Fish Cap: Pair of shutouts highlight Marlins sweep of Pirates

michaeljong
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The Marlins took their first series sweep of the season by taking three of three from the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Fish capped off the series with a high-scoring affair, but the performances of Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco were the real highlight of the three-game set. The offense performed, but Johnson and Nolasco truly impressed in their pair of shutouts in the first and second games.

Series Hero: Josh Johnson (0.401 WPA, including his two-RBI single)
Series Goat: I’d be hard-pressed to point out one person who did all that poorly in this series
Impressed by: Josh Johnson (7 IP, 0 R, 9 K, 1 BB, 0 HR) and Ricky Nolasco (7 IP, 0 R, 8 K, 1 BB, 0 HR)
Depressed by: Chris Volstad (5 1/3 IP, 5 R, 5 K, 3 BB, 1 HR)

Josh Johnson: Dominant Performance #1

Johnson put on another unsurprising dominant performance,  striking out nine and allowing just two hits, prompting yet another memorable Josh Johnson GIF by Strip Club with Stanton. The dominant performance looks even better when shown with the Pitch f/x data as well. Against a lineup with a decent lefty-righty mix, Johnson was absolutely dealing. His fastball was once again solid, averaging in the 93 mph range and recording two whiffs in the process. The remaining whiffs from JJ came from his devastating slider; he threw 20 sliders on the evening and recorded nine whiffs on those pitches. Beyond that, the slider was coming in hard, averaging 86 mph.

And those were just his primary pitches. Johnson also threw nine changeups with the pitch’s classic sink (five inch vertical break on the changeup compared to the nine-inch break on the fastball). In addition, Johnson continued to tinker with the curveball, throwing eight bona fide curveballs averaging 78 mph and dipping really hard (-6 inch vertical break on the pitch). Johnson wasn’t quite as successful on these tertiary and quaternary options, as he recorded just six strikes and two balls in play (a lineout and a groundout) on the 17 pitches, but the fact that he can go to them occasionally to get outs is still encouraging. We know that Johnson’s changeup allows him to pitch to lefties effectively, turning him into a ground ball machine. The curveball is going to add another weapon against both lefties and righties once he gets it down.

Ricky Nolasco: Dominant Performance #2

Nolasco delivered the second straight dominant performance in the pair of Marlins 6-0 shutouts. Nolasco threw up an equally excellent game, striking out eight and walking just one in seven innings. We know that Nolasco’s primary gameplan is to pound the strikezone and use his array of secondary offerings to confuse hitters, but it seemed like this time around Nolasco chose to work away from the zone.

Nolasco worked low in the zone, an appropriate maneuver against a decent Pittsburgh offense. Unlike Johnson, who dominated primarily with a two-pitch array of a high-velocity fastball and a biting slider, Nolasco put his full repertoire to good use. He recorded 13 whiffs on the evening, only seven of which came via the slider. Nolasco got three swings and misses from his curveball out of 16 total curves. He also recorded two whiffs from his changeup out of 12 total pitches.

What seemed perhaps most intriguing from Nolasco’s start was his high rate of ground balls. As a control-heavy pitcher with strikeout tendencies (a la Dan Haren), we have grown accustomed to seeing Nolasco get a lot of fly balls. However, at least in this game he was able to force a lot of grounders; he recorded nine ground balls out of 11 balls in play total. Nolasco’s only major problem in terms of Three True Outcomes is his tendency to give up homers, and obviously keeping the ball on the ground will help in that regard. According to Pitch f/x, his primary source of groundouts was surprisingly the slider, which forced three ground ball outs.

Emilio Bonifacio: Tantalizingly Terrible

Did you happen to see this play from the second 6-0 shutout? Chris Coghlan hit a ground ball to second base that was somewhat botched and ended up as an infield single. The hit plated the runner at third, John Buck, but also brought home Emilio Bonifacio from second base. It’s just that sort of speed that is going to entice the Marlins to continue to play Bonifacio, because as Tommy Hutton mentions in the Marlins broadcast of that play:

"“You love the aggressiveness, you love the speed, it can help you win games!"

Unfortunately, all the aggressiveness and speed in the world won’t help you get on first base in order to do all of that, and that’s exactly where Bonifacio’s problems lie. Sure, Boni is hitting .324/.375/.378, good for a .354 wOBA at the moment. However, as Dave of Marlins Diehards pointed out here, his BABIP is through the roof and it won’t be long until Marlins fans start clamoring for his demotion like we did in 2009. Unfortunately, the Marlins have yet another excuse to start Bonifacio full-time, as Logan Morrison is out two to four weeks with a sprained ligament in his foot. The Marlins showed that they have more confidence in the utter lack of upside in Bonifacio than they do in the slightly higher upside of Scott Cousins, so expect to see Boni in the lineup the majority of the time over the next few weeks, sucking in plate appearances like a batless monster. Later on today, I’ll discuss how much we would expect to lose with the massive downgrade to Boni in left field.

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