On Saturday night, the Marlins were on the verge of an ugly loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, which would have capped a would-be two-game sweep (the third game on Sunday afternoon was eventually rained out). Instead, the Fish were able to salvage a split of the shortened series with some timely clutch performances by the two best hitters on the team, Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla. The Fish-Cap is going to focus on this game’s late-inning drama.
Series Hero: Hard to choose just one, so I’ll give it to both Uggla (0.471 WPA) and Ramirez (0.435 WPA)
Series Goat: Ricky Nolasco (-0.311 WPA)
Impressed By: Uggla (8 PA, 3 H, 1 HR, 1 K)
Depressed By: Leo Nunez (1 IP, 2 R, 0 K, 0 BB, 4 H)
The Josh Johnson experience
Josh Johnson should not be overlooked in Saturday night’s victory, as he was a big proponent of the Marlins hanging on in the game. Johnson had the goods once again, going eight innings with five strikeouts and no walks or homers allowed. Eleven of Johnson’s 23 balls in play were on the ground, continuing his trend of being the rare fireballing, worm-killing pitcher. The Fish could not have been more happy with his performance, aside from a fourth-inning stumble in which he allowed four of his five hits.
A major question that was brought up during the game, and in particular after Nunez blew the save and gave the Cardinals the lead, was why the Marlins pulled Johnson in the ninth. After the game, Johnson mentioned that he was “exhausted” after eight innings of work, and thus was rightly pulled. However, guys like TV announcers Rich Waltz and Tommy Hutton and radio guy Dave Van Horne are not privy to that knowledge obviously, so their questions may hold some legitimacy
We know that pitchers pitch worse as the game continues, up until a certain point. We can assume that Johnson does so as well, though not as badly as the average pitcher perhaps (more skilled pitchers are likely to be more skilled in going through multiple lineup turns). When Felipe Lopez grounded out at the end of the eighth inning, Johnson was entering his fourth turn through the rotation. In the research in The Book, pitchers from 1999-2002 performed about average for their expectations when pitching the fourth time through the order. Johnson’s projected rest-of-season FIP is 2.74, while Nunez’ is 3.52. Just by looking at that and assuming both will perform at their projected values, you would expect Johnson to be superior by 0.09 runs compared to Nunez. However, if he was dead tired as he says, you would have to pull him and go with Nunez, as he is not that far inferior according to ZiPS.
The Twin Killings
You have to enjoy how quickly Uggla turned the game around. After Nunez had the Cards at two outs with runners at the corners (win expectancy for the Marlins: 83%), he faltered by allowing hits to Yadier Molina (.316 proj. wOBA) and Aaron Miles (.263). The saving grace came from a baserunning error by Molina which allowed the Marlins to catch him in a rundown betwen third and home. At that point, the odds of the Fish winning had dropped to 22.1%, not accounting for the likelihood that the Marlins are a bit worse than the Cards. Uggla comes in the next inning and takes an 0-1 pitch into left field, taking it an estimated true distance of 364 feet at rocket speed. That shot alone gave the Marlins 42% of the game back, giving us the advantage temporarily.
The Ramirez double came with one out in the inning in a big spot (LI 2.96). Fresh acquisition Chad Tracy had just singled after a Donnie Murphy foul-out (funny to hear Murphy’s name mentioned in late-game heroics, because he is not a very good hitter who just happened to run into a few good pitches late in games). Ramirez’ double into the right field gap took center fielder Colby Rasmus deep enough that even the slow-footed Tracy had time to dash home; Tracy was begining his headlong dive into the plate just as Rasmus’ flat-footed throw reached Miles at second base.