Stats & Info: Josh Johnson

Top stats to know: Blue Jays

February, 25, 2013

USA TODAY SportsThe Blue Jays have plenty of new faces-- among them Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle
With Baseball Tonight visiting Toronto Blue Jays spring training camp today, here’s a look at notable “Stats to Know” about the team that was among baseball’s busiest this offseason.

Postseason Drought
The Blue Jays have not been to the postseason since 1993. The only AL team with a longer playoff drought is the Royals, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 1985. The Blue Jays also don’t have a 90-win season since that championship year. Every other team in the AL East has at least two since then.

New Starters Mean WAR
The Blue Jays starting rotation will likely feature three new pitchers-- R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle.

The three have combined for 47 Wins Above Replacement over the last four seasons. Each of the three ranks in the top 17 among pitchers. Johnson rates the highest-- seventh-best, with 19.1 Wins Above Replacement.

Reyes Kickstarts Lineup
Likely leadoff hitter Jose Reyes will look to fill a significant hole for the Blue Jays. Toronto’s leadoff hitters had a .294 on-base percentage and .650 OPS last season, each of which ranked fifth-worst in the majors.

Shifty Infield
The Blue Jays were among the most frequent users of defensive shifts in 2012. Baseball Info Solutions credited them with 12 Defensive Runs Saved due to shift usage last season, the highest such total in the majors.

One of the most integral players in their defense is third baseman Brett Lawrie, who led major league third basemen last season with 20 Defensive Runs Saved.

Edwin Loves the Outer-Half
Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout season with 42 home runs in 2012. Encarnacion had 27 home runs against pitches that were on the outer-half of the plate (or off the plate), a rate of one for every 55 pitches seen.

From 2009 to 2011, Encarnacion had 26 homers on outer-half pitches, a rate of one for every 108 pitches seen.

A Lethal Power/Speed Combo
The Blue Jays have a chance to finish in the top of the league in both power and speed. Toronto owns three prolific base stealers in Rajai Davis, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio who rank 3rd, 6th and 13th respectively in stolen bases the last 3 seasons.

The team also features two of the most prominent power hitters in baseball as measured by Isolated Power. Jose Bautista (.286) and Edwin Encarnacion (.277) ranked 4th and 5th in the MLB by that metric last season (min. 350 PA), the only pair of teammates in the top 10.

Morrow's Continued Progress
While his ‘breakout’ season was cut short due to injury, it looked like Brandon Morrow took a significant step forward in 2012. He also seemed to make a key adjustment – pitching down in the zone rather than up in the zone, decreasing his strikeouts but increasing his effectiveness.

Marlins give up on $100 million dream

November, 13, 2012

AP Photo/Kathy WilliamsJose Reyes could be bringing his bat to a new location in 2013.
It is awards week in baseball and the award for the biggest deal of the offseason may have come Tuesday.

Let's take a look at a couple key storylines related to the potential megatrade between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Miami Marlins.

Marlins would be dumping money, Blue Jays spending it
It didn’t take long for the Marlins to give up on the idea of playing with a $100 million payroll.

In the previous four seasons, the Marlins ranked no higher than 24th in Opening Day payroll, but averaged 81 wins in that span.

They entered last season with a $118 million payroll, seventh-highest in the majors but finished with 69 wins. The six teams above them in payroll had much more success (with the exception of the Boston Red Sox), averaging 86 wins between them.

The Marlins win total tied for the fourth-fewest by a team with a team with a $100 million payroll (the Red Sox also had 69 wins last season).

The Blue Jays could enter new territory this season in terms of Opening Day payroll. They are one of 12 teams that has never opened the season with $100 million in commitments. Their largest payroll at the start of the season was $97.8 million in 2008, a season in which they won 86 games, but finished fourth in the mighty AL East.

What would the Blue Jays be getting for their money?
What are the Blue Jays getting for the more than $160 million they’re making in payroll commitments?

From a statistical perspective, they’re getting a group of players whose performance in 2012 was not up to their peak standards.

The biggest names in the reported deal: Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes, combined to be worth 9.1 Wins Above Replacement in 2012.

Buehrle had a 3.2 WAR, his lowest since 2006. Johnson has been worth 5.9 WAR over the past two seasons. He was worth a combined 13.2 WAR in 2009 and 2010.

Reyes, who has a history of injuries, was worth 2.8 WAR, the third time in the past four seasons he’s been below three Wins Above Replacement.

Buehrle brings a lot of mileage on his arm. He’s pitched at least 200 innings in 12 straight seasons. Buehrle’s 2,627 2/3 innings pitched in that 12-year span are the most in the majors.

