After the high of the Washington Nationals series, you would have liked to see some “momentum” going for the Fish as they went on the road to visit the Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately, the Reds played significantly better and beat us pretty badly over the weekend. Each game had something to complain about, but I’d like to look at two particular things from the first two games of the series.
Series Hero: I could bother to add up everyone’s WPA, but no one was a hero in this series
Series Goat: Gaby Sanchez (-0.646 WPA)
Impressed By: Mike Stanton (12 PA, 6 H, 2 2B, 2 HR, 3 K)
Depressed By: Josh Johnson (3 2/3 IP, 6 R, 0 K, 2 BB, 0 HR)
Game 1: Johnson’s bad outing
This was by far Josh Johnson’s worst outing of the season. In just 3 2/3 IP, JJ allowed 10 hits, struck out no one while walking two, and allowed six Reds to score. Oddly, Johnson still induced plenty of whiffs on his pitches, getting 10 swinging strikes out of his 92 pitches. Watching the ESPN Baseball Tonight show that evening, the problem that was pointed out was location. Indeed, there were some pitches that were hit that ended up being in poor locations.
However, it is not entirely unbelievable that some of those same pitches would turn into foul balls. Johnson also wasn’t hit all that hard when the Reds put the bat on the ball. He allowed 12 ground balls out 17 balls in play, more than acceptable. This time around, they simply squirted through for hits rather than finding defenders this time around.
There was some concern from the Marlins commentators that Johnson may be tiring after a second straight season of a heavy workload. Sure, it could be that he is tiring. Last season, he had a mediocre month by his standards in September as well, when there were some in the Marlins camp (myself included) that were interested in resting Johnson in the last month of the year. But the truth is more likely that he is simply regressing to the mean and/or running into some bad luck. This particular game shows that even when you get swings and misses, a few poor locations strung together in one inning can really kill your outing. Expect a brtter Johnson next time out.
Game 2: Two pitches, three outs
The Marlins played better in this game and stayed close into the ninth inning. With the score 5-3 in favor of the Reds to start the inning, the Fish came out swinging. Emilio Bonifacio walked (!) and went to third on a Hanley Ramirez single, which was then followed by a Logan Morrison walk. We ended up with the bases loaded with no one out and Gaby Sanchez, one of the team’s best hitters this season, at the plate. At that point, the Fish had forced their way to about a 42.4% chance of winning. The expected number of runs scored in that inning, presuming average pitching and hitting, was 1.81 runs according to the run expectancy charts used at FanGraphs.
In that situation, the worst thing that can happen is a ground ball leading to a double play. Sanchez has an average strikeout rate, but you don’t necessarily mind the strikeout in that situation, at least compared to a grounder. Also, because the bases are juiced, you would also figure that Sanchez, whose other major batting tool is his good plate discipline, would wait out an appropriate pitch to hit. Unfortunately, Sanchez instead took the first pitch he saw and hit it on the ground to the third base side, and one of the best infields in baseball (Scott Rolen, Paul Janish, and Brandon Phillips are each Gold Glove-caliber defenders) doubled up the Fish with ease. That double play ate 30% of the Marlins’ chances of winning, even though it did deliver a run from third. It was directly followed by a one-pitch popup, with a runner still on third, by Dan Uggla, ending the game. It was the quickest way to end the game, and it was a complete disappointment.