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.

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

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  • Smilinjayd

    Michael, Thanks for the recap. Nolasco’s game performance paints the perfect dilema between what statistics show and what actually happened. That’s what makes it so difficult to try and analyze any performer from traditional statistical views. I watched the game and thought he pitched very well. A strike is not merely throwing the ball over the plate between the top of the knees and just below the arm pits. The beauty of baseball is a strike is what the hitter will swing at and miss or foul off! Setting up pitches well in prior sequences, having hitters guessing wrong and pitch appearance after release all affect a hitters ability to select which pitches to make an attempt at. Ricky had hitters off balance most of the night. His pitches appeared to play off results in pop-ups on a very windy night. The lone run for the Phillies came off a mistake to Werth, late in the game. He quickly recovered and stopped any further damage. I felt like he was in control, worked his plan well and the defense did not let him down. The statistical analysis dilemna could also easily be applied to Moyer. Sure, he lost the game, but if not for a couple of bad pitches in the first inning it’s a different game entirely. Box score will show not so great a performance, but I thought otherwise. He quickly adjusted, as a veteran should and pulled the typical Moyer performance on the Marlins for the remainder of his game. The Marlins never mounted a threat outside of the 1st inning. That’s why I love baseball, complete with it’s rich statistical base. Your analysis of games from a statistical reference often create pause when reflecting on the actual game performances. With regards to Coghlin, his issues stem from his pitch selection. He is uncomfortable, unsure, and taking poor swings trying to put too many balls into play that last year he would have watched. Lastly, the traditional statistics of ERA, saves or wins are poor indicators of a pitchers true performance. Renyel is the ultimate example. How does he rank with inherited runners scoring compared to MLB and to other Marlin pitchers? I’m curious over his career and his recent history where he stacks in this category? It appears it would be impossible to be an effective reliever with opponents batting averages being high against you, when frequently you enter games with runners already on base. Yet, his ERA may suggest differently. I’d love to see a more comprehensive analysis of relievers from those perspectives. Thanks, Smilin Jay

    • Michael Jong

      Smilinjayd,

      Good point, you may be on to something there. I did indeed not get a chance to watch the game, but you are right that I did not check sequencing on Pitch f/x. If he looked good, he looked good, I can’t say much about that. You’d think he’d look better striking out more guys, however.

  • John Herold

    Pretty sure Nolasco’s slider from PitchFX is actually cutter (Learned from Wiley, he did some good in his tenure), which still gives it some use against LHP. Last year, he used it 16.6% of the time against lefties, which was about half of the amount against righties (32.4%). So nowhere near as much, but he doesn’t abandon it. Uses his curve and fast ball same amount, just uses his change against lefties while basically never using it against righties.

    It’s more or less semantics, but just saying.

    Actually, just googled:

    [Pitching coach Mark Wiley loves the fact Nolasco has three variations of a breaking pitch (curveball, slider, cutter) along with a mid-90s fastball.

    "He can do some stuff with it," Wiley said. "He calls it a cutter because it's a little different than his slider, which is a bigger, harder curveball ... His cutter, when he wants to go for a miss, he can take it straight down."]

    So it sounds like the pitch he throws to lefties and the pitch he throws to righties is different, but is similar enough that PitchFX labels it the same?

    Who knows.

    • Michael Jong

      John,

      The cutter is the so-called “mystery pitch” that Nolasco is apparently throwing. If it really acts like a cutter, and he can hone that pitch, we’ve got ourselves a winner. People who throw good cutters end up being good pitchers, regardless of their secondary stuff (see Danks, John and Floyd, Gavin). With Nolasco having above average secondary stuff (and a ton of it), a cutter would be a nice addition.

  • John Herold

    Pretty sure it’s why Nolasco took off in 2008. In his start against Tampa Bay is when he started throwing it, and that’s the game that started his amazing run.

    [Ricky Nolasco credits his recent success to a new pitch he hadn't relied on until this year -- the cut fastball.

    Nolasco said he threw his cutter Sunday during his best start of the season, when he struck out 12 in 8 2/3 innings against Tampa.

    "It's a big pitch for me because it gets in on those left- handers' hands," said Nolasco]

    http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/palm-beach-post/mi_8163/is_20080617/learning-pitch-pays-nolasco/ai_n51998410/

    • Michael Jong

      John,

      Don’t necessarily know about that, but it does help mitigate some of the problems he has with lefties. He does force more grounders against lefties, which could be attributable either to the cutter or change.