Would the Marlins have made the playoffs in a full season? A statistical argument

We watched the Miami Marlins overcome all of the odds and make the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. Along the way, we had two Gold Glove nominees (Brian Anderson and Miguel Rojas) and the *soon to be NL Manager of the Year (Don Mattingly). This run by the Marlins sparked a lot of questions. Can we do it again? Would this have been a reality in a 162 game season? Are we actually this good?


At this point, there is no point in meticulously analyzing how the Marlins did what they did; rather, I find it useful to use the information available to us in order to look ahead to what they can do next year. This team had a completely different look from the Marlins teams of previous years. This means that our sample size of stats is extremely small. That’s not good for predicting anything, let alone an entire team’s future. So instead of predicting the unpredictable based on internal Marlins stats, I will compare this Marlins team and their statistical rankings to teams of the past 5 years. In order to grasp how good the Marlins actually were, we can compare them to other teams who were similarly statistically through 60 games. Then, by extrapolating the most relevant data, we can show where the Marlins most likely would have ended up had the season gone 162. We will look at the main statistics that drive team success: wRC+, x-FIP, and team WAA.


wRC+ (True batting stat)


Weighted runs created plus is a major stat that influences team success. It is a statistic very similar to runs created, although it accounts for ballparks and era. A wRC+ of 100 is league average, whereas 150 is 50% above that average.


Through the Marlins 60 games, they had a wRC+ of 95. This was good enough for 18th in all of baseball (and 5th in the NL East). We will use this statistic to compare the offensive output of this Marlins team to other teams that draw parallels.


Teams that we will compare this Marlins team wRC+ to:


  1. 2019 Nationals

I know. This is quite a bold comparison. But you guessed it, through half of the 2019 season the World Series champs had a wRC+ of 95 (the same as the Marlins, but good enough for 16th place in all of baseball). 


It is important to note that the Nationals finished the regular season with a second-half wRC+ of 113 which was good enough for 4th in all of baseball. This turn around is unprecedented and one that may have been the rare outlier. The Nationals fell back to their statistical mean in 2020, however, finishing in the last place in the NL East. An interesting observation can be made here. The Marlins may have slipped from their statistical mean in these 60 games, allowing themselves to propel into the playoffs. It would not be a shocking revelation that they, like the Nats, could fall back into their true average. 


Result: 93-69, 2nd in NL East, World Series Champions

  1. 2018 Pirates

This one may make a little more sense. Through the first half of the 2018 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a wRC+ of 95 good enough for 14th in all of baseball. They followed a much more similar path to this Marlins team.


The reason that this team provides such a good comparison is because of who was on it. Corey Dickerson, Starling Marte, and Francisco Cervelli all were Pirates in 2018. These 3 guys accounted for a bulk of our offense, especially the former two. I’ll take this moment to shoutout and congratulate Francisco Cervelli on an amazing career: Thank you! This Pirates team stayed consistent, posting a 96 wRC+ in the second half. Had we done this as well, especially with the tough NL East, we may have ended in a similar spot.


Result: 82-79, 4th in NL East, Missed Playoffs


  1. 2017 Diamondbacks


The Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017 had a wRC+ of 94 through the first half of the season. Their below average wRC+ is comparable to the Marlins, and unlike the 2019 Nats, this team did not propel forward afterward. They finished the season with a 96 wRC+, leaving them in 2nd place in the NL West, which was good enough for a Wild Card Birth. This shows that if the Marlins would have kept this pace going, they could have found themselves in a playoff spot after a 162 game season.