One bugaboo that comes with Buehrle -- he doesn’t have a great history against the New York Yankees and Red Sox. He’s 7-16 with a 5.27 ERA combined against those teams, including 1-8 with a 6.38 ERA against the Yankees.

Johnson has a good history against the AL East (he’s 4-1 with a 2.64 ERA in nine starts against the Blue Jays division rivals).

His 8-14 record last season was primarily a product of a rough first month and a lack of run support. In his first six starts, he posted a 6.61 ERA, but in his last 25 starts, it was 3.26.

Johnson ranked 29th among the 46 NL ERA-title qualifiers with his 3.81 ERA, but his combined strikeout, walk, and home run totals produced a Fielding Independent Pitching (an ERA estimator known as FIP), of 3.40, 10th-best among that same group.

Reyes struggled early in 2012 both offensively and defensively, but closed the year strong.

The Blue Jays may look to move Reyes, who thrived in the No. 3 spot, back into the leadoff spot in the batting order. Their leadoff hitters had a .296 on-base percentage and .650 OPS last season, both fifth-worst in the majors.

The one area in which the Marlins may have won the trade would be in shortstop defense. They give up Reyes, who ranked next-to-last among shortstops with -17 Defensive Runs Saved (a stat that measures the ability to turn batted balls into outs and convert double plays).

The Marlins Yunel Escobar ranked fourth in the majors with 15 Defensive Runs Saved.

--Mark Simon, Katie Sharp and Will Cohen contributed to this post.

Josh Johnson netted seven whiffs with his breaking pitches on Monday.
Marlins starter Josh Johnson may have only lasted six innings due to a cut on his hand, but this was the vintage version of Johnson that beat the Braves on Monday.

Johnson struck out nine and walked none in his six innings of one-hit ball, the first pitcher to do the one-hit, nine-whiff, no-walk combination in no more than six innings since Jordan Zimmermann for the Washington Nationals two seasons ago.
Josh Johnson
Johnson had his best breaking ball in this start. Braves hitters missed on 12 of their 18 swings against his breaking pitches.

But this was nothing new. Johnson struck out seven Braves with the combination of his curve and slider, the third straight start against the Braves in which he’s done that.

The key to the success of that pitch was its location. Of Johnson’s 36 breaking balls, our pitch-performance tracking tool noted 31 as being in the lower-third of the strike zone or below. The image atop this story shows the location of Johnson's breaking pitches that notched strikeouts.

Johnson had allowed at least one hit with the breaking ball in each of his last six starts, and yielded a homer with it in each of his previous two.

Some in the stat community feel that Johnson will improve in the second half of the season because his combination of strikeouts, walks and home runs is indicative of a pitcher with a lower ERA.

Entering the Monday start, Johnson’s FIP (an abbreviation for Fielding Independent Pitching, an ERA estimate based on that combination of numbers) was 3.13, far below his season-ERA of 4.35 entering Monday.

In fact, the 1.23 differential was the fourth-highest among pitchers who are currently qualified for the ERA title. The three higher are Jake Arrieta, Tim Lincecum, and Jon Lester.

Johnson also entered with the highest batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of any National League pitcher (.345), but Marlins defenders were able to turn nine of the 10 balls hit against him into outs.

The Other One-Hit Wonder
Chicago Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija was fantastic in his eight innings of one-hit ball in beating the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday.

He became the first Cubs starter to allow one hit in eight innings or fewer against the Pirates since Moe Drabowsky (who became better known for his baseball heroics in the 1966 World Series) in 1958.

Samardzija threw 72 percent of his pitches for strikes, which was just shy of a season-high. He also did not allow an opponent to hit a line drive for the first time all season.

Elias Sports Bureau Stat of the Night
Mike Napoli homered again for the Texas Rangers in their rout of the Boston Red Sox. The homer gave Napoli a home run in four straight games against the Red Sox.

That’s actually the second time he’s had a streak of four straight games with a home run against the Red Sox.

Only two other players have had such streaks against that franchise—Hall-of-Famers Harmon Killebrew (four) and Lou Gehrig (two).

Curve carries Beckett back to Miami

June, 11, 2012

Getty Images
Josh Beckett goes against Josh Johnson on Monday Night Baseball in Miami.
When the Boston Red Sox visit the Miami Marlins on Monday Night Baseball (ESPN, 7 ET), two of the Marlins’ best pitchers will square off. How is that possible?

Real Big Fish
Josh Johnson
Josh Beckett
Josh Beckett pitches for the Red Sox, and he’ll face his former team for the first time in his career. His 3.46 ERA is second (min. 400 IP), his 607 K are seventh and his 41 wins are eighth on the franchise’s all-time list.

The Marlins will counter with Josh Johnson, one of the few pitchers ahead of Beckett in the franchise record books -- he’s second in ERA, third in wins and fourth in strikeouts.

