Fish Cap: Vazquez, Marlins implode to end Mets series


Welcome to the first Fish Cap of the 2011 season, and I apologize that it could not be handled in a more positive fashion. The Marlins started the season off in excellent fashion against the New York Mets, tallying a safe 6-2 win on Opening Night, but followed up that victory with two losses including an ugly laugher in the series finale.

Series Hero: Greg Dobbs (0.435 WPA)
Series Goat: Ryan Webb (-0.396 WPA)
Impressed By: Gaby Sanchez (14 PA, 6 H, 3 2B, 1 BB, 1 K)
Depressed By: Javier Vazquez (2 1/3 IP, 1 K, 5 BB, 2 HR)

Two Big Hits

There were two huge hits that swung the course of the first and second games of this series for the Marlins. One was the John Buck grand slam that took a scoreless contest to a 4-0 lead for the Fish in fourth inning of the first game.

The Marlins already had a decent advantage before that hit, as the bases loaded situation actually called for a 67.4 percent chance of victory prior to Buck’s home run. The Marlins forced the situation in an impressive fashion, getting walks from both Logan Morrison (unsurprising) and Mike Stanton (much more interesting) with a double by Gaby Sanchez in between. Buck’s blast brought the Marlins to a 90.7 percent chance of winning, meaning that grand slam single-handedly added .233 wins to the Marlins. That home run traveled a true distance of 391 feet, but it was extra impressive due to the fact that Buck went opposite field to the deeper side of Sun Life Stadium with the shot. It was also great to see a plethora of fans there waiting for that ball, signifying a good Opening Night crowd.

The second hit was in the late-inning thriller from Saturday night. With the Mets up 3-2 after Josh Thole punched in a run against Leo Nunez at the top of the ninth inning, the Marlins faced a two-out situation with runners on first and third. Buck played a hand in this situation as well, as he singled with one out and got on base, only to be replaced by backup catcher Brett Hayes on the basepaths. Hayes would go on to score when pinch-hitter and newcomer Gregg Dobbs delivered his big Fish moment with a single to tie the game. The hit was against Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez, which made the clutch play seem more significant as well. That play brought the Marlins’ chances of winning up from 20.1 percent to 63.8 percent, a full 0.437 WPA! Of course, part of the reason for that may have also been the heady (and speedy) baserunning of Emilio Bonifacio, who took third base on the single to center field. Unfortunately, the Marlins could not further capitalize, and the big scapegoat for that situation was Omar Infante, who innocently flied out with the bases loaded two batters later to end the threat.

Vazquez hard to watch

The line I quoted above says it all about Javier Vazquez on Sunday afternoon. Right from the onset, you felt like it was going to be a rough start for him; the first two batters, Jose Reyes and Willie Harris, ripped fierce line drives over the head of right fielder Scott Cousins on pitches that were clearly not meant to be left so high. Take a look at the Harris home run which plated both guys. Pitch f/x has that pitch as an 88.6 mph fastball that ended up in a horrific location:

That teal dot was the location of that fastball. From the video you can tell that there was little in the way of downward movement, as it mostly just broke into Harris’s sweet spot. In fact, watching Buck set up for that pitch, you can see that the pitch was meant to be further away but stayed in on the hands and was thus crushed. It was that sort of afternoon for Vazquez.

One disconcerting point that we saw from this start that appeared to be a continuing trend from last season was the lack of control Vazquez exhibited. Last year, Vazquez walked batters at a 9,5 percent clip, the highest rate of his career since his rookie season. In Sunday’s game, he looked no better, walking four men unintentionally and spreading his location out a bit too much.

Hitters simply weren’t interested in Vazquez’s offerings. He tallied a meager two swinging strikes out of his 59 pitches. Surprisingly, when adjusting for the difference in zone between lefty and righty hitters, one would find that Vazquez got no hitters to swing out of the zone; the few pitches that appear out of the traditional zone were against lefties, who have an expanded zone to that side. In short, hitters were waiting for Vazquez to come to the middle of the plate, and when he did, they were ready. When he didn’t, they laid off and were content drawing walks. Whether this is a control problem or something worse, it needs to be fixed soon; Vazquez cannot be an effective pitcher without throwing strikes because of his diminished stuff.

Injuries continue to chew away at Marlins

The biggest injury news to come out of this weekend was the strained hamstring of Mike Stanton which has kept the right fielder out of the last two games. Stanton supposedly felt tightness prior to the game but did not inform Edwin Rodriguez, only to have the situation worsen and eventually call for his removal. The team does not want to put him on the DL, hoping that it will only take a few days for him to recover, but as Baseball Prospectus injury expert Corey Dawkins points out here, Stanton has suffered injuries now to both his legs early in the season (he spent a month off during Spring Training with a strained right quadriceps).

The other injury it seems is a bit more minor, as Donnie Murphy suffered what is likely a bruised hand after being hit by a pitch. What was scary about that HBP was that it was on the same side as the dislocated wrist that ended his season last year, but it seems to have at least missed the wrist. Murphy pinch-hit on Sunday afternoon and may be good to go on Tuesday. The Marlins certainly could use him; Bonifacio did not impress in his time as the starter, airmailing a critical throw on a would-be double play grounder with the bases loaded, though he did have four hits in the series.