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Entries in Miami Marlins (11)


Healthy Hanley Key for Marlins

As the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins kick off the 2012 regular season tonight at 7:00 pm EST on ESPN, much of the focus is on what's new for the fish -- the name, stadium, manager, unis and roster among them. But a holdover moving to a new position, Hanley Ramirez, may be the most important Marlin of all.

The shortstop-turned third baseman had a down year in 2011, slowed by a bad back and a left shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery in September. Ramirez's OPS+ plummeted from 139 from 2008-10 to just 95. Those ailments put a big