At the beginning of the year, if you had said that Dee Gordon would miss half the season and that Giancarlo Stanton would be an approximately league average hitter, it would probably have been pretty damn safe to assume that the Miami Marlins would not be in contention in 2016. After all, this team was essentially the poster boy for the “stars and scrubs” strategy. The top of the roster featured a number of stars, such as Gordon, Stanton, Jose Fernandez, and Christian Yelich, but the bottom half of the roster? Well, let’s just say not many people are excited to have Tom Koehler as your number-three starter, Dustin McGowan in your bullpen, and Chris Johnson as a top bat off of the bench.
But here they are, with Gordon suspended for half the season for PEDs, Stanton posting a league average OPS through his first 60 games, and shockingly, the Marlins are just a game out of a wild-card spot. But what has lead the Marlins to success while the team has been almost entirely without the help of two of their biggest stars?
An emulation of the Kansas City Royals, whether intentional or not, is the answer to that question. The Marlins lineup has taken on a vastly similar appearance to that of the reigning world champions, and it has paid off remarkably during the 2016 season.
The Marlins have essentially become a National League version of the 2014 and 2015 Kansas City Royals. The Marlins have created a team with a high batting average, little power, and low walk and strikeout rates.
|Stat||2014-15 Royals||2016 Marlins|
|Batting Average||.266 (3rd)||.271 (t-3rd)|
|ISO||.129 (t-25th)||.137 (t-27th)|
|BB%||6.3% (30th)||7.5% (23rd)|
|K%||16.1% (1st)||19.8% (t-7th)|
Admittedly this is not quite the revelation it appears to be, though. Hitting in a manner similar to how the Royals have isn’t a new strategy for the Marlins. Last season’s Marlins posted numbers that were right in line with their stats from this year.
|Stat||2015 Marlins||2016 Marlins|
|Batting Average||.260 (8th)||.271 (t-3rd)|
|ISO||.124 (29th)||.137 (t-27th)|
|BB%||6.3% (29th)||7.5% (23rd)|
|K%||19.2% (9th)||19.8% (t-7th)|
Though the numbers aren’t identical, the play style is clearly the same manner, and the team has managed to produce superior numbers in three of the four categories this year. By wRC+, 2016 has seen a rise in the offensive output from six out of the Marlins eight positions from last season. Stanton’s numbers have slid dramatically, and Adeiny Hechavarria has seen his AVG dip by around 40 points and his OPS by over 70, but the other five returning regulars from last year have raised their wRC+ and Derek Dietrich has even surpassed Gordon’s All-Star level production from 2015 as the new second baseman.
The Marlins have stuck with the same offensive pieces they held last year and it has lead the team into contention. The younger players, like Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Justin Bour, are growing into their full potential, and the veterans like Martin Prado and Ichiro Suzuki are having their most successful seasons in years. The Marlins trust in their own guys (or just owner Jeffrey Loria’s unwillingness to go out and get other, more expensive players) is paying off.
Whether or not the offense will continue to succeed throughout the season though is debatable. The team’s BABIP has spiked from .307 last year, to .322 so far on the 2016 season, a number which would have tied for the league lead last year, and players like Prado, J.T. Realmuto, and Dietrich have had exceptionally high spikes in their BABIP’s that are likely to regress their overall numbers to at least a certain degree.
While there is likely going to be a decline in the Marlins offense at some point, there is also reason to be optimistic going forward. Regression to the mean is likely to hurt several members of the lineup, but it is also likely to help the team’s biggest star, Stanton, who has struggled tremendously in 2016. And even if the teams numbers come back to Earth, we’ve also seen how successful this type of offense can be. The dramatic postseason runs of the Royals in each of the last two seasons provide anecdotal evidence that this strategy works, and the Marlins have a team that is built to foster the same type of offense. If the Marlins can stay healthy and acquire an arm or two for the pitching staff they have the potential to stay in contention right through the end of the season.