Given the background of the situation, I was surprised to see the Marlins play well enough to split two two-game series with the Arizona Diamondbacks and St. Louis Cardinals. The situation could have gone a whole lot worse had the twin performances of Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez not given the team excellent performances to support the hobbled offense.
Four-Game Hero: Josh Johnson (0.373 WPA)
Four-Game Goat: Cody Ross (-0.256 WPA)
Impressed By: Dan Uggla (18 PA, 5 H, 2 2B, 2 HR, 4 BB, 6 K)
Depressed By: Hanley Ramirez (for obvious reasons we will not discuss here)
Johnson, Sanchez dominate amidst Ramirez strife
Both Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez pitched in games during which the biggest Marlins news was about Hanley Ramirez. Despite the elephant in the stadium, both pitched very well. Johnson had yet another dominant performance, facing 25 batters in seven innings and striking out nine while walking just two. Johnson threw 104 pitches, 62 of them being his fastball, which was averaging in the mid 90’s. Johnson’s fastball and slider were making a mockery of the Arizona lineup, as those pitches combined to induce 15 swings and misses. The ground ball rate was not as impressive as expected from Johnson, but when you are striking out and dominating like he was, you can maybe let a few more fly balls pass.
However, the more surprising revelation was the play of Anibal Sanchez, who again dominated a lineup and struck out plenty of hitters. Sanchez pitched seven innings of shutout baseball, needing 118 pitches to face 27 batters. He struck out an impressive eight Cardinal batters while walking only two and again not allowing a home run. The whiffs count was encouraging, as Sanchez racked up 15 whiffs as well.
One interesting tidbit was that Sanchez threw 46 sliders during the game according to Pitch f/x, constituting a massive 39.0% of his pitches thrown. The preponderance of right-handed batters must have played some hand in how well Sanchez pitched, but when you are able to use such a strong same-handed weapon like a slider 46 times effectively (the pitch-type linear weights of the results of the slider yielded -2.6 runs compared to average), it should be indicative of Sanchez “being on” that evening. He got either a strike or ball in play in 71% of those 46 sliders and induced a whiff on eight of them.
Sanchez was able to locate 63.6% of his pitches within the generic strike zone laid out by Brooks Baseball, which played a role in the favorable walk rate. A lowered walk rate is the most important thing for Sanchez to control. At this point in the season, the primary reason for his success has been his suppression of the home run, something that his talents are not likely to be able to continue. But if Sanchez can keep his walk rates down, a 20% strikeout rate (something Sanchez with his stuff should be able to pull off) and a home run rate around the league average should yield the third rotation starter we’ve been looking for. Beware the injury problems, as always.
Dan Uggla muscling home runs
Two more home runs for Uggla during the pair of series, both during the games the Marlins won, brings his total to 11, tying him for fourth in all of baseball. Don’t look now, but Uggla has been the best hitter statistically on the Marlins for the past week or so; he currently stands with a .415 wOBA. Part of this is fueled by good variance (luck), as Uggla is unlikely to sustain his .320 BABIP and continue to hit home runs at this pace. That .290 batting average should go down, but it should be of no concern to Marlins fans. If Uggla can hit .270 by the end of the year, a .270/.360/.490 season is not out of reach. ZiPS is projecting a .253/.348/.479 line the rest of the way, good for a .364 wOBA that we have not seen since 2008. If that happens, you can peg Uggla for a .264/.357/.504 slash line that would be more than acceptable by Marlins fans.