Both pitchers have had success in interleague play in their careers -- Beckett is 13-5 with a 3.01 ERA and Johnson is 7-2 with a 3.21 ERA. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the second time this season opposing pitchers enter an interleague game with a .700 or better career win percentage (minimum seven wins) in interleague play. The other instance also involved Beckett, when he pitched against Cliff Lee.

In his sixth start of the season, a loss to the Indians, Beckett allowed seven hits, two walks and seven earned runs and couldn’t get out of the third inning. He had an ERA of nearly six and the team was a season-high seven games under .500.

After the game, Beckett’s press conference focused on the belief that he played golf two days earlier despite being skipped in the rotation with a sore lat muscle.

Since that day, Beckett has made five starts and allowed two or fewer earned runs in four of them, completing at least seven innings in each start. He’s increased the use of his curveball and thrown it in the strike zone more often.

Johnson has also turned his season around after a rough start -- he was 0-3 with a 6.61 ERA through six starts and opponents were hitting .359 against him. In his past six starts, he’s 3-1 with a 2.95 ERA and opposing batters are hitting more than 100 points lower.

He’s done it with his bread-and-butter pitch, the fastball. In his past six starts, opponents are hitting .229 against his heater (.391 in his first six starts) and just .114 in two-strike counts (.284 in his first six).

Hanley Ramirez
Jose Reyes
Marlins Left Side
The Marlins have -16 Defensive Runs Saved this season, meaning their defense has cost them 16 runs, which ranks 20th in the majors. One of their weakest spots has been at SS, where they signed free agent Jose Reyes to replace Hanley Ramirez, in a supposed defensive upgrade.

The Marlins are tied for 28th in baseball with -9 Defensive Runs Saved at SS. Reyes is tied with Derek Jeter for the fewest DRS (-9) among qualified MLB SS.

Only three teams have fewer Defensive Runs Saved at 3B, but here’s a case where the traditional stats and the advanced metrics don’t match up. Miami has the fewest errors and the highest fielding percentage by third basemen this season.

One thing Reyes has done for Ramirez is put him in good spots offensively. Ramirez has 78 plate appearances with runners in scoring position this season -- only five players have more. He had 103 such PA all last season, tied for 200th in the majors.

His 131 PA with runners on base is fifth in baseball -- he had 168 last season, 214th in the majors.

Hudson gives Braves home-field advantage

May, 25, 2012

Daniel Shirey/US PresswireTim Hudson looks to continue his recent success at Turner Field tonight against the Nationals.
First place in the NL East is on the line this weekend as the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals kick off a three game series tonight at Turner Field. The Nationals currently hold a one-game lead but need to win at least two games in Atlanta to remain atop the division on Memorial Day.

The Braves look to reverse their recent slump and avoid a season-high fifth straight loss. The league’s second-best offense averaged just two runs per game and was hitless in 12 at-bats with runners in scoring position as they were swept by the Cincinnati Reds earlier this week.

Atlanta sends veteran Tim Hudson to the mound in the opening game tonight. Hudson is 14-3 with a 2.05 ERA in his career versus the Nationals/Expos franchise, the second-most wins and best ERA among active pitchers against the team.

Hudson has also not allowed more than three earned runs at home in his last 19 starts. That’s the longest current streak of consecutive home starts allowing three or fewer earned runs, and the longest by a Braves pitcher since Greg Maddux reeled off 23 such starts from 1993-95.

The Nationals enter the series having won three of their last four games, getting strong performances from their top three studs in the rotation – Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez – before losing to Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday.

Tonight Ross Detwiler takes the ball for the Nationals. Detwiler had the last non-quality start by a Washington pitcher when he allowed a season-high six runs in Saturday's 6-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

Detwiler allowed a total of eight earned runs in his first six starts combined (2.10 ERA), but has given up 10 earned runs in 10 innings (9.00 ERA) over his last two outings. Lefties are 3-for-7 with two extra-base hits against him during that span, after he held them to just two hits in 29 at-bats (.069 BA) in his first six starts this season.

Splitting Aces
Two aces who have had uncharacteristic struggles this season face off in south Florida tonight when Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants visit Josh Johnson and the Miami Marlins.

A two-time Cy Young winner, Lincecum has a career-worst 6.04 ERA and just one quality start this season. He has allowed at least four earned runs in six of nine starts, after doing so just seven times in 33 starts last year.

One major issue appears to be a significant drop in fastball velocity, along with a shrinking difference between the speeds of his heater and changeup. His fastball is averaging just 89.9 mph this season, after averaging 92.2 mph last year, while his changeup velocity has barely moved (83.7 mph in 2011, 83.1 mph in 2012).

