Marlins Are Quietly Making a Profit
The Miami Marlins aren't going to get a lot of media attention, not in an NL East dominated by the Washington Nationals and New York Mets. Heck, the Marlins aren't even the best underdog story in their own division - that honor so far belongs to the Philadelphia Phillies. But for baseball bettors, Miami is a gift that quietly keeps giving - with a 25-23 record and little respect from the market, the Marlins have turned a (+$411) profit for the season based on $100-per-game increments.
It's the combination of three young players and one outstanding starting pitcher that are the most noteworthy developments for Miami...
*Derek Dietrich has a stat line of .390 on-base percentage and .475 slugging percentage. The second baseman is 26-years-old and these numbers fit an early career pattern of improvement. This is Dietrich's fourth year in the major leagues and his on-base percentages have improved from .290 to .326 to .346 in the previous three years. Continued improvement is very natural at this stage of his career and now he's driving the ball for some power to boot.
*Christian Yelich is putting up MVP-caliber numbers, with a .423 OBP and .524 slugging percentage. The 24-year-old leftfielder has already been a quietly rising young star. His on-base percentages have been .360-plus in his first three years. The slugging percentage is off the charts, but it's worth noting that he's doing it primarily by hitting the ball into the gaps more frequently. Yelich is on a pace to hit 40 doubles and 15 home runs for the season. Previous years saw him around 30 & 8 respectively. Like Dietrich, this is a nice organic development of his career that's reasonable to expect at his age.
*Marcell Ozuna in centerfield is having a breakout year, with a .387 on-base percentage and .591 slugging percentage. We don't have the same pattern as Dietrich and Yelich where they were a few seasons of escalating performance beforehand. Still, Ozuna is a well-regarded prospect is only 25-years-old.
*Back in 2013, starting pitcher Jose Fernandez was all the rage. He made 28 starts and went 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA. He was the game's best young pitcher and making a case to be its best for any age. Then he underwent arm surgery and mostly disappeared, making just 19 starts over 2014-15. Fernandez is back and is good as ever. Through ten starts he's 7-2 with a 2.82 ERA.
These are the core four players that have the Marlins winning more than they lose on the field and making money for bettors at the window. You may have noticed a significant absence and that's rightfielder Giancarlo Stanton. One of baseball's best power hitters, Stanton has a good - though not great - slugging percentage of .481. But he is struggling at the plate generally with a .326 OBP. Stanton is an accomplished enough player that Marlins backers can see this as good news - even if one of the young players slips, a Stanton rise will more than offset it.
Miami is under new leadership in the dugout this season with Don Mattingly in charge. Mattingly seems much more content than he was in Los Angeles, dealing with a roster that was overpaid and lacking in depth. This one is also lacking in depth, but it's also filled with younger players who are ready to listen and the expectations are manageable. From the handicapping perspective, it's those manageable expectations - a euphemism for saying no one thinks the Marlins are really all that good - that's keeping them a value bet.
There's a very good chance the Marlins can continue to offer solid value. They have an excellent bullpen, with A.J. Ramos, David Phelps and Kyle Barraclough all pitching very well. They won't give games away and those names are low-profile enough that it won't alert the market. Another starting pitcher, Wei-Yin Chen, is capable of pitching better than his current 4.61 ERA suggests.
I don't suggest Miami is going to make the playoffs. There are legitimate depth concerns on the roster and especially the rotation. The National League is also too stacked at the top. That too, can work to our advantage - the market can take longer to adjust to teams that are not on the public radar. That means that on a nightly basis the Marlins at least need to be on your radar, because they're making a lot of savvy bettors very happy right now.
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