It doesn't take a seasoned statistician to realize that the 2014 version of the Miami Marlins is playing better baseball than their 2013 counterparts. When you look at the numbers, though, the difference is staggering.
Let's take a look at some of them:
|April 2013||April 2014*|
|Team batting avg.||.224||.266|
|# of players with 10 or more RBI||1||5|
|(*-includes game on March 31, 2014)|
At a game below .500, the 2014 Miami Marlins are still probably a piece or two away from contending for a pennant, but the team is obviously trending in the right direction.
So how do you account for the improvement? Here are some obvious areas where the Marlins have seen improvement:
Casey McGehee has been a pleasant surprise at third base for the Marlins. While he has yet to hit his first home run as a Marlin, he is tied for second on the team with 16 RBI and he has 6 doubles and a triple to his credit. He is also hitting .295, which is just 6 points shy of the best hitting season of his career. In 2013, third base had been an offensive black hole. Free agent acquisition Placido Polanco, who inexplicably was batting clean-up last season, was batting a paltry .255 with six RBI through this point last season.
After a relatively slow start, Salty, the Marlins' lone splashy free agent signing in the offseason, has proven to be a valuable asset. He is batting an impressive .299 with 11 extra base hits, including 5 home runs. He has also earned effusive praise from Jose Fernandez for his handling of the pitching staff. The two-headed monster of Rob Brantly and Miguel Olivo combined to bat just north of .200 last April, with just a single home run, although Brantly did somehow manage to hit seven of the nine doubles that he would hit all season in April.
2014 Starting Rotation > 2013 Starting Rotation
It may seem like a lifetime ago, but in his first 5 career starts last year, Jose Fernandez had a pedestrian 4.50 ERA, was issuing a walk every other inning, and wasn't even striking out 9 batters per 9 innings, which is now unheard of from him. Complement him with Ricky Nolasco, Alex Sanabia, Kevin Slowey and Wade LeBlanc, and it is unsurprising that the Marlins struggled to win games in 2013. This year's rotation of a significantly improved Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, Tom Koehler and the committee of Slowey, Brad Hand and Jacob Turner has been outstanding thus far, posting a collective 3.31 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
Giancarlo Stanton is Healthy
Last April, after a slow first week or so, Stanton was forced to miss a week with a sore left shoulder. Once he was cleared to play in mid-April, he made it another 11 games before sustaining the hamstring injury that would sideline him until mid-June. Thankfully, he seems to have put all of this behind him in 2014 and boy, do the statistics show it. On Tuesday, he recorded his 31st RBI, surpassing Moises Alou's team record for RBI before the end of April, which was set in 1997. Whether its the protection that Saltalamacchia, McGehee and Marcell Ozuna are bringing to the lineup, the instruction of new Marlins hitting coach Frank Menechino, or just the natural progression of his maturation as a hitter, Stanton seems more comfortable at the plate in 2014. At just 24 years old, he appears to be living up to the hype that has surrounded him since he was a teenager, and the Marlins are reaping the benefits.
These improvements are not by any means the only improvements on the 2014 Marlins. Adeiny Hechavarria, always a maestro with the glove, has grown by leaps and bounds as a hitter, and while Christian Yelich is not the base stealer that last year's leadoff man Juan Pierre is, he a significant improvement over Pierre in the hitting department and certainly no slouch in the base stealing department.
This year's Marlins look like a team capable of hanging around in games and in the division/wild card race all season, which should provide a lot of excitement and anticipation of seasons to come as guys like Fernandez, Eovaldi, Stanton, Ozuna, Hechavarria and Yelich continue to develop.