The 2014 Miami Marlins have begun the season better than expected, and the reason for that unexpected change has a lot to do with, surprisingly enough, their offensive performance rather than their pitching staff. The league's worst offense in recent history last season is, as of Saturday night's win over the Seattle Mariners, the third-highest scoring team in baseball in 2014. It is a surprising accomplishment for a franchise expecting to make its hay on the mound.
A good bit of that offensive performance is good fortune so far on balls in play, inflating Miami's batting average (third-ranked) and OBP (first-ranked) to elite levels early on. The Marlins have hit a very lucky .347 on balls in play as a team; no other team is hitting better than .333. But part of that is also the club's power surge, which has been the most surprising part of the early season offense. Miami was dead last in home runs last season and one of the few teams since the run environment increased in 1992 that failed to hit more than 100 homers in a single season. This season, Miami is only part of the way through the month of April and has already reached 16 homers, placing them comfortably in the middle of the pack in that department. Last year, Miami had just 12 homers in all of April.
Some of that has to be the additions of players like Garrett Jones, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Casey McGehee replacing empty power vessels like Placido Polanco and Rob Brantly. But part of that is also the emergence of players like Marcell Ozuna and the return of guys like Giancarlo Stanton to prowess. But was this all to be expected? Should we be surprised that the Fish are lighting up the Monstrosity at home as often as they are? We can look to ZiPS preseason projections to see how much better MIami is doing now than it should have.
Expectations and Reality
Here are the nine Marlins with 20 or more plate appearances so far this season. In bold are their current home run totals so far this year, and in parentheses are their expected home run totals through that many plate appearances as projected by ZiPS before the regular season.
In total, the Marlins have hit 16 homers as a team, but very few of their players have overachieved compared to their projections. Only Stanton and Derek Dietrich have outperformed their expectations by more than one home run. In total, these nine Marlins, by this number of plate appearances, were expected to hit 18.4 home runs. Surprisingly, the Marlins are actually underperforming their expectations from before the season. With Yelich and McGehee yet to go deep so far this season, the Fish have not been able to meet their expected home run totals, despite the overproduction of Stanton and Ozuna. Nearly everyone else is right in line with projections.
Offensive Plunge to Come?
Fish fans, therefore, should not be surprised that Miami has come up with a power surge. The Marlins added power in the offseason, and combine that with the natural gifts of Giancarlo Stanton and the play of young players like Marcell Ozuna and you have a combination for rapid improvement in the power department.
What is a concern going forward is Miami's looming collapse in BABIP. The team cannot remain this lucky on balls in play forever, and guys like McGehee and Yelich are going to need the burst of power that the rest of the roster has enjoyed in order to keep up once their good fortune runs out. The Fish are unlikely to be able to keep up a league-best pace once that falls back down to earth.
But at least this season the Marlins have ensured that they will not stray into the bottom of the barrel offensively like they did last year. They might not be even an average offense, but with league-average power on their side, they are unlikely to repeat the horrific 2013 campaign, and that is a #minorvictory if I have ever seen one.