Johnson struggled early on, going winless with a 6.69 ERA in his first six starts, but is 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA over his last three outings. His fastball has become much more effective, as opponents are hitting .125 against the pitch in his past three games, compared to .391 in his first six starts.

For Verlander, some fastballs were too fast

April, 11, 2012
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesAfter pitching 16 scoreless innings to start the season, Justin Verlander picked up the Tigers' first loss by allowing four runs in the ninth inning against the Rays.
For eight innings on Wednesday, Justin Verlander pitched like the reigning American League MVP and Cy Young winner. Twenty-three pitches later, the Detroit Tigers were on the way to their first loss of the season.

Verlander needed just 81 pitches to get through the first eight innings against the Tampa Bay Rays with the Tigers leading 2-0. That brought him to 16 scoreless innings with just three hits allowed on the season. In the ninth, he allowed four runs after surrendering three hits and a walk.

Verlander was the first pitcher to throw eight scoreless innings before allowing four or more runs in the ninth inning to take a loss since Tim Hudson for the Atlanta Braves on Sept. 22, 2005, against the Philadelphia Phillies.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he’s the first starting pitcher to pick up a loss after allowing no runs on one hit or fewer in the first eight innings of a game his team led entering the ninth since Mark Langston of the Seattle Mariners in 1989. Langston took a no-hitter into the ninth inning before losing to the Toronto Blue Jays.

Verlander struggled with his fastball in the ninth inning, seemingly from over-throwing the pitch. In his first 16 innings this season, Verlander averaged 93.1 mph on his fastball, reaching a maximum velocity of 97.9. On 13 fastballs in the ninth inning against the Rays, every pitch came in above that average. He measured as high as 99.5 mph and averaged 97.2 during the frame.

Even with the extra oomph, the Rays were able to get to Verlander because he was leaving the ball over the plate. Entering the ninth, opposing hitters were 2-for-25 against Verlander’s fastball as he threw only eight percent down the heart of the plate. In the ninth inning, he threw 31 percent of his fastballs straight down the middle, including two hits by the Rays.

Quick Hits

• With the Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks losing and the Minnesota Twins winning, every major-league team has at least one win and one loss.

• Six days after tying a career-high by allowing 10 hits against the St. Louis Cardinals, Josh Johnson didn’t make it out of the fourth inning against the Phillies after allowing a career-high 11 hits.

• Peter Bourjos hit the second inside-the-park home run in Target Field history. The ball traveled 372 feet and would have been out of 10 ballparks.

• Tim Lincecum lasted just 2⅓ innings against the Colorado Rockies, his shortest outing in 157 career starts.

• The Oakland Athletics won in the bottom of the 12th inning when Jonny Gomes was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. It was the first time game-ending hit by pitch since … Brad Lidge hit Gomes as the Washington Nationals beat the Philadelphia Phillies on August 21, 2011. From Elias, it was the first game to end with back-to-back hit batters since 1966.

• Stephen Strasburg tossed six scoreless innings, topping 100 pitches for the first time in 19 career starts with the Nationals.

Choice matchup: slider vs. cutter

April, 11, 2012

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
Roy Halladay celebrates after throwing a perfect game against the Marlins on May 29, 2010.
The Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies continue their three-game series tonight (ESPN2, 7 ET). This will be the first game for the Marlins without manager Ozzie Guillén, who was suspended five games by the team for his comments regarding his respect for Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro. This is the first time Guillén has been suspended in his managerial career. Joey Cora will make his managerial debut in the interim.

Starting Pitchers
Josh Johnson and Roy Halladay have started against each other four times, with Johnson’s teams winning three of the four games. Since Halladay joined the Phillies in 2010, they have faced off three times, with both pitchers going at least seven innings. In those games, a grand total of six runs were scored – and one perfect game was thrown (by Halladay).

The key for Johnson tonight will be how he commands his slider. Last season, opponents were 5-for-68 (.074) on at-bats ending in his slider. The league average was .217. Right-handed hitters were just 2-for-40 (.050) against the slider, with Albert Pujols and Justin Turner recording the only hits.

However, in his first outing this season, Johnson had trouble commanding the slider and allowed two hits off the pitch, both to David Frese.

In his first start this season, Halladay recorded the win over the Pittsburgh Pirates after throwing eight innings, allowing two hits, no earned runs and striking out five. The key to his success against the Pirates was his cutter, which has become his main weapon of choice. In that outing, Halladay threw only seven regular fastballs among the 92 pitches he threw.

Key Stat
The Phillies offense has been anemic to start the season. Their four extra-base hits are the fewest in the majors and no team but the Minnesota Twins have scored fewer than the Phillies’ 2.0 runs per game. Not since 1997 have the Phillies scored as few as eight runs in their first four games of the season. Philadelphia finished 68-94 that season and in last place in the NL East.

