2010 Marlin Maniac Preview: JJ and Ricky


Now that we have completed discussion of the position players, we’ll move on now to the Marlins’ pitchers. Of course, the pitching staff is consisted of many parts, all working towards the general goal of run prevention. For today, we’ll discuss the two biggest names on the Marlins staff, aces Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco.


1. Josh Johnson
2. Ricky Nolasco

Truthfully, I’d call them 1a) and 1b). Both players are in line for some regression after their respective 2009 seasons, but both could easily lay claim as one of the best pitchers in the National League this year.

Josh Johnson

Johnson had a breakout 2009 campaign that culminated in his first trip to the All-Star game and a 5.5 WAR season. JJ’s numbers broke out in every category; he posted a 15-5 record, 3.23 ERA, an 3.06 FIP, struck out batters in 22.5% of his batters faced, walked a man in only 6.1% of those plate appearances, and broke a 50% GB% for the first time in his career. Johnson achieved all of these accomplishments after returning from Tommy John surgery just half a year before the start of 2009.

Johnson has a prototypical power-righty repertoire: a blazing fastball that sits in the mid-90’s (averaged 95.1 MPH according to BIS data last season), a hard-breaking slider, and a complementary changeup for use against lefties. However, his game is an interesting mix between a power righty like Justin Verlander and a ground-ball control pitcher like Roy Halladay. While Johnson has the powerful heater and strikes out his fair share of batters, his repertoire and game seem to switch profiles when facing lefties and righties. When facing right-handers, Johnson’s strikeouts increase slightly (23.4% in 2009) but his groundballs drop (45.5% GB%) and his homers increase (a rate of 1 HR/9 innings in 2009). His HR/FB% versus righties was more typical, and overall the performance mirrors that of a solid power-pitcher with the platoon advantage. However, when dealing with lefties, Johnson’s game morphs in terms of ground balls and home runs. His K% decreases and his BB% increases, expected results without the platoon advantage, but his GB% jumps (54.3% last year, 51.1% career) and his home runs subsequently fall. For his career, Johnson has held lefty hitters to a 6.5% HR/FB%, well below the league average and strange given the platoon disadvantage. I have heard that his changeup is effective at inducing grounders against lefties and that Johnson spots his fastball lower in the zone better, helping with his ground ball rates.

Projection: About 190 innings, 4.8 WAR

Johnson is undoubtedly due for some regression. I think his stuff does have a more innate ability to lower HR/FB%, but I expect the home run totals to go up a bit. A look at CHONE’s projections show a 3.29 FIP, which would be good for around 4.8 WAR at that number of innings. I actually would not be surprised at a slightly higher FIP, but I may be over-regressing Johnson’s home run suppression a bit. Either way, it’ll be an excellent season, provided he’s healthy. Given the innings jump, I think there is some cause for concern, but Tommy John surgery is usually quite successful. Expect another big year from the big righty.

Ricky Nolasco

Nolasco started last season in such an awful fashion, racking up a ridiculously high ERA that at some point was north of 9.00! He was returned to the minors for a short stint, and when he returned to the majors he was once again lights out like in 2008. What was the difference? Not much, I would say. One cause for concern was his radically different performance with runners on and bases empty, something I’ve chronicled quite a few times on this site. One thing I just noticed was that his amount of home runs was drastically high with runners on; more than half (12 out 23) of his homers allowed were with runners on base, giving him a 14.3% HR/FB% in that situation. Strangely enough, in 2008 this trend was reversed, with Nolasco handing out more solo taters than devastating multi-run bombs. I doubt that either trend will continue unless Nolasco has a mechanical issue out of the stretch or windup. As I’ve noted, I did not see much of a difference in his pitches in terms of movement and spin out of both situations, so I would not be concerned about seeing another early-season breakdown.

Nolasco’s repertoire is more varied than Johnson’s; he throws a four-seam fastball in the low 90’s, a strong slider, a decent curve, and a changeup which could be of some use to him. He uses these pitches basically as expected for a righty, with the fastball and slider predominantly thrown to right handers while the changeup is saved for lefties. Interestingly enough, this seems multi-pitch arsenal seems more suited for Johnson’s strikeout/walk numbers, but it is Nolasco who showed last season the ability to induce strikeouts in high order. Batters whiffed and were sent back to the dugout in 25.1% of Nolasco’s PA, while only 4.8% took a free base from him. Nolasco does allow his share of home runs, as he has more fly ball tendencies, and these characteristics are quite common in right-handers with strikeout stuff. It just seems that Nolasco’s pitches are more crafty than dominating, but don’t tell that to the hitters that can’t hit it.

Projection: About 190 innings, 4.0 WAR

I think we would all gladly take a 4 WAR campaign from Nolasco. CHONE projects a 3.68 FIP and a slight regression in his strikeouts. He’ll always allow above average home run counts, but a more random distribution of these home runs should help Nolasco. After all, in general he does not allow a lot of baserunners due to the high strikeouts and low walks. A bit better luck in BABIP may also help him out. Expect a strong season as the number two starter in one of the best 1-2 punches in all of baseball.