Marlins limiting JJ’s pitches: Good or Bad?


The Marlins pulled ace Josh Johnson after five innings and 89 pitches for the second start in a row last night versus the Washington Nationals. In JJ’s previous start, also versus the Nats, Johnson finished the fifth inning with 82 pitches but was also pulled. Some thought there was injury involved, but the team has said it’s nothing of the sort, and other than some longer than usual counts, I don’t think so either. JJ’s start two starts back versus the Nats was uncharacteristic, but last night’s game was solid JJ. He struggled a bit more with his command, hence issuing a rather high four walks. However, he also struck out eight Nationals, inducing 10 whiffs in the process. Of the ten balls in play, JJ kept it six on the ground and did not allow a line drive (according to Retrosheet), although he did let through an Adam Dunn homer. It was one of JJ’s more mediocre starts, but it was still a damn good one.

No, JJ was not injured or ineffective. In fact, it appears the Marlins have begun the plan to prevent him from getting injured or ineffective.

“[Eighty nine] pitches in five innings, at this stage in the season, you have to keep an eye on him,” [Marlins manager Fredi] Gonzalez said. “It’s a concern, and the guy has over 188 innings and has never done it coming off surgery. You have to be aware of those situations.”

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Should Josh Johnson get more time on the bench after his worload this year?

Yes, it appears that the Marlins have made Johnson’s new pitch count limit around 80 pitches. It seems like they’re still trying to get him into the fifth inning to line him up for a win. Fredi Gonzalez mentions that Johnson had never gone up this many innings and never done it after surgery, all of which are very true. If you’re a big fan of the Verducci Effect, named after Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci, you’d agree that a combination of having pitched way more than 30 innings more than the previous year and having been out much of that previous year with Tommy John surgery would constitute a major pitching risk the following year.

But from the way speaks about it, you’d think he isn’t bothered at all.

The Marlins’ ace was consistently between 95-97 mph on his fastball throughout his entire outing. And even though he’s already surpassed his previous career-high of 157 innings in 2006 by 31 1/3 frames, Johnson said his arm “feels great.”

And he wanted to be out there.

“Absolutely I want to be out there,” said Johnson, who pitched 87 1/3 Major League innings coming off Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery last year. “That’s just the competitor I am, but there’s nothing I can do about it. There’s nothing I’m going to say that’s going to change their mind.

“I understand where they’re coming from, but at the same time, I want to be out there. If we lose the game, I want it to be on me. Not to go to the bullpen that early. But there’s just nothing I can do about it.”

Obviously, he’s not going to say to the media, “Yeah, I’m tired, they should pull me, because I don’t think I can compete and help the team at this stage in the season.” That would sound extremely odd. My guess is that Johnson is extremely competitive and wants to be out there helping his team, especially given that the club is in the back end of a playoff race, however one-sided that race probably is.

It’s an interesting situation for the Marlins coaching staff and front office. With 21 games back, Johnson is likely in line for another four starts after last night’s. Those are four possible wins for the Marlins that Johnson can provide, and if the team wants to stay in contention, they’ll need every win they can get. Obviously, Johnson gives us the best chance for victory.

However, at the same time, the Marlins should be careful with Johnson’s workload. Outside of Hanley Ramirez, JJ is the franchise’s most prominent player, and I’m certain the team is thinking about a deal to at least buy out his arbitration years along with perhaps two of his free agent seasons. If the club is indeed thinking about an extension, it would obviously be in the best interest of both parties involved for Johnson to be careful this season and temper his work.

The Marlins are in this sort of predicament because the Marlins are on the very fringes of the playoff race. Coolstandings.com as of today has the Marlins at a 5% chance of winning the division and a 1.2% chance of winning the Wild Card. That’s only 6.1% of their chances, but given what has previously occurred in the NL East in terms of division races, most fans figure even 5.5 games back is perfectly possible. So the Fish have a miniscule chance at winning a playoff spot in a realistic sense, but from a fan’s perspective the team is still well in the race, especially since the team has the Philadelphia Phillies for six games during the remaining 21 games. The Marlins brass does not want to disappoint by showing that they’ve given up on the season, even though realistically they could. However, they also don’t want to risk Johnson’s health. Which is more important?

The answer, of course, is Johnson. The team has said before that if the club was close (and I presume that would mean around two or three back) the club would go all out with their staff. But the odds are pretty slim for the Marlins, and the team still needs to focus on the future, as terrible as that may sound to the fans. But if the Fish really are interested in getting Johnson to stay with the team for another four years, it will be extremely important that he recovers fully from surgery and remains as healthy as he’s appeared this season. It’s a must that the team limit his innings; as painful as losses like last night’s were, it would be infinitely more painful if we lost Johnson for a year after inking him to a potential deal.

H/T: MLB.com

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Tags: Fredi Gonzalez Josh Johnson Miami Marlins Philadelphia Phillies

  • JoeA

    Michael,

    I’m with you. I think the Fish should err on the side of caution. If they aren’t any closer to the Phils after his next start I think they should consider shutting him down. The good news is the team seems to be aware in this instance.