Player to Watch
Giancarlo Stanton has yet to hit a home run this season after hitting a career-high 34 last year. Overall, Stanton improved across the board in 2011, compared to his rookie year. He cut his strikeouts down, increased his walk rate from the league average to better than 83 percent of the league, all while increasing his power output. His 5.7 Wins Above Replacement, according the Baseball-Reference, ranked second among MLB rightfielders (Jose Bautista, 8.5).

Interesting Fact
Stanton’s full name is a sonorous mouthful: Giancarlo Cruz Michael Stanton. He is not Italian, and Giancarlo is not a family name – his parents just liked it. In school, Stanton, a California native, went by Giancarlo until the fifth grade.

Will Cohen contributed to this post
Stats & Info insights into this morning's top sports stories

Paul Pierce
1. PIERCE AND KG LEAD THE WAY: Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett combined for 51 points as the Boston Celtics beat the Heat 115-107 in Miami. Boston shot 60.6 percent from the field, the highest allowed by the Heat in the “Big 3” era (last two seasons). The Celtics lead the league with 18 wins after the All-Star Break. They were just 15-17 before the break.

2. TWO UNDEFEATED TEAMS LEFT: After losses by the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Mets, the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks are the only undefeated teams remaining in MLB. The Tigers are 4-0 for the 1st time since 2006. That season, they made the World Series. The Diamondbacks are 4-0 for the 1st time in franchise history.

3. PETRINO OUT: Bobby Petrino is out as Arkansas head football coach. Petrino was 34-17 in 4 seasons at Arkansas. The 2011 Razorbacks finished with their highest AP Ranking since 1977 and tied a school-record with 11 wins. Their only losses were to the top-2 teams in the nation (Alabama and LSU).

4. PLAYOFF PUCK DROPS: The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin Wednesday with three games. The Vancouver Canucks won the President’s Trophy for the second straight season and they host the Los Angeles Kings in the quarterfinals. The Detroit Red Wings are in the playoffs for the 21st-straight season, the longest active streak in the four major pro sports. They open at Nashville. The Philadelphia Flyers-Pittsburgh Penguins series also begins Wednesday. Pittsburgh is the favorite to win the Stanley Cup according to MGM Resorts International with 7-2 odds.

Roy Halladay
5. DUELING ACES: Dueling aces square off on Wednesday Night Baseball on ESPN2, 7 ET as Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies host Josh Johnson and the Miami Marlins. Halladay and Johnson have faced each other three previous times since Halladay joined the Phillies. In those three games, a grand total of six runs were scored, including a perfect game from Halladay on May 29, 2010.

Lohse stays low to reel in Marlins

April, 5, 2012
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesKyle Lohse carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning as the St. Louis Cardinals spoiled the opening of Marlins Park for the hosts.
On the night when Marlins Park opened and the new-look Miami Marlins were looking to take center stage, Kyle Lohse and the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals stole the show.

Lohse carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Jose Reyes led off the inning with a single. Lohse ended up tossing 7⅓ innings and allowing just two hits. He is the first Cardinals pitcher to throw that many innings and allow two or fewer hits on Opening Day since Ernie Broglio in 1963.

Before this game, Lohse’s longest no-hit bid was 5⅓ innings for the Minnesota Twins against the Detroit Tigers on April 3, 2003. This is the third straight season that a pitcher has thrown at least 6 innings before allowing a hit in his team’s opener. Josh Johnson went 6 innings before allowing a hit for the Marlins last year, and Shaun Marcum recorded one more out before surrendering a hit for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010.

Lohse’s success against the Marlins was a tribute to his command. Last season, he was second in the National League in called strike percentage, with 39.1 percent of his strikes being taken by the batter. He was nearly as sharp tonight, with 21 of his 56 strikes (37.5 percent) and two of his three strikeouts on called strikes.

He was also successful in keeping the ball down. Last season opponents hit .213 when Lohse kept the ball down and .295 when the ball was middle or up. Tonight, the Marlins were 0-for-8 with two strikeouts on pitches in the lower third or below the strike zone.

When Mike Matheny pulled Lohse from the game in the eighth inning, it was the first pitching change of his career as a manager. Former Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa holds the major-league record with 12,236 career pitching changes.

Marlins’ starter Josh Johnson allowed 10 hits in a game for just the second time in his career. After allowing only one first-inning run in nine starts last season, he allowed two runs in the first inning against the Cardinals.

The Cardinals were the first defending World Series champion to win their opener since the Boston Red Sox in 2008. The last three champions had lost on Opening Day.

