Fish-Cap: Marlins Surprise Phillies (and Me)

With the Marlins’ 2-0 win today, the team leaves Philadelphia having taken two of three in the opening series versus the Philadelphia Phillies. Even though we should be impressed by the solid series win, I think there are still some concerns that need to be fixed if we are to stay competitive into the later part of the season. Let’s take a look at what happened in this series.

Series Hero: Burke Badenhop (.336 WPA)
Series Goat: John Baker (-.204 WPA)
Impressed By: Dan Uggla (12 PA, 6 H, 1 2B, 2 HR)
Depressed By: Chris Coghlan (8 PA, 0 H, 1 K)

Nolasco, Robertson not as impressive as the box score

I’ll admit I did not catch Game 2 of the series for reasons beyond my control, but when I saw that the Marlins had won 5-1, I figured that Ricky Nolasco came out and dominated. Game 2 was the one game I suspected we would win, and with the score the way it was, I figured the game played out as I expected in my head. I was dismayed when I read Ricky’s rather mediocre complete game line:

9 IP, 1 R, 5 H, 4 K, 3 BB, 1 HR

That line does not scream “impressive ace performance” to me, and neither should it to you. Ricky threw 103 pitches, 26 of which were put into play. Of those 103 pitches, Ricky only put 55% of them in the zone, a little below his average. In addition, he only picked up four whiffs, all on fastballs. When you consider the lefty-heavy lineup he was facing, it should not come as a surprise. The slider that would typically induce plenty of whiffs was left out of the game plan when facing the switch-hitters and lefties in the Phillies’ lineup. Still, for his career, Nolasco struck out 18.6% of lefties, presumably using only his fastball, changeup, and curve. The strikeout total was disappointing, even if the rest of the numbers were acceptable given the superior lineup and the platoon disadvantage.

At least Ricky had the platoon excuse; Robertson just did not pitch well. The final line was very unimpressive:

6 1/3 IP, 4 H, 4 K, 4 BB, 0 HR

To be fair, the Phillies did rest Raul Ibanez, giving Robertson only two true lefties to work against (Ryan Howard and Chase Utley). Against those guys, Robertson did very well:

4 PA, 0 H, 2 K, 0 BB

The other two outs were ground outs. In fact, the one positive note for Robertson was that he induced 14 ground balls in total, something that might have helped mitigate the issues he had with the right-handed middle and bottom of the lineup. Robertson put 53.2% of his pitches in the zone against righties, and even picked up eight chases out of the zones and five total whiffs against them. Perhaps he was just hit hard when they did make contact, but this issue is still something to keep an eye on.

The Hopper: Series Hero?

Sure, since I used the WPA criterion, it worked out that way. Still, Badenhop came into a critical situation in Sunday’s game and worked out the jam. Stepping in for Robertson in the seventh inning, Badenhop was faced with runners on first and second with only one out, trying to preserve a 1-0 lead. Facing him at the plate were Placido Polanco and Utley. Fortunately for the Hopper, he was able to make quick work of them, inducing two fly outs in five pitches.

This is the third time the Marlins have sent Badenhop for multiple innings following a Robertson start. This may be a policy the team wants to keep up in the future, though in this case it may have been wiser to go to a lefty first, with Utley and Howard among the first three hitters Badenhop had to face. We discussed Badenhop’s large platoon split, and forcing him to face lefties just does not play to his strengths.

How long until fans turn on Chris Coghlan?

Coghlan had another disappointing series, going 0-for-the series with one strikeout. Of course, I won’t put too much weight into the early going of the season; I’d sooner chalk up Coghlan’s struggles to bad luck rather than some mechanical flaw. However, I wonder if other Marlins fans will be so patient. I recall the most vocal (and obnoxious) of Marlins fans calling for Dan Uggla’s head when he began 2009 in an absolute struggle, and Danny eventually turned out fine, finishing the year with a .354 wOBA. Of course, Danny has a polarized plate approach that the casual fan does not appreciate, while Coghlan leans more towards contact rather than power for his game outside of plate patience. Still, if he continues to struggle for a week or two more, will Marlins fans call for him to be benched or sent down to the minors? Will they think these issues are something more than just a slump, magnified because the slump started at the beginning of the season? Could the team also feel that way and give Coghlan the 2009 Cameron Maybin treatment?

My gut says the answer to these questions is “no.” The fans are too endeared to the defending Rookie of the Year to turn on him because of a prolonged slump (shows how fans play their favoritism game), and the team is smart enough (hopefully) to realize that as well. In addition, the Marlins simply do not have the depth at outfield to handle a demotion like that for a significant stretch. The team needs Coghlan, and they should eventually be happy with what they see again.

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Tags: Burke Badenhop. Chris Coghlan Miami Marlins Nate Robertson Philadelphia Phillies Ricky Nolasco

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