Don't get me wrong--I'm a happy Marlins fan. The season is more successful than we had any right to expect. All Hail Larry Beinfest and Fredi Gonzalez!
They don't field the ball very well, and their starting pitching, until very recently, has been, to put it charitably, inconsistent. And, right now the bats are slumping. Their run differential is negative--the only team in either league that is still in contention that has a negative run differential.
But they're still in it! Why?
Short answer: I don't know. But, here are a few interesting stats about the Marlins as a team:
1. Today's starting pitchers aren't bad at all. They are all slightly better than league average, if you use the ERA+ stat at baseball-reference. Neither the Phillies nor the Mets can match that. Of course, there's a bit of spin in that assertion--three of the Marlins pitchers have relatively few innings. They are young, and they may not withstand the rigors of a pennant race. Volstad has pitched all season, and may begin to tire soon. Sanchez and Johnson are fresh arms, though. The fresh arms have got to be a plus for the Marlins.
2. Using the same ERA+ stat, the Marlins' bullpen is also better than league average:
Gregg, Pinto, Lindstrom, Miller, Waechter and Nelson are all above leave average. This is not too surprising, given the number of come-from-behind victories (33) the Marlins have had. The bullpen is solid. The Phillies' bullpen is better than the Marlins', but the Mets' is not. I don't think ERA is a very useful way to evaluate an individual relief pitcher--too few innings, and some of the runs may be charged to the pitcher he's replacing--but maybe using ERA to look at an entire bullpen isn't so bad.
As a team, the Marlins ERA+ is 93, the Mets 100, and the Phillies 113. The Marlins number includes an aggregate of 266 innings (out of a total of 1064) pitched by Andrew Miller, Mark Hendrickson, and Burke Badenhop. Obviously, since Miller and Badenhop aren't pitching at all, and Hendrickson is a mop up guy, the season long ERA+ probably underestimates the current strength of the pitching staff.
3. Based on the OPS+ stat at baseball reference, the Marlins starting lineup is above average at every position except catcher. At catcher, John Baker is above average, Treanor and Hoover are not. Luis Gonzalez (off the bench) is also an above average hitter by the OPS+ measure. Neither the Mets nor the Phillies are above average at as many positions as the Marlins. Of course, both the Mets and the Phillies have individual players that score higher on OPS+. But as a team, the Marlins are at 106, the Mets are at 107 and the Phillies are at 103.
Unfortunately, there's no getting around the fact that they have given up 52 unearned runs. Only Arizona (which is in first place), Cincinnati and Washington have given up more.
The Mets, the Phillies, and the Marlins are all 5-5 for the last 10 games. Only one of the three is likely to make it to the playoffs (the wild card will almost certainly come from the central division). While the Phillies are slight favorites, the race is nearly a toss up. Florida is 12-12 against the other two (5-7 against the Mets, 7-5 against the Phils).
The Phils lead the Mets by a game and the Marlins by a game and a half. One can create some really interesting and bizarre stats by comparing payroll to W-L record. The Mets have one more victory than the Marlins, and a payroll that is probably a bit north of $100 million greater than the Marlins. The frugal Phils have only spent about $70 million or so more than the Marlins for their game and a half edge. Even if the Marlins don't win it, this is an amazing accomplishment. The '97 team had a pretty big payroll, and even the '03 team was below the median, but not in the bottom 10.
There's another set of bizarre stats that you can generate by combining W-L records with attendance. The Marlins average just under 16,000 at home, and just under 33,000 on the road. I wonder if there has ever been a contending team in any sport that has drawn twice as well on the road as it does at home.
Who knew there were so many Marlins Maniacs scattered around the country?