  • michaeljong

    JoeA,

    Yea, that’s more or less the path I would take. It’s been a good season for JJ, but we don’t want to risk losing him for any longer. We already were robbed of a year of Johnson thanks to Girardi.

  • Stan Makowski

    Michael,
    I agree with JoeA. It’s one thing to watch a youngster’s pitch count, and quite another to monitor a youngster who just recovered from surgery.
    And very quickly at that! I’m terribly afraid that there is more to this.

    It was too late to remark about your assessment of Presley as a hitting coach last night. I wasn’t thinking of his effect on Bono at all. Rather I would like to see Uggla and Cody flail away less with a runner on second. The same was true of Jacobs last year. You might remember that the TV fellows remarked earlier this year about how Hanley was now making a greater attempt to simply get a hit , especially to RF with a runner on 2B. And what I feel was important was that it wasn’t Presley who worked with him but rather it was either Tony Perez or Andrew Dawson. And it seems to have worked well.

    I guess the overall point with my suggestions yesterday was that if we must have a mediocre manager, let’s at least surround him with quality coaches.

    One thing you could problably work out with your stat analysis. I think Uggla should at least sometimes swing at the 3 and 0 pitch. He might be the best “cripple” hitter in the league. Yet, he invariably takes such a pitch and often later strikes out on a pitch that wasn’t even a strike. I’d love your opinion and/or analysis there.

  • michaeljong

    Stan,

    Checking out Uggla’s stuff on 3-0 would involve using some Pitch f/x business, which I am inexperienced with at the moment. However, this offseason I’ll be working on downloading the Pitch f/x data files since the league started tracking them a few seasons ago. If I can get all of that data on Excel, I might be able to show you a trend. It’s one of the best uses of Pitch f/x, in my opinion.

    With regards to Cody and Uggla, I hate to change a way player plays, especially since they’re already fairly efficient. Tinkering with swings is a scary proposition, and I just can’t imagine having these guys choke up more often without potentially messing them up. I’m sure they’re trying to some degree, but sluggers are sluggers. Sometimes you got to let them be. But I will agree with giving Fredi better coaches to help with his decision making; he just doesn’t do a good job of that.

  • Stan Makowski

    Michael,
    Here’s one that requires imput from old farts like me. I simply don’t remember players diving for the ball back in the dark ages. Especially infielders.I’m talking back in the 50s. DiMaggio was not known to ever having to dive. Baloney! I watched hundreds of games and I simply can’t picture those dives. Do any of your followers have anything to say about this?

  • michaeljong

    Stan,

    Here’s what it could be. It’s either that players back then had more or less range than in these days. My guess is that the average major league had less range back then than they do now, so players nowadays are getting to more balls in general then they were back then, and thus they have more of a chance at balls and are diving at those just outside their range.

    I’m talking about the average player. Not implying that Brooks Robinson or Willie Mays had less range.

  • Stan Makowski

    Michael,
    There is no doubt that ballplayers today are greater athletes and also they have much larger gloves. With regard to range, I don’t know. In the infield quickness is also a factor. In the OF, I think CF of years ago actually might have covered more ground for 2 reasons. Corner outfielders were MUCH poorer then so the CF had to make up for it. And CFs of years past went back on a ball much more adroitly that todays player. With a few exceptions, it’s a lost art…therefore CFs now play deeper and more balls fall in front of them. Compare most CFs of today with Andruw Jones of a few years ago and you’ll understand what I mean. Also, the reverse of your position might actually hold more validity. If players covered less ground, wouldn’t they then have had to dive more, not less to get to a ball? No, I think it was simply custom…they just didn’t do it according to my recollection. That’s sort of what I’m asking. Are my recollections valid? Did they dive less; not the reasons why. Maybe I’m wrong. Let’s watch for it when viewing old games which now show up on TV quite a bit and isn’t that wonderful?
    Your position regarding athletes of today is absolutely true when comparing First basemen and corner outfielders…especially in LF. You wouldn’t believe how bad some were. Hank Sauer (an MVP) and Gus Zernial and Dick Stewart (Dr. Strangeglove or Old Ironhands) come immediately to mind. The Ryan Howard of past years would be a good example of what most 1st Basemen were like years ago. Some exceptions were Ferris Fain, Vic Power and Gil Hodges. Have you seen that Anderson from the LAA in LF for Atlanta? He’s the worst fielder I’ve seen in quite a few years.
    You mention Mays as an example of greatness. Yes, but when you get a chance, check out Richie Ashburn’s putouts vs. Mays. And in NY, the Polo Grounds had far more territory than Shibe Park. When Mays came up, he was roundly criticized for cutting in front of RF Don Mueller, then spinning all around to throw…and was in poor position to do so and his momentum meant that he couldn’t get enough on his throws. He broke the habit soon enough. I only point that out to illustrate that he wasn’t flawless and totally natural. Like most others, he had a few things to learn. I even remember DiMaggio renning into far Left Centerfield to make a running catch, then running in with his head down thinking it was the third out. It wasn’t and Nellie Fox (I think) scampered home before he realized his error. Even the Yankee Clipper wasn’t completely flawless,