A few words on the Marlins’ run differential: Part TwoBy
In part one of what is now a two part series, we examined the Marlins surprisingly poor run differential here. While the numbers have changed slightly since then, the basic point remains: for a team that has been outscored by about 100 runs this season, the Marlins have a much better record than would be expected. According to Baseball Prospectus’ Adjusted Standings, the Marlins have won about 4.2 games more than their run differential would suggest. Likewise, ESPN’s Expected Win-Loss, a metric also based off a team’s run differential, estimates the Marlins “true record” to be 55-76–a far cry from the team’s actual 59-72 mark.
So how have the Marlins managed to create such a disparity?
As Mark Normandin explains over at SB Nation, there are a few ways a team can outperform its expected record, as the Marlins have, given its run differential:
There can be [differences between WP% and run differential] along the way, and in either direction, for a variety of reasons: great bullpens helping to win a multitude of close games, lineups inconsistent with their run scoring whose run differential is built from a few blowouts, or just plain luck, good or bad, with runners in scoring position.
By taking a look at each possible explanation mentioned above, we can gain a better understanding of how the Marlins have played above their Pythagorean record. (As a primer on Pythagorean record, read this. For now though, suffice to say it is an estimation of a team’s talent level based on run differential, and is very similar to Baseball Prospectus’ Adjusted Standings and ESPN’s Expected Win-Loss.)
Runners in Scoring Position
The Marlins hitting with runners in scoring position is almost identical to the ballclub’s overall season batting line, meaning clutch hitting has been the cause of very little, if any, of the team’s over performance. As a whole, this 2012 group has hit .244/.309/.385 for a OPS of .694. With runners in scoring position, they’ve produced at a rate of .233/.329/.358 for a .687 OPS.
Over 1200 plate appearances, the Marlins tOPS+ in opportunities with RISP is exactly 100, meaning the players have hit about the same in such chances as their overall line.
Furthermore, hitting in late & close situations–defined as plate appearances in the 7th or later with the batting team tied, ahead by one, or the tying run at least on deck–the team has produced a 102 tOPS+; a rate just 2 percent better relative to the season’s totals, and nothing that would be responsible for the Marlins over performance.
The Bullpen and Close Games
The bullpen, on the other hand, has been quite successful in critical situations, and is at the root of the Marlins beating their run differential record. In late and close situations, defined the same as before, the staff has allowed a .243/.371/.693 slash line, almost 10% percent better than the relievers overall numbers.
Marlins pitchers shutting down the opposition at key times has led to one of the MLB’s top records in close and extra inning contests; Miami is 9-3 in extra frames, and is 33-28 in games decided by two runs or less.*As explained above, winning lots of close games with a good bullpen is one way to outperform a team’s run differential, and it seems that is the recipe the Marlins have followed so far.
*Yet despite the Marlins prowess in close games, the team still has one of the worst run differentials in the league, the result of losing 22 “blowouts”–games decided by five runs or more–while winning just seven.
However, expecting the Marlins to continue to win close games is an quite another thing. As Russell A. Carlton discussed on Monday at Baseball Prospectus, teams who win many one-run games, such as the Fish, most likely got lucky, and are not inherently better at playing in tight contests.
Data from Baseball-Reference, BP, and ESPN