MLB Daily: Jeter, Bucs and no-hit luck

May, 10, 2011
Today’s trivia: Roy Halladay pitches against Josh Johnson and the Florida Marlins tonight. Halladay threw a perfect game against the Marlins last year with Johnson on the mound. Only one pitcher has thrown multiple no-hitters against the same losing pitcher. Can you name the matchup?

Jeter on the rise?
Following a 2010 season when Derek Jeter had slash lines of .270/.340/.370 -- the lowest in his career for a full season -- critics argued that he was declining rapidly, both in the field and at the plate.

Entering play on Saturday, Jeter had been even worse: .250/.312/.268.
Derek Jeter

What was most alarming was the lack of power.

Among 239 players with at least 75 plate appearances entering the weekend, Jeter ranked 223rd in slugging percentage at .268. That gave him an Isolated Power (ISO) of .018. (ISO measures how good a player is at hitting for extra bases. Last season the league average was .145.) Jeter’s lowest ISO for a season is .100, which came last season.

Jeter also recently said that a couple of four-hit games would help get him back on track.

For the most part he was right.

Following a weekend during which Jeter went 6-for-11 with three extra-base hits (including his first two home runs of the season), his batting average jumped 26 points and his slugging percentage rose 82 points.

In terms of slugging percentage, Jeter had the second-best weekend among players with at least five at-bats, slugging 1.182. Only Carlos Gomez, who doubled twice and tripled in five at-bats for a 1.400 slugging percentage, topped Jeter.

The Yankees captain can build on his weekend by facing three Kansas City Royals pitchers that he's fared well against in his career. Jeter is a combined 21-for-55 (.382) with six extra-base hits against Kansas City's projected starters Kyle Davies, Bruce Chen and Sean O'Sullivan.

Bucs above .500
The Pittsburgh Pirates (18-17) have a winning record at the deepest point in a season since May 29, 2004, when they were 23-22. How do the Pirates -- who have finished with a losing record in each of the past 18 seasons -- have more wins than losses?

• 2.81 bullpen ERA -- 2004 was the last time the Pirates' bullpen finished with an ERA under four (3.59).

• 11 saves -- only the Rockies, Yankees and Giants have more. The last time the Pirates led the league in saves was 1991.

• 3.54 team ERA -- Pittsburgh has not had a team ERA under four since 1998. The Pirates' ERA has been above 4.50 each of the past five seasons.

• 11 road wins -- only the Angels have more (12). The last time the Pirates finished with a winning road record? 1992 (43-38), which was the last time they made the postseason.

Trivia answer: In 1973, Kansas City Royals pitcher Steve Busby no-hit the Detroit Tigers with Clyde Wright as the opposing pitcher. Busby’s second no-hitter came in 1974 against the Brewers, with Wright the opposing starting pitcher.

US Presswire
Expect runs to be at a premium tonight in Florida with Halladay and Johnson on the mound.

Two of the game’s best pitchers face off Tuesday in Florida when Josh Johnson and the Florida Marlins host Roy Halladay and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Combined, Johnson and Halladay are allowing fewer than four earned runs per game (1.68 and 2.19, respectively).

This will be the fourth meeting between the two aces. They pitched against each other once when Halladay was with the Blue Jays and twice last season, including Halladay’s perfect game on May 29. The Phillies won that game 1-0, only the sixth 1-0 perfect game in major-league history.

Johnson was the losing pitcher in that game, but in his three starts against Halladay, he's allowed one earned run in 20⅔ innings.

Johnson and Halladay rank among the top pitchers in the National League in multiple statistical categories: Halladay has allowed the fewest HR per 9 innings pitched, and ranks second to teammate Cliff Lee in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Johnson has the lowest WHIP, and each ranks in the top 10 in ERA.

Each enters the game with a loss this season, so they are beatable. However, if you're going to get to either Halladay or Johnson, it's not going to be at the start of the game. The two right-handers are among the best when it comes to the first three innings, combining to allow just three earned runs and striking out 50. In the third inning, opponents are 0-for-20 against Johnson.

Johnson will be facing a Phillies lineup that could feature seven left-handed hitters (including switch-hitters). Lefties Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez and Brian Schneider have combined to hit 12 home runs. However, Johnson's been strong against lefties this season, allowing 14 hits -- none of which have left the ball park -- in 85 at-bats.

One key to Halladay's success this season has been his ability to keep the ball down. A potential reason: Halladay has increased the use of his changeup from 13.4 percent (about once every eight pitches) over the past two seasons to 27.6 percent (about once every four pitches) this season. This has resulted in his opponents’ batting average to drop from .221 to .153 in at-bats that end with the pitches down in the zone.

Halladay was 4-1 against the Marlins last season, striking out 41 and walking two in 38 innings. He’s 3-0 with a 1.46 ERA in his past three starts with 32 strikeouts and two walks.

