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How the Marlins have performed in lowest-attended games

Marlins players are used to a lousy gameday atmosphere, but that doesn’t mean they want it that way.

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Philadelphia Phillies v Miami Marlins Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

I have read countless variations of the same joke. Ever since COVID-19 shut down spring training, when leading health officials made it crystal clear that large public gatherings accelerate the spread of the virus, we have been bracing for the jarring sight of fanless Major League Baseball games. In other words, business as usual for the Miami Marlins!

*longest eye roll in human history*

Yes, the Marlins had the lowest home attendance in the majors in 2018 (10,014 per game) and 2019 (10,016). They probably drew the smallest crowds in previous seasons too, though we can’t say so definitively because former Marlins president David Samson manipulated the club’s numbers. Particularly when opponents from northeastern cities fly in for a visit, a substantial portion of the attendees don’t even root for the Fish. A new fan survey by The Athletic finds that the newish stadium has MLB’s worst gameday atmosphere.

But there is a night-and-day difference between an empty ballpark and one that’s hosting several thousand passionate people. Former Marlins pitcher Dan Straily, who’s spending 2020 in the Korea Baseball Organization where they have playing for months without fans, said as much on his podcast.

While the KBO is on the verge of being able to admit paying customers thanks to South Korea’s success in containing COVID-19, there’s been little progress made in the U.S. The state of Florida, in particular, has reported a discouraging spike in positive cases in recent weeks. Miami’s home opener against the Orioles on July 27 will certainly be fanless. Don’t expect anything different for the other 29 Marlins Park matchups.

Do the Fish gain any sort of advantage from these dystopian circumstances? Let’s consider how the Marlins have performed in front of tiny crowds during their current rebuild.

I selected the 60 regular season games since the start of 2018 that had the lowest announced attendance totals (7,751 and below). Unsurprisingly, all 60 took place at Marlins Park, including 31 from the 2018 campaign and 29 from last year.

Despite the familiarity/comfort of being at home, the Marlins didn’t benefit on the field. Had these tiny crowd games counted as their own separate season, the team’s record would’ve been 22-38.

Marlins Regular Season Splits, 2018-2019

Tiny Crowds (60 G) All Other Games (263 G)
Tiny Crowds (60 G) All Other Games (263 G)
.367 winning percentage .373 winning percentage
3.53 runs scored per game 3.77 runs scored per game
4.50 runs allowed per game 5.12 runs allowed per game

There is an amusing disparity in the Marlins’ results based on opponent. When facing NL East rivals in front of tiny crowds, they went 3-18:

  • 0-3 vs. the Braves
  • 0-7 vs. the Mets
  • 0-6 vs. the Nationals
  • 3-2 vs. the Phillies

Remove those from the sample and they were roughly a .500 team!

Unfortunately, the regionalized 2020 season schedule calls for even more divisional matchups than usual. The Marlins will play two-thirds of their games against these clubs that have been giving them so much trouble.

This past offseason, the Marlins made substantial personnel changes that should help them be more competitive. Eighteen members of their initial 60-man player pool are new to the organization, and nearly all of them have prior major league experience.

If the Fish are going to overachieve and make a serious run at snapping their agonizing postseason drought, it won’t be because COVID-19 did them any favors.