The Marlins faced the Colorado Rockies, the team’s expansion brethren, over the past weekend in a matchup of two clubs that began play in 1993 and were doing very well to start the season. The Fish beat the Rockies in two of three games over the weekend, including an exciting series finale victory featuring a pitcher’s duel between young aces Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Johnson, the first significant offensive event in Omar Infante‘s tenure as a Marlin, and a huge bomb by Mike Stanton. Oh, and there was almost a no-hitter by Anibal Sanchez too. Quite a series.
Series Hero: Mike Stanton (0.346 WPA)
Series Goat: Hanley Ramirez (-0.369 WPA)
Impressed by: Anibal Sanchez (9 IP, 0 R, 9 K, 3 BB, 0 HR, complete game one-hitter)
Depressed by: Hanley Ramirez (12 PA, 0 H, 0 BB, 3 K)
Sanchez’s masterful performance
Everything about Anibal Sanchez’s start on Friday evening versus the Rockies was amazing. Sanchez’s nine-strikeout, one-hit performance was three mere outs away from being his second career n0-hitter, following in the footsteps of his out-of-nowhere 2006 effort. Of course, his 2006 effort was actually less impressive despite the no-hitter; a simple look at Game Score shows that both games had an identical 89 score, but his most recent performance takes the single-game FIP cake, recording a very impressive 2.05 FIP showing.
Here’s an oddity about that Friday night game that I found fascinating:
As you can see, Sanchez chose to work up in the zone against the Colorado hitters, and with good results. Ten of his 15 whiffs came on pitches on the upper part of the strike zone and a good majority of his pitches littered the upper half to either lefties or righties. This is an intriguing strategy in that you would expect it to garner more popups, whiffs, and fly balls while getting fewer grounders and being more likely to be hit hard. However, Sanchez got all of the good with none of the bad by working up in the zone, as he actually picked up nine grounders out of his 15 balls in play, a 53.3 percent mark for the game, while obviously avoiding getting hit hard enough to get base knocks (the only hit allowed was a broken-bat single by Dexter Fowler) and still recording all those swings and misses. I’m not sure if this was something Sanchez and John Buck had worked out prior to the game, but it certainly worked to perfection on Friday evening.
Sanchez still got a few too many balls and walked three as a result, but his drastic improvement since the 2006 rookie campaign and on the trail back from two years sidelined with a shoulder injury has been fun to watch. He worked a little low on the gun, averaging 91 to 92 mph, but he used at least four pitches effectively and was able to get whiffs on his fastball (seven of his 15), primarily with the high heat. For the Marlins, it was another stellar performance.
Game 3 heroics
Here we more or less see the two plays that defined the Sunday afternoon duel between Jimenez and Johnson. The two plays overshadowed two strong performances, particularly the one put up by Johnson (7 IP, 0 R, 6 K, 3 BB, 0.334 WPA). Infante finally brought something to the Marlins by clearing the bases with a triple in the fifth inning, tacking on three runs with the only hit Jimenez gave up. Jimenez walked four batters in the entire game, but three of those walks came in the fifth inning, in which he unraveled by delivering free passes to John Buck (career 6.6 percent walk rate), Emilio Bonifacio (7.4 percent), and Donnie Murphy (7.6 percent). Those walks in a 0-0 tie led to a 76.7 percent chance of winning, but after two consecutive outs, the Rockies were almost out of it. Of course, Infante’s three-run triple added 28.8 percent to the Marlins’ odds of winning, the biggest play at the time.
Troy Tulowitzki battled back with a double off Clay Hensley in eighth inning, adding the third run for the Rockies to tie the game and adding 25.5 percent to the Rockies’ odds of winning. Fortunately for the Fish, Mike Stanton was here with this three-run blast, recorded at a true distance of 420 feet. It was the longest home run of the season for the Marlins and the second of the year for Stanton. That shot also added 0.379 WPA, almost a 40 percent addition to the Marlins’ winning chances.
Worrying about Hanley?
Ramirez was awful again this series, going hitless in 12 PA and not showing up on base once. For the season, he’s hitting just .182/.299/.242. Is it time to worry about his struggles? In a nutshell, the answer is no. Players struggle, and the team is only three weeks into the season. Ramirez is one of the best hitters in baseball, and he’s bound to get on track once again, so doing anything drastic would probably undermine that return if anything. Hanley’s two main problems right now are BABIP (eminently fluctuating and always on the way towards regression) and power, which could be a problem if he continues to struggle to get balls in the air (60 percent ground ball rate). Still, I wouldn’t worry right now, as it is way too early in the season to tell much of anything.