In 19 starts at home since the start of last season, Johnson is 9-3 with a 1.52 ERA. He’s allowed just three home runs in 130 innings with 151 strikeouts and 27 walks. Hitters leading off an inning are 4-for-48 with two walks against Johnson this season.
With April in the books, let's take a look at the first month that was in the major leagues.

We called 2010 the Year of the Pitcher and 2011 is shaping up to be the same -- or better. Since the mound was lowered in 1969, no March/April has had a higher strikeout rate than in 2011. League-wide walk rate is also the second lowest it’s been during the last 43 years, and not surprisingly, strikeout-to-walk ratio is also the best it’s ever been.

And according to Inside Edge, only 20.2 percent of at-bats have ended with a “well hit” ball this season. That’s the lowest rate in March/April since 2007.

One thing to note, is that 29 pitchers (min 30 IP) last season had a fastball that averaged 95 MPH or higher, by far the most since velocity data is available going back to 2002. This season, only 16 pitchers are averaging 95 or higher.

Jered Weaver, LAA

Opponents are missing on 26.3 percent of their swings against Weaver this season, (26.1 last season, 10th among qualified pitchers). From 2006 to 2009, Weaver’s miss percentage was just 21.4. Last season, Weaver took more hitters to two-strike counts than any pitcher in baseball and led baseball in strikeouts. This season he's first and second, respecitvely.

Josh Johnson, FLA
Before his start Saturday, Johnson had not allowed a hit in the first three innings in his previous five starts. In three of his six starts, he pitched at least 5 ⅔ innings of no-hit ball. Johnson alone has three of the eight total no-hit bids of at least 5 ⅔ innings this season. According to Elias, he was the first pitcher in the last 50 years with three starts of at least 5 ⅔ no-hit innings in April.

Weaver had the lowest opponents' batting average against his fastball and Johnson had the lowest against his slider.

Jose Bautista, TOR

Bautista has carried over his tremendous 2010 season. His nine homers lead the American League and are well ahead of his 2010 pace when he finished with an MLB-best 54 homers. He also leads the AL in OBP and slugging percentage.

Andre Ethier, LAD
Ethier’s 26-game hitting streak is the longest ever for a single season in April and the second-longest by a Dodgers player since the franchise moved to Los Angeles in 1958.

There's nothing good to throw these guys; Bautista leads the majors in batting average against sliders and Ethier is second in batting average against changeups.

Successful stolen base attempts resulted in a run 36 percent of the time in March and April, but potential for runs has collateral damage: the batters. Hitters who were at bat during a steal attempt have hit just four home runs in 523 at-bats and are well below league averages in batting average and strikeout rate. Johnny Damon has been the poster child for poor hitting after a steal, going 0-for-7 with five strikeouts … all on Sam Fuld attempts.

The Yankees have made the most of their 19 stolen base attempts, scoring eight runs, the highest percentage of runners to score following a steal attempt this season. The Braves have scored just once in 14 attempts, the worst percentage in the league.

Josh Johnson is in command in 2011

April, 24, 2011

Josh Johnson has handled right handed hitters differently this season. Left picture shows 2009 and 2010 seasons. Right picture shows this season.

If it seems like Josh Johnson is flirting with a no-hitter every time out this season, it’s because he is. In each of his five starts this season, the Florida Marlins right-hander has not allowed a hit though three innings. In three of his five starts, including Sunday against the Rockies, he pitched at least 5⅔ innings of no-hit ball. Johnson has three of the six total no-hit bids of at least 5⅔ innings this season. According to Elias, he is the first pitcher in the last 50 years with three starts of at least 5⅔ no-hit innings in April.

So how has Johnson been able to dominate hitters each time out? It helps to have a mid-90s fastball and a devastating power slider. But it hasn’t been his stuff as much as the way he’s commanding those pitches, especially to right-handed hitters.

If we look at the heat maps above, we can see just how well Johnson is locating the ball to righties. The heat map on the left shows Johnson’s pitch frequency to righties in the previous two seasons and the one on the right shows it in 2011. Focusing on the red area, the spots Johnson hits most often, we can see that he’s keeping the ball down in the zone to righties much more frequently – with increased effectiveness.

As you can see in the chart, Johnson is hammering the ball down in the zone, throwing it 60-percent more frequently to righties than he did in the previous two seasons. His ground-ball rate against righties has jumped, moving into the elite 50-percent threshold, and his OPS is off-the-charts low.

The biggest improvement with Johnson’s command has been on his slider. He’s throwing it slightly more often to righties -- 36.6 percent of the time compared to 31.4 the previous two seasons -- but with improved location and results. After 58.5 percent of his sliders were down in the zone in 2009 and 2010 combined, a whopping 83.6 percent of his sliders are down in the strike zone or below this season.

