Throughout the first half of the 2014 season, the Miami Marlins have been impressing us with their surprising competitive play. The Fish are posting a good, competitive season just one year removed from a disastrous 2013 campaign. This performance has most certainly taught us something definitive about this club, and the first half point is definitely the right time to consider those new truths.
1. Giancarlo Stanton is back, guys.
Stanton had a season in 2013 during which he played worst than he ever had and suffered injury problems. There were legitimate questions coming into this year as to whether he could stay healthy enough to be considered a star or that he could recover from the down 2013 campaign. Intuitively, you had to figure Stanton's batting line would prop back up shortly, since he just came off a monster 2012 season in just 500 plate appearances.
But who knew he would bounce back with this much force. Two seasons removed from a presumed career campaign, Stanton is putting up another season for the ages. His .310/.410/.581 batting line (.420 wOBA) is third in baseball, and he is tied for fourth in home runs. He is having a Gold Glove caliber season in right field according to some metrics, and that is adding even more heaps of value to his name. He is projected to surpass his 2012 season in terms of home runs and Wins Above Replacement. He is heading to the All-Star Game almost assuredly, and he'll be playing in the Home Run Derby too.
Before the season, there were questions as to whether or not Miami would get the kind of return from Stanton because he was considered injury-prone and had only reached the five-win mark just once in his career. Who was going to sell the farm for three years of a player with one major skill, one major flaw, and injury questions? Half a season later, a lot of teams would consider selling their biggest farm pieces for a chance to acquire this Giancarlo Stanton
2. The Marlins have the best outfield in baseball.
We kind of already knew that in 2014, but this figures to only get better with time, provided that Stanton is still here. Marcell Ozuna already appears to be a Gold Glove caliber outfielder as well, and Christian Yelich may have the best range of all three of these players. And the two youngsters figure to improve offensively as the years pass. Yelich has the right approach to be an excellent hitter once he develop some power and refines his contact. Ozuna has good power and figures to be a nice offensive complement to the power-laden Stanton.
This season is already looking like it will exceed expectations. Both players were expected to be around league-average performers this season, and both have essentially exceeded that by the halfway mark. In the additional half a season more, we could expect to see Ozuna and Yelich each approach three-win seasons in 2014. Given that both are positives defensively and have their skills on offense, this is not out of reach. Imagine the improvement that they can reasonably take on from there. Yelich has the pedigree to bump his production up to potential All-Star status, and if Ozuna can just stay near the three-win mark, Miami could have an outfield worth a whopping 13 wins next season, if all goes right and healthy. That would definitely be the best outfield in the game.
3. The Marlins needed all of their pitching depth.
Remember before this season, when the Marlins were boasting a cadre of pitchers in the minors with back-of-the-rotation potential, along with one elite prospect in Andrew Heaney? Remember how Miami also had Jose Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jacob Turner, all pitchers of varying young ages and promise? The thought was that the Fish could easily use some of their excess talent to improve in other areas, because Miami could just plug one of their other starters if they needed to.
Flash forward half a season in, and one of Miami's problem areas is the rotation spot that Jose Fernandez abandoned when he got injured. The Marlins had to run Brad Hand, who has all but proven his poor play in the majors, out last night to make a start in that spot. This is after Anthony DeSclafani was tried and failed and after Andrew Heaney had already been promoted to take Turner's spot.
The lesson here is that Miami was wise to avoid banking on talent that may top out in the back of the rotation to fill out their needs. You never know when injury will strike, and Miami now has the luxury of trying different pitchers in that final rotation spot throughout the year. They can also use that depth to make a trade for a one-year stopgap option. It does not help them resolve their infield situation, but after the Fernandez elbow injury, the Fish should happy to still have this depth at their disposal.
4. The Marlins are close to an average team.
The Fish spent half a season in the "wait-and-see" camp in terms of staying competitive. When would the performance begin to fall apart for Miami. You could say that it started in June, when the team had a miserable offensive month and struggled to an 11-16 record. This may be true, and it may be the beginning of a Marlins collapse that leads them to the cellar of the division once more.
But there are signs that this should not happen. First and foremost, we can look at the above positives as reason for the Fish to avoid losing horrifically. Miami has a capable offense so long as it has the team's outfield and at least one or two infield contributors, and so far it appears Casey McGehee and Jarrod Saltalamacchia can be counted upon for the rest of the season. The pitching staff is still working on its kinks, but Alvarez and Eovaldi should be able to anchor a decent crew.
And therein lies the point. Miami's offense right now is slightly above average at a 103 wRC+ among non-pitchers. Miami's pitching staff, provided there are some improvements in guys like Andrew Heaney, is more than capable of being an average outfit. Overall, if Miami can be average in both departments, they are close to a .500 team. FanGraphs projects this team to put up a .465 win percentage the rest of the way, which is around the same projection they had before the season before the Fernandez injury. No matter where you see Miami's situation, it is hard to deny that the team has improved significantly from the start of the year, and that is something to proud of.