Result: 93-69, 2nd in NL West, Lost in NLDS (Hmmm… Sounds familiar)


Based off of wRC+, the Marlins were most likely good enough this year to at worst end .500 and whiff the playoffs due to the larger sample size of games that would have allowed teams like the Mets and Phillies (both top 10 in wRC+) to heat up and surpass them. Likewise, you could make the case they could have won the World Series as well, although the mean implies that their offensive output most likely would have led to a similar route to that of the 2018 Diamondbacks and lead to a loss in the NLDS. 

x-FIP (true pitching statistic)


So, basically, x-FIP can be applied almost the same way we do ERA. Inherently, it is the same statistic as ERA, but it factors out defensive errors and other aspects that pitchers cannot control. A 5.00 x-FIP is awful and a 2.70 x-FIP is fantastic. Apply the same structure of thought to x-FIP as to ERA. Say a pitcher has a 3.10 ERA and a 2.65 x-FIP. We can conclude he will probably lower his ERA eventually as he works back to his statistical mean.


This is where things start to look bad. The Marlins had a whoppingly high 4.90 x-FIP. This was bad enough for 26th in the entire league this season. In order to maintain consistency, we will compare the Marlins x-FIP to the same teams we did before, to see if they differed in any way.


  1. 2019 Washington Nationals


This is most likely the reason that the Marlins would not have experienced a similar run to that of the Washington Nationals. The Nats had an x-FIP of 4.29, good enough for 6th in the league their first half of play. Surprisingly, it rose during their stupendous 2nd half run to 4.38 and 11th in the league. It looks like their hitting turnaround carried them in the 2nd half. The Marlins don’t have that luxury. Also, to be completely frank, the difference between the Nationals and Marlins x-FIP is staggering. Because of this, we could probably eliminate a World Series run.


  1. 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates


The Pirates had an even better x-FIP than the Nats, putting up a 4.14 in the first half of the season in 2018 that was good enough for 16th in the league. They were 13th in the league to finish it off, showing that they were in fact the middle of the road team. This Pirates team was good, but just not good enough due to an extremely tough division in 2018. This sounds quite familiar and is the most accurate comparison to this Marlins team through 60 games when it comes to pitching ability.


  1. 2017 Arizona Diamondbacks


In the first half of their NLDS run, the Diamondbacks were 3rd in the league in x-FIP at 3.81. In the 2nd half, they were just as good, finishing 5th with an x-FIP of 3.94. The Marlins are nowhere near this reality, and because of that, their similarities on the offensive end are completely overshadowed. Because of the Marlins division being extremely strong, and through 60 we got lucky they played well below their statistical average, we can assume that this Marlins team’s pitching would have struggled later on, as they regressed to their statistical average.


Team WAA (WAR but team-based)


By looking at pitching and hitting statistics individually, it shows that our hitting was just good enough for a Wild Card/NLDS appearance and our pitching was good enough to get dead last in the division. Between those two statistics alone, it is clear through 162 that we would not have been a playoff team. Let’s take a look at one final cumulative stat (WAA – wins above average) in order to solidify these observations.


The Marlins were 20th in WAA at -1.5. This means that on average they., as a team, would have produced 1.5 less wins than the league average. Doesn’t look too optimal if you ask me.


Let’s make our final comparisons:

  1. 2019 Washington Nationals


The Nationals WAA was 14.8, good enough for 5th place. We would not have gone on their type of run in a 162 game season.


  1. 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates


The Pirates had a WAA of -.9. This was good enough for 18th place in the league, and we can draw similarities to this Marlins team just as the two previous stats have.


  1. 2017 Arizona Diamondbacks


The D-Backs topped all 4 of these teams with a WAA of 15.7 in 2017, good enough for 6th in the league. The Marlins would most likely not have been able to maintain a level of play anywhere near this.


In Conclusion


The Miami Marlins played above their statistical average in 2020. Yes, it was an amazing ride, but sadly it may not be sustainable. Their true means lie closest to the Pittsburgh Pirates of 2018, a team that went 82-79 and missed the playoffs in a tough division. Making rough estimates, we could have probably expected a 76-86 2020 season had it gone full. I know using these stats may seem irrelevant, but stats like x-FIP are most likely the reason the Miami Marlins will not resign Brandon Kintzler (he had a 2.22 ERA, but an x-FIP in the 5s meaning he is due for regression). Hopefully, this was informative as it provides a baseline for what the Marlins truly were this year. It shows us that there is room for growth. And that’s all we can ask for.


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