The result is that the slider has become even more of a chase pitch for Johnson. Righties are swinging at 52.3 percent of his sliders out of the zone this season, compared to just 31.8 percent last season, helping make the pitch literally unhittable to this point. Right-handed batters are 0-for-20 in at-bats ending on Johnson’s sliders this season, including nine strikeouts. That’s the most outs recorded by a pitcher without giving up a hit on any pitch type this season against righties.

Obviously, it’s not even May yet, so the small sample rule still applies, but if Johnson can sustain this kind of command, we’ll be sure to hear the words Josh Johnson and no-hitter much more this season.
Not only was 2010 the Year of the No-Hitter (six including the postseason), but it also was the Year of the Near No-Hitter. Five other potential no-nos were broken up in the ninth inning, the highest number since 1990.

On Friday night, Florida Marlins pitcher Anibal Sanchez recorded the first near no-hitter of the 2011 campaign, losing his bid after Colorado Rockies center fielder Dexter Fowler led off the ninth inning with a single.

How did Sanchez shut down the Rockies? He was dominant with several pitches.

Sanchez's fastball averaged 92.1 mph, only the eighth time since the 2009 season he averaged 92 or faster in a start. He recorded eight misses on 26 swings on his fastball (30.8 percent), the third-highest miss percentage on his fastball in the past three seasons.

While the heater was superb, Sanchez also used his off-speed pitches to get hitters out, especially with two strikes. Sanchez retired 13 Rockies hitters with off-speed pitches, despite throwing just 17 off-speed pitches with two strikes the entire game. He recorded 12 outs on his slider, including nine with two strikes -- the most in a start since September 2009.

The Marlins have three of the five longest no-hit bids so far this season. Sanchez’s is the longest of the season, and Josh Johnson has taken one into the eighth inning and another into the seventh.

The Marlins are tied with the Red Sox and Yankees for the most no-hitters since 1993 (Marlins’ inaugural season) with four. Al Leiter, Kevin Brown, A.J. Burnett and Sanchez have tossed the Florida no-hitters.

Had Sanchez finished off the no-hitter Friday, the 27-year-old would have become the sixth-youngest pitcher at the time of his second no-hitter (Johnny Vander Meer is the youngest at 23 years, 225 days).
Atlanta Braves
Dan Uggla is a .354 career hitter at Turner Field. His batting average is the third-best at Turner Field since the ballpark opened in 1997. His .652 slugging percentage at Turner trails only a pair of baseball greats: Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols.

As a rookie last season, Jason Heyward's discipline was highlighted by his ability to not chase pitches in two-strike counts. In those situations, Heyward chased just 31 percent of pitches compared to the league average of 36 percent, according to Inside Edge.

Florida Marlins
The only pitcher with a better FIP over the last two seasons than Josh Johnson's 2.76 is Tim Lincecum, 2.73. (FIP -- Fielding Independent Pitching -- is a measurement for everything a pitcher can control without the help of his defense: strikeouts, walks and home runs.)

Will Mike Stanton continue to struggle at home? Stanton hit .259 in his rookie season, but just .182 at home. He had only nine extra-base hits in 159 home at-bats compared to 35 extra-base hits in 200 road at-bats.

New York Mets
Last season they allowed 12 grand slams but didn't hit one. David Wright will likely become the franchise leader in both RBI and extra-base hits. He needs 70 RBI to pass Darryl Strawberry's team record of 773, and 27 extra-base hits to break Strawberry's record of 469.

Having cut Luis Castillo, the Mets appear to be leaning toward making Brad Emaus their second baseman. Last season, the Mets ranked 15th or 16th in the National League in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage by their second basemen.

Philadelphia Phillies
How much the Phillies will miss Jayson Werth remains to be seen. But, in 2010, the Phillies received more home runs and a higher slugging percentage out of right field than any other team in baseball.

With the acquisition of Cliff Lee, the Phillies have a starting rotation whose top four will rank among the best in baseball in almost every significant statistical category. Cole Hamels (T-4th), Roy Oswalt (6th), Roy Halladay (8th) and Cliff Lee (14th) all rank in the top 14 among active pitchers in career strikeout-to-walk ratio. Lee, the lowest of the four, led the major leagues last season.

Washington Nationals
While Jayson Werth should be an upgrade in right field, the Nats still have significant issues in center. They got a National League-worst two home runs from the position last season and their centerfielders' combined on-base percentage of .303 ranked 13th.

It appears Rick Ankiel will be the Nationals' starting centerfielder on Opening Day. After hitting 25 home runs in 120 games in 2008 with the Cardinals, Ankiel's hit just 17 in 196 games over the past two seasons.

-- Mark Simon contributed to this report