11 one-run games so far. If you take just two of those wins away and have the club go 6-5 in those games, you are down to a .642 win percentage. Not a significant difference, but now we are standing alongside the Angels and Dodgers among top May ballclubs and are closer to what our Pythagenpat and FanGraphs-based win percentages.

The Fish did also go 3-5 in one-run affairs in April, and a 4-4 split would have earned them that one extra win Pythagenpat thinks it deserved. However, the team would still have been terrible during that month, and that is mostly on the back of the players themselves.

The Position Players

How about those players? Last month, we discussed the possibility of the offense improving on their projections. Let's take a look at the table from last month regarding the Marlins' April offensive performances versus their projected performances going forward, and let's add in their May performance to see if they were able to at least meet expectations.

Player April wOBA ZiPS Proj wOBA May wOBA
John Buck .283 .303 .256
Gaby Sanchez .248 .339 .229
Omar Infante .466 .324 .345
Hanley Ramirez .317 .355 .376
Jose Reyes .249 .351 .335
Logan Morrison .338 .355 .273
Emilio Bonifacio .295 .303 .381
Giancarlo Stanton .281 .379 .481

The Marlins' lineup split their expectations, and that is not surprising. Jose Reyes really does not deserve a red mark either, since Reyes performed admirably and considerably better than his first month, but he is still missing in the power department. Similarly, Infante is above his projection, but not by much, and comparing the two, we would call that performance mostly even. In reality, the offensive load has been carried by Giancarlo Stanton and Hanley Ramirez, both of whom hit well (and in Stanton's case, out-of-this-world well).

The rest of the offense struggled, but as a whole, the team had a .317 wOBA, which was a drastic improvement over the previous month's mark. The Marlins put up 4.5 runs per game in the month of May, and even when you take out the sequencing by looking at team wOBA and wRC (an estimate of runs scored based on wOBA), the team still managed to put up that kind of offensive performance. The team's .317 wOBA was middle of the pack for the month, ranked 16th out of 30 teams and just eighth in the National League (seventh after park adjustment dropped the Rockies off that list). Without Stanton and assistance from Ramirez, Infante, Reyes, and Emilio Bonfiacio before his injury, the Marlins may very well have limped through May, as a number of their players still struggled,

The Pitchers

What about the pitching staff? Much was made about how well the Marlins pitchers pitched in April despite the team's overall struggles. This month, the Fish put up the eighth-best ERA of the month and the best FIP among all major league teams. How did the five starters do during a May month in which I claimed they were carrying the team?

Player April ERA ZiPS Proj ERA May ERA
Josh Johnson 5.34 2.64 4.40
Mark Buehrle 3.34 3.90 3.19
Ricky Nolasco 3.20 4.33 5.00
Carlos Zambrano 3.24 4.27 2.85
Anibal Sanchez 2.73 3.68 2.45

Surprisingly, the Marlins' starting staff still did not regress to the mean, with only one player beginning to play about as well as expected. Josh Johnson, despite a string of solid performances this month, still overshot his ZiPS projection at the start of the month by a healthy margin. His defense-independent stats were not great either, as he posted a 4.01 FIP due to a decreased strikeout rate. Still, watching Johnson through most of the month, aside from one or two starts, made him look good, and I do believe he is back on track. Ricky Nolasco did poorly in May, but it was almost expected of him after a second straight season of free-falling strikeout rates.

The remaining three starters outperformed their projections. Mark Buehrle was Mark Buehrle as always, and it is good to see that he is somehow making his minimalist skill set translate well into the National League. The biggest surprises, however, continue to be Carlos Zambrano and Anibal Sanchez, both of whom posted sub-3.00 ERA. Zambrano has done his job through magic (.234 BABIP) and improved performance (3.51 FIP, 52 percent ground ball rate), but Anibal Sanchez has been good no matter how you slice it. His strikeouts this month fell compared to April, but that is expected when you do not strike out 14 Arizona Diamondbacks in one of your starts during the month. Still, an improved ground ball rate (up to 53 percent) has Sanchez suppressing more than the usual number of home runs.

Going Forward

What we have gathered from looking at the data from this month is that this 20-win performance was not necessarily a team effort. Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez, Carlos Zambrano, and Anibal Sanchez played major roles in pushing the team to such a strong performance. A number of stragglers, including John Buck, the demoted Gaby Sanchez, and Ricky Nolasco did their best to reverse their teammates good fortunes. Nevertheless, enough of the important offensive players regressed to their means, and the monster month by Stanton was enough to carry the offense with just a few players coming back to normal. On the pitching side, the Fish benefited from good starts from three of their rotation members, with a fourth in Johnson looking good enough to get back on the right track.

Moving forward, I expect the Fish to once again start hitting their projections. We cannot expect Stanton to mash 11 homers in a month again (maybe?) just like we cannot expect John Buck to bat as poorly as he did in this month. Some regression is going to occur, and it will push everyone a little more towards their projections. Of course, in every month, there is going to be a hot hitter and a cold batter, and so do not be surprised if next month, Jose Reyes is suddenly awakened and wreaks havoc on the bases while Omar Infante struggles to match his early season production.

As for the pitching staff, Carlos Zambrano has already begun his climb back up to an expected ERA, but even at a 3.50 or 3.70 ERA, the Marlins would be extremely happy with his performance. Meanwhile, do not expect Ricky Nolasco to regress as much as one might guess, as his peripherals have been poor for most of the season. Look for good things to come from Josh Johnson, however, as he hopefully looks sharper in June.

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