Stats & Info: Marlins

Marlins bank on breakout, ink Nolasco

December, 20, 2010
The Florida Marlins, widely criticized for failing to spend money, have locked up their second rotation piece to a multi-year contract, agreeing with right-hander Ricky Nolasco on a 3-year/$26.5 million deal. It was just under a year ago that the Marlins committed to Josh Johnson for four years, and now they will have both starters through at least 2013.

Ricky Nolasco
The Marlins commitment to Nolasco could signify that the team is expecting the sort of breakout that Nolasco’s peripherals have indicated is coming for years. Few pitchers have been as perplexing as Nolasco; over the last two seasons, Nolasco’s ERA has lagged well behind his supporting statistics. In other words, he has the ERA of a No. 4 starter and the peripherals of a No. 1.

In fact, Nolasco was the only starting pitcher between 2009 and 2010 (combined) to post a strikeout rate per nine innings of 8.5 or greater and an ERA of 4.75 or greater (min. 300 IP).

If Nolasco is wildly underperforming his peripherals, what could be the cause of it besides potential 'bad luck'? For starters, the Marlins defense has been one of the worst across-the-board over the last two seasons, ranking 15th in the National League in team-wide Defensive Runs Saved (-51) and 16th in Plus/minus (-79), both courtesy of Baseball Info Solutions. The Marlins received below-average defense, according to Defensive Runs Saved, at all four non-catcher infield positions, as well as in center field.

Though some of those fielders will be back in 2011 -- Dan Uggla is gone and the third base situation is up in the air -- Nolasco's combination of plentiful strikeouts and minimal walks seems destined to put him in line for a breakout season at some point in his career. Over the last two seasons, Nolasco ranks fourth among starting pitchers in baseball in strikeout-to-walk ratio, and three of the other four in the top five have won a Cy Young award at some point in their careers.

Put it all together, and the Marlins have assembled a front three portion of their starting rotation -- Johnson, Nolasco and Javier Vazquez -- that is unmatched in its ability to register strikeouts. In fact, among pitchers with at least 300 innings pitched over the past two seasons, the Marlins are the only team in baseball scheduled to go into 2011 with three starters who have averaged 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings or better over that span. Only two other teams even has two such starters -- the Detroit Tigers with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and the San Francisco Giants with Tim Lincecum and Jonathan Sanchez.
So while the Marlins might be banking on a breakout from Nolasco to justify the contract, they are putting their money on a pitcher whose underlying statistics justify the faith.
Two of the best young arms from the Sunshine State were bright on Thursday afternoon. Anibal Sanchez shook off his recent struggles to one-hit the Giants in a 5-0 Marlins win. David Price countered with nine strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings as the Rays beat the Tigers, 4-2.

The two young hurlers were both very effective, doing so with a different arsenal of pitches.

How Marlins starter Anibal Sanchez one-hit the Giants:
" Threw 40 sliders out of 118 pitches (33.9 percent; second-highest this season); set season highs with 12 outs recorded, eight swinging strikes and six strikeouts.
" Despite season-low 11 first-pitch strikes (41.4 percent), threw 72.2 percent strikes when behind in the count and induced six groundball outs (seven total) when behind.
" Threw nearly a third of his pitches (30.5 percent) in the down-and-away zone, which yielded eight of his 14 swinging strikes and four of eight strikeouts; hitters were 0-10 in this zone and are 2-27 over his last six starts.

How Rays starter David Price defeated the Tigers for his 14th win:

" Dominated with fastball: Threw 98 of them out of 115 total pitches (85.2 percent), the second-highest rate of the season. Four of the Tigers' big hitters (Austin Jackson, Miguel Cabrera, Johnny Damon, Brennan Boesch) saw 53 fastballs and only five off-speed pitches between them.
" Threw 43 pitches on the outside edge of the plate, including 38 fastballs. Detroit hitters missed with 32.8 percent of all swings (a season-high for Price's opponents) and 30 percent against fastballs away.
" Went to only four 2-0 counts, and no 3-0 counts, the entire game. The Tigers managed only two singles with two strikes against them, and were 1-for-11 with runners on base.