Editor's note: The Miami Marlins finished up the first week of the season versus the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres, and they ended up taking two series wins and finishing 5-2. Naturally, fans are excited to see if these new-look Marlins can stay good (if not this good) all year. There are two camps, in the positive and the negative, on this argument, and I think I can do a good job representing either side. Here I am going full optimist!
The Miami Marlins are 5-2, and they are real.
Before this weekend's three-game series versus the San Diego Padres, Michael Baumann of Grantland said that he was ready to jump on the bandwagon, even if the FIsh were not really this good.
Look, I don’t believe in Jeffrey Loria. I don’t believe in overreacting to four-game samples just because they come in the opening week and there’s no preceding data to water them down. I don’t believe that three players can metaphysically lift their teammates to performances ordinarily outside their modest capabilities, as it seems that Stanton, Yelich, and Fernandez are doing.
But whatever. Sports are supposed to be fun, and right now, it’s fun to believe in the Miami Marlins.
I say to you, Mr. Baumann, to get on the bandwagon now before it makes a runaway trail all the way to the playoffs!
The 2014 Marlins are for real. Maybe they are not playoff-real, but they're "closer to 80 than 70 wins" real. No matter how bad the competition, you simply do not stumble into the sort of run differential the Marlins have pulled off in the first seven games.
It all starts on the pitching and (to a far lesser extent) defense side of the ball. Even with yesterday's 4-2 loss to the Padres, the Marlins have allowed just 21 runs in seven games, a measly three runs per game. And while one of those teams faced was the injury-riddled Padres offense, the other was a Rockies squad that featured Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Michael Cuddyer among other strong hitters. Last year, in fact, Padres non-pitchers hit a perfectly average mark after correcting for Petco Park, while Rockies hitters were four percent below average as a mostly unchanged team. The Marlins did a passable job against the tenth and 11th-ranked offenses in the National League last year. Not great competition, but not exactly the level of the 2013 Marlins either.
And aside from an aberrant Tom Koehler performance, none of the pitchers the Marlins threw out there surprised anyone with their play. Jose Fernandez went 12 2/3 innings and struck out 17 batters in perhaps one of the most totally expected results in early season baseball: Fernandez is an eater of bats and worlds. Nathan Eovaldi was a popular breakout candidate among those in the know, and he broke out to the tune of 14 strikeouts and two walks in 13 innings pitched. Jacob Turner and Henderson Alvarez were on the opposite end as pitchers who struggled in their 2014 debuts, and none of their struggles were all that surprising. Overall, you might expect those two to pitch better going forward and Fernandez and Eovaldi to pitch a bit worse, but all told, the starters performed as well as advertised and the team still gave up just three runs a game.
The offense is getting contributions from unexpected places, but it is also seeing work from expected names. Giancarlo Stanton has two home runs and is on fire, and given that he is a household name with power as his primary calling card, no one should be shocked to see him starting off so well. Christian Yelich actually has a bad batting line right now, but the signs of his game are all there, from him taking plenty of pitches and going deep into counts to his work on the bases. It is only a matter of time until those numbers start to improve. Marcell Ozuna has already put up a home run to add to the team's total during his hot start. Other than two prominent names on lucky hot streaks, the players Miami would have to depend on are indeed playing to expectations.
The result is the best run differential in baseball. It is difficult for team's to luck into such a staggering early-season mark. The Marlins have scored 42 runs and allowed 21, meaning they are currently doubling up opponents. While their opponents have been weak, a weak Miami team would have barely squeaked past these clubs. The Marlins, in posting their current run differential, have an expected win percentage of 0.786, or a 127-win team. While clearly the Marlins are not that good, the fact that they could put a one-week stretch of being remotely close to that level is extremely impressive and likely says something about the true quality of the team.
The proof is in the overall numbers. Before the regular season, the FanGraphs depth charts had Miami as far and away the second-worst team in baseball, ahead of only the Houston Astros. One week and five wins (not counting yesterday's loss) later, the team has upped its projection to a .460 winning percentage and 72 wins left on the year, good for third to last but closer teams like the Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks than clubs like Houston or the Minnesota Twins. If a hot start did not mean anything, how could the Fish enact such a drastic change in expected performance?
The 2014 Marlins have a real strong pitching staff led by two guys who are emerging righty power pitchers. They have a real set of leaders in their lineup in the improving Yelich and the fearsome Stanton. They have real flaws too, but this first week has shown just enough to prove that Miami is closer to .500 than they ever realized. The 2014 Marlins are real.