2010 Marlins Season Review: Pitching

We finally finish our second annual season review with a bit on the effectiveness of the Marlins’ pitching staff. The pitching staff had a couple of bright spots amid some depressing lowlights, so let’s go over a few of those areas.

Team Runs Allowed: 717
Team ERA: 4.09
Team FIP: 3.92
Team xFIP: 4.28
Team defense adjusted RA*: 4.37 (4.02 adjusted ERA)
Team fWAR: 18.0
Team rWAR: 14.7

*Note: This was calculated from data available at Baseball-Reference. Defense-adjusted RA = RA + Rdef (the defensive runs above/below average via TotalZone for the season). Number provided is scaled per nine innings. Adjusted ERA was calculated by multiplying by 0.92, the approximate ER/R rate per season.

Starter ERA: 4.14
Starter FIP: 3.83
Starter xFIP: 4.21

Reliever ERA: 4.01
Reliever FIP: 4.08
Reliever xFIP: 4.39

The Marlins were two sides of a coin in terms of pitching this season. On the one hand, the starters were solid once again this year, led by staff ace Josh Johnson with an excellent contribution from Anibal Sanchez. While Ricky Nolasco did not have the bounceback season most of us anticipated going into 2010, his season was far more respectable in terms of pure results than the oddly disastrous 2009.

In 2009, the starting staff aside from Johnson and second-half Nolasco was awful, but the bullpen remained a strong point until the second half of the season. This year, it was the exact opposite. The pen was disastrous in the early going, which ended up masking a solid return to respectability closing in on the end of the season. Only four players in the pen performed well enough to warrant a spot next year, while the remaining three slots went to a multitude of pitchers who could not hold their weight.

Best Performance: Josh Johnson

As much as I would love to honor Anibal Sanchez for his 195 innings of much-improved work, it would have been impossible to deny Josh Johnson recognition for another outstanding season. JJ was a monster once more for the Fish, posting a shiny 2.30 ERA that was not all that far off from an equally impressive 2.41 FIP. Much of that impressive mark was due to his fluky low home run rate; Johnson allowed just seven homers in 183 innings. Nevertheless, his 3.15 xFIP and 3.07 SIERA suggest that he has pitched pretty damn well regardless of low homer rates.

The rest of JJ’s 2010 success rests on his bump in strikeout rates. Johnson struck out more than one batter per nine innings, whiffing 25.1% of batters faced. This eclipsed his 2009 mark by 2.7% (22.4% last season), an impressive feat given his already excellent strikeout rates. Tack on a lower walk rate to that number (6.1%) and the aforementioned low home run total and you have yourself an ace pitcher capable of excelling in each aspect of the three true outcomes. All of this led to a 6+ WAR campaign (in both rWAR and fWAR) and inclusion in the discussion for the NL Cy Young award.

The only downside to this year is that Johnson’s GB% dropped to 45.7% from a career high of 50.1% last year. However, he has not changed his approach of using that blazing fastball to induce grounders by staying low in the zone, so there should not be much fear with regards to that stat. While it would be crazy not to expect regression for 2011, it is safe to say that Johnson has arrived as a premier pitcher in the MLB and should be dominating for the Fish for the next few years.

Worst Performance: The Bullpen

Look, you cannot blame Leo Nunez and Clay Hensley for the disaster the bullpen has turned in this season. While both players have played extremely well this season (both rWAR and fWAR have them worth around 3 – 3.5 WAR this season combined), the rest of the pen has been a disaster. In the early going, the Marlins could not find anyone to bridge the gap from the starters, some of whom were not lasting into the sixth consistently, to the excellent relief work in the eighth and ninth innings. The Fish sent out guys like Jose Veras (who ended the season fairly well actually), Jorge Sosa, Renyel Pinto, and Tim Wood, all of whom struggled to prevent runs.

This aspect can be seen in FanGraphs’ Shutdowns/Meltdowns stat. While the Fish were among the league leaders in getting out of tight jams (133 Shutdowns, eighth in the majors), they were equally bad at allowing them to happen (78 Meltdowns, fourth highest in the majors). As a result, the Marlins’ SD/(SD+MD) rate of 63% was among the worst in the big leagues.

With Hensley and Nunez sure to come back next year and Brian Sanches and Burke Badenhop also performing admirably as the season wore on, the Fish have four spots they should be able to count on. The remaining three are going to be one of the biggest questions of the offseason. Will the team go with a patchwork pen once again, after this season was one of the first in which that method failed them? Or will the team invest in the pen and risk blowing money on highly variable performance?

Tags: Anibal Sanchez Clay Hensley Josh Johnson Leo Nunez Miami Marlins

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