Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Miami Marlins: Big Spenders, Big Surprises, Big Time Rotation

The suddenly big money Marlins got off to a rough start, and are currently sitting one game above .500. The team spent big on free agency this offseason in the wake of opening their new stadium, but have so far looked less than stellar overall despite good showings from their rotation as a whole. Florida Miami has typically been a youth heavy team, and have made it their M.O.  to trade away talent in droves for a large haul in prospects, but seem to have abandoned that formula this season, though as I suspected (nearly) none of their big name players have no trade clauses, as reaffirmed by Cot’s Baseball Contracts. ***Big Z does have a no trade clause, but that was worked out by the Cubbies, not the Marlins.

Carlos Zambrano has gotten off to a torrid start, throwing 48 innings of 1.88ERA ball. At the moment Big Z looks about as dominant as he ever has, and aside from a 4 run 6 inning effort in his first start, Zambrano has thrown 6 consecutive quality starts. He has as well since the beginning of May kept the ball down very well, and has given up all of 1 run this month, over 23 innings. So far, it appears that Zambrano might be due to regress, but he is certainly getting along well with his new manager Ozzie Guillen. Zambrano has never gotten batters to keep the ball on the ground like he has so far this season but it’s hard to make sense of anything with Zambrano, while he’s always been roughly the same pitcher, walking about 3 batters per game, striking out quite a few, and holding onto a sub 4.00 ERA, but after threatening to retire last  season, Big Z may have spent some time refining himself as a pitcher before coming into this season, and he has so far looked excellent. I’d be surprised if he can keep up this type of pace all year, but he’s off to a torrid start, and even if he has a few bad starts here and there he’s poised to make Theo Epstein and Co. look foolish for trading him, even more so for eating over $15 million in his contract.

Mark Buehrle was the Marlin’s “consolation prize” in the C.J. Wilson sweepstakes, and has looked every bit as good so far. Buehrle isn’t a strikeout pitcher, he lives and dies on contact, and so far has lived on it just fine this season. Buehrle has looked good so far, and it’s not exactly surprising to see. His BABIP is a bit lower (.270) than his career numbers (.293) would suggest, so maybe he’s been lucky, or maybe he’s benefiting from a stronger defensive alignment behind him, it’s not unreasonable to assume either, but even as this sort of thing fluctuates over the course of the year, he’s still likely to be good regardless of what happens. There’s not much to say about Buehrle, he’s pretty much looked like himself so far, and has been the benefactor of facing generally weaker NL lineups this season.

Josh Johnson has looked... not good so far. He’s been a rollercoaster ride for his team, either putting up a pretty respectable/very good start (4 quality starts) or getting himself absolutely demolished (2 starts where he’s gone less than 4 innings, and given up 6 runs). This would be less surprising, but he’s put up some good starts against fairly good teams, and was most recently beaten into submission in the 3rd inning by the San Diego Padres. a team with a total 13 home runs (last in the NL), and a .304 OBP (13th in the NL). The thing that’s killing Johnson at the moment isn’t walks (roughly at his career mark) he’s not giving up homers either (only 1 so far), but good lord he’s giving up 28% (10% more than last year) of balls in play as line drives. He’s not a ground ball pitcher either, he’s pretty even split in that regard, 50/50 grounders and fly balls. In looking at these line drive numbers, that’s alarming, but his .410 BABIP is just impossibly high. That is exactly 103 points higher than his career average. I’d look for Johnson to figure out how to correct the line drive issue, and as he makes that adjustment, a lot of these hits should start to vanish, and with that, we’ll get to start seeing the kid that went to back to back all star games and was in the running for the Cy Young 2 years ago.

Anibal Sanchez has been pretty darn good over the last 2 & ½ years with Florida Miami and has gotten off to an excellent start as well this year. Sanchez has posted 7 consecutive quality starts to open the season. Now Sanchez’ BABIP (.276) is 24 points lower than his career mark, but it’s not an absolutely extreme disparity either, especially with how few line drives he’s giving up this year (13% of balls in play). He’s getting hitters to swing on top of pitches more this year (a little under 50% of balls in play), which bodes well for him. I don’t know exactly what to expect out of Sanchez, he’s putting up better numbers than ever before, and appears to have changed his style a little bit to facilitate that, but whether or not the changes stick I can’t say. Certainly the line drive rate will probably come up a bit as the season wears on, but Sanchez looks effective so far, and will probably continue at least that much.

Ricky Nolasco got smacked around in his last outing, giving up 6 runs over 4 and ⅔ but has otherwise looked pretty solid. He’s got 4 quality starts and has missed on 2 other occasions by an inning or less. Nolasco hasn’t been striking out batters at his usual pace, and has been walking batters a bit more than usual, but if that’s what it takes to put together a year with a sub 4.00 ERA for him, I think management will be on board. His BABIP (.280) is the lowest it’s been outside of his very good 2008 season (.273). Nolasco looks a lot like Sanchez in terms of percentages, he’s only giving up 13% of balls in play as line drives, and an increased groundball rate from previous years. Maybe Randy St.Claire has gone the Dave Duncan route and is pushing his pitchers to start really getting ground balls.

Overall, looking at the Marlin’s staff, I’m surprised they’re not doing better. Despite a less than stellar year from Johnson, they’re getting ace caliber work out of 3 of their pitchers, and are getting better than expected results out of Nolasco. Their lineup, despite having its stars has been one of the least productive in the National League so far They’re ranked 10th or worse in Strikeouts, Hits, OBP, SLG, Batting Average, and Runs. They are doing some heavy lifting with the bats with 32 team home runs so far, and have been wreaking havoc on the base paths with 39 stolen bases, but are otherwise not an offensive force by any stretch. Their bullpen, Heath Bell aside has been more than survivable if not bulletproof. I’d look for the team to start to pick it up as the season wears on. They’re pitching too well, and have too much talent as a team to be looking up in the standings at so many other teams. They may miss the postseason, but it shouldn’t be by much.

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