We conclude our review series by taking a look at the Marlins’ pitching staff. Admittedly, you probably already know the answers to the three questions I’ll be asking, but let’s play the game anyway, shall we?
Team Runs Allowed: 384
Team ERA: 4.04
Team FIP: 3.79
Team xFIP: 4.23
It i hard to believe that, with all the supposed struggles of the Marlins’ pitching staff, that the team is ranked 3rd in the majors in FIP and tied for 12th in the bigs in ERA. The FIP mark is especially surprising, though the team xFIP of 4.23 indicates that the Marlins are likely getting slightly lucky on home runs. This is actually evident in the play of both Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, who are allowing home runs at a minuscule rate. Yes, JJ is a ground ball pitcher to some degree, but he probably should have allowed a few more than four homers in his 122 innings. Ditto for Sanchez and his non-ground ball ways.
Best Performer: Josh Johnson
It should come as no surprise that Josh Johnson leads the way for the Marlins pitching staff this season. I said it before and I’ll say it again: he has been the best pitcher in baseball this season so far. It also helps that he is among the best pitchers in baseball all in all, a young workhorse combining powerful fastballs with a great slider and a good changeup.
This year, Johnson is striking out more hitters than ever before and still inducing ground balls on 48% of his balls in play. His fastball is still averaging 95 mph on the radar gun for the second year in a row. You have to believe that these improvements on his game coincide very well with the increased velocity since his return from Tommy John surgery and that the increase has something to do with that improvement.
There really isn’t much more to say about JJ. He is one of the best pitchers in the game right now, and we’ll have him for three more years at reduced rates. As a result, FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron just named him the 7th best trade commodity in baseball. Things are good at the top of the Marlins rotation.
Worst Performer: The Entire Bullpen
It was hard to identify just one guy that was awful in our bullpen. Was it Jose Veras and his six awful early season innings that earned him a quick DFA? Was it Burke Badenhop struggling to get grounders to not go through the infield? Was it Dan Meyer being unable to find the strike zone in the least bit?
The truth of the matter is that, aside from perhaps Leo Nunez (who is striking a batter per inning and has only walked nine in 37 innings pitched) and Clay Hensley (who has somehow transformed himself into a strikeout machine despite middling stuff), the rest of the pen has been awful. The rest of the pen, from Renyel Pinto to Brian Sanches down to Jorge Sosa and Tim Wood, have walked the earth and allowed a huge BABIP. The BABIP I would suspect could regress and return to close to normal on its own, but the walk issues are a problem the pitchers need to solve. Even after countless reshuffling of the Marlins’ bullpen, the Fish still can’t find a good combination beyond Hensley and Nunez to hold late game leads. As a result of this problem, the bullpen is second in the majors in FanGraphs’ Meltdowns stat, measuring relief appearances which caused the team to get -0.06 WPA.
Key Second-Half Improvement: Ricky Nolasco
Ricky was in the same spot last midseason, when I mentioned that a huge spike in BABIP and a subsequent inability to strand runners was likely to regress and bring about a lower ERA. I wasn’t kidding, as Nolasco’s second half was stellar (4.36 ERA) compared to his first half disaster (5.76, 9.00+ before his demotion). Of course, it was all a mirage, and Ricky has returned to form in 2010, right?
Well, not exactly. The current 4.55 ERA is not exactly what Fish fans had in mind entering the season. Given the projected 3.60 FIP (4.04 ERA according to ZiPS), we were expecting a return to a pitcher similar to 2008 Ricky Nolasco. In some degrees, we got him, as Nolasco lost strikeouts and dropped his walks even more to fit the 2008 profile rather than the high-K 2009 version. However, what we did not see as a repeat of 2008 was the home run rate. Nolasco has always given up an above average number of homers, but this season the total is bordering on the absurd. Thanks to a 13.7% HR/FB%, Nolasco has allowed 20 homers in the first half of the season, which is just two shy of his entire walk total in 2010.
I’m banking on that home run rate to fall in the second half of the year, and so are the projection systems. If it does, we can expect Ricky’s ERA and run totals to drop, and with even a slight nod towards his 2009 season’s strikeout rates, we could have ace Ricky back in no time. Worked last season, right?