The Miami Marlins have reached the mathematical midway point of the 2014 season, and what a ride it has been thus far. The team had a surprisingly good April, a successful May, and now they are going through a disappointing June. But despite low expectations to start the year, Miami has kept itself in the race for a surprisingly weak National League East division. The Fish remain just five games back of the division lead with half a season left to go, which would have been unbelievable before the 2014 season began.
Part of the reason for that is the team's brand new offensive spark. Miami started the season absolutely on fire offensively, having scored over 40 runs in the first week of the year. The club has since cooled off, especially during an ugly month of June, but the team remains in the top half of the National League offensively despite the poor recent play.
Record: 39-43, 0.476 win percentage
Runs Scored-Allowed: 354-359
Pythagorean Record: 0.493
Team Batting Line: .254/.320/.386
wOBA / wOBA Runs Scored (81 games): .311 / 338 runs
Consider that last season, there was not a team that scored fewer runs than Miami. Consider that the Fish were the worst offense in the last 15 seasons and the worst offense in team history. Consider how Miami could not man an offense around its star hitter, and that star hitter himself was injured and, when not hurt, relatively ineffective as pitchers avoided him left and right.
What a difference a season (and a few free agent additions) can make on one team's fortunes. The Marlins are in the thick of things in the NL East because its offense has somehow performed about average. Marlins non-pitchers have a 103 wRC+, meaning they have been about three percent better than league average this season. This was unheard of before the season.
Midseason MVP: Giancarlo Stanton
Apologies to critical offensive additions like Casey McGehee and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and young upstarts like Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, but Giancarlo Stanton has far and away been the Marlins' best player at the plate. Stanton's monster .316/.410/.596 batting line (.425 wOBA) leaves him among the very elite in baseball in 2014. Unlike a lot of other players with hot months of April who fizzled out, Stanton has remained near the top of the leaderboard. Only Mike Trout and Troy Tulowitzki have better batting lines this season, and those two are playing out-of-this world as well.
Stanton's success at the plate has come from the places you would expect. He is fourth in the majors in home runs and he leads the National League in that department with 21 on the season. He is fifth in ISO, behind two players who are sluggers only, Trout, and Edwin Encarnacion. But Stanton is not a slugging-only caveman of a hitter. His strikeout rate, his major Achilles heel in his game, is at the lowest rate it has ever reached, at 25 percent. The walk rate is at a comparable rate to what he posted in 2013, when pitchers had no incentive to pitch to him. Pitchers are still avoiding him, throwing him strikes in only 41.2 percent of pitches seen.
Stanton is whiffing less, hitting for the sort of prodigious power he was lacking in last season, and benefiting from laser line drives and ground balls that are getting by defenders to the tune of a .388 BABIP. All of this is contributing to the best offensive season of his career thus far. Whether it continues is irrelevant; Stanton has helped carry this offense as expected, and it was more than any Marlins fan could have asked for.
Midseason LVP: Adeiny Hechavarria
Hechavarria takes the title for a second season in a row. This season is not the disaster that the 2013 season was for him (yet), but he remains the worst regular that the Fish are playing. His batting average is a deceptively decent .272, but that hides the fact that he has no power and does not get on base at a good enough clip for that average to matter. His 3.8 percent walk rate is abysmal; among qualified players, it is the ninth-worst walk rate in the game. His ISO is less than .100, and only the aging Derek Jeter has been more pop-less than Hechavarria. He is one of two qualified Major League hitters without a home run yet (Norichiki Aoki is the other).
It is not as though all of this was unexpected. Hechavarria is actually playing better than expectations going into 2014. His .322 BABIP is a remnant of a hot start, when he jumped out of the gate with a .280/.315/.400 (.312 wOBA) line in April. Since then, he has hit .268/.290/.292 with just four extra-base hits and five walks in 178 plate appearances. That early performance was all based on an unusual amount of singles finding their way through, and since then, his work has been less than pedestrian.
Hechavarria cannot be counted on to hit anything with authority. The only problem is that Miami has no alternatives; players like Ed Lucas (.243/.287/.278) have also been given more than 100 plate appearances and stunk so far. Miami's shortstop situation is dire, and could use improvement if the Fish were so inclined.
Second-Half Improvement: Christian Yelich
The Marlins have gotten exactly what they should have expected from the 22-year-old Yelich. He has excellent plate discipline, and his 11 percent walk rate is displaying that. He is a tremendous baserunner, and so far in his career, he 20-for-21 in stolen base attempts. He has acceptable power, but not enough to make up for his high strikeout rate. Yelich's 20.6 percent rate is dipping after starting off closer to 24 percent at the beginning of the year. Still, his contact issues could limit his game in the future; players with marginal power cannot afford to strike out at a league average or worse rate.
But Yelich's appeal has always been his beautiful, picture-perfect swing, and last year he displayed that and then some with an impressive(ly lucky) .380 BABIP. This season, that has fallen to .316, but it could go up given his supreme skill in the minors. It may be one source of improvement in 2014.
Most of the improvement, however, is likely to come from better development. If he improves slightly on each of these categories, he can turn himself from a three-win contributor into a four- or five-win All-Star building block. The Marlins are counting on this development in the next few years, and some of it could come in the second half.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Grade: B): Fans might have expected more from him at the plate after last season, but his .241/.339/.412 mark (.330 wOBA) is a major improvement over last season's catcher play. He is right in line with expectations.
Garrett Jones (C): Jones has flashed power (10 home runs) and has a .261/.331/.435 line (.335 wOBA), but being barely better than your starting catcher while playing first base is not a good sign.
Derek Dietrich (B-): We probably overreacted about how good the bat was. Dietrich is hitting .234/.333/.396 (.329 wOBA), and much of his OBP is owed to a sky-high hit-by-pitch rate. Dietrich crowds the plate, but can we depend on that to get on base with only a seven percent walk rate and contact problems?
Casey McGehee (B+): Graded a bit on curve, given what was expected of him before the season. He has been unbelievably clutch, and also has had the plate discipline of a seasoned veteran. Color me impressed.
Marcell Ozuna (B-): The power is back up, as Ozuna has hit 14 home runs on the season. But then again, all of his problems with strikeouts and walks persist, and his OBP is hovering around .300. At this point, he is not hitting enough homers and doubles to quite make up for that, but his offensive game is still average or better thus far.