The Miami Marlins are carefully considering a push for the playoffs and subsequent trade deadline moves depending on the results of the upcoming series with the Washington Nationals. The Fish and Nats square off in a three-game set, with the Nats leading the division and the Marlins a whopping seven games back but having won six of their last seven games.
Miami wants to test whether they have a realistic shot at the playoffs or whether they should go into sell mode for the season and trade away some assets. It is a fairly legitimate question, given that the team jumped out to such a hot start but has been facing questions about legitimacy all season long. Miami is a confusing team to say the least.
So it is worth looking at various odds as provided by FanGraphs and see what the Marlins' likelihood of success is going forward.
Games Behind and Games Back Summed
Before we get into what the Marlins' odds are at the moment, it is important to note that the Fish are facing a steep uphill climb. The team is not only 5.5 games back of the Wild Card and seven back of the division, though those numbers would be daunting in and of themselves. The Marlins are also behind multiple teams, not just the primary leader. That throws a monkey wrench into the "catch the leader" gameplan; the Marlins are dependent on two or more teams losing games in order for them to really make ground.
Baseball-Reference provides an estimate, originally designed by John Dewan of Acta Sports, called games back summed. It is a simple calculation, as it adds up how far back a team is from each competitor in front of them in a race. It is not an accurate sum of how many games a team has to make up, but it better shows the climb a team faces in trying to get back into a race.
The Marlins' odds do not look great by this measure. Miami is 5.5 games back of the Atlanta Braves and seven back of Washington Nationals, leaving them with a games back summed of 12.5 games. The Marlins have to do a lot more than win seven and get seven Nationals losses to be tied in this race, as the Braves' performance also affects the movement of the race. In total, Miami might need something on the order of 12.5 games to make up against two teams. The same situation is on the Wild Card side; Miami has a games back summed of 16.5 games behind its three main competitors and the second Wild Card leader.
All of this is to say that the Marlins' path to the playoffs is beyond difficult, even before you consider the relative talent levels of the teams involved.
The FanGraphs playoff odds page has expectations for each team's future winning percentage and the likelihood of them making the playoffs. With much of the season in tow already, Miami's odds are getting slimmer and slimmer, especially if you consider the team's talent projection. The Marlins are expected to put up the second-fewest Wins Above Replacement for the rest of the season of any team in the league according to Steamer projections. Miami's eight WAR is barely beating out the Houston Astros' seven projected wins. That means Miami is expected to win just about 26 more games for the rest of the year.
That leaves the team at 77 projected wins by the end of the year. Based on that talent level, FanGraphs expects them to make the playoffs 2.4 percent of the time. That is 24 out of every 1000 times we finish this hypothetical 2014 season. If we are to believe the Marlins will make their decision to add a player or sell in the next three days, we have to figure that their odds are not going to change too significantly from this 2.4 percent mark. Baseball Prospectus's odds (as provided by MLB.com) show similar numbers.
But let's say you believe the Marlins' performance so far this season. FanGraphs provides odds based on the season's up-to-date record, weighing recent games more heavily. This should give the Marlins the best chance to make the playoffs. Under this assumption, the Marlins are expected to make the playoffs. Even in this method, the Marlins are expected to make it 7.2 percent of the time.
Go For It?
The ceiling for Miami is that the Fish make it around seven out of 100 times we finish the 2014 season. If the Marlins win the next three games, maybe those best-case odds climb to 10 percent. Should the Marlins go for it?
Yes and no. The odds here are still extremely slim. Miami essentially has no real chance based on the talent level of the current squad, and making an addition may not add enough wins to get to the playoffs anyway. They should recognize that and make moves that, at the very least, will benefit Miami next season, if not this year. The Fish may return a healthy Jose Fernandez and get a full season of development from a myriad of players.
Failing that, however, Miami should not hesitate to sell on some players. Guys like Mike Dunn and Steve Cishek are not likely to be central pieces to the next great Marlins team, and they may very well be easily replaceable as relievers. Why not strike while the iron is hot and use the money allotted to those names in the offseason to help address the team's problems?
The point is that, given Miami's likely odds of making a dent in the playoff picture, the team should have a low threshold for stepping out of the race and taking advantage of a seller's market at the trade deadline. The 2014 season may not be the right time, and selling here probably won't hurt Miami much more than their June already did. The team's chances may very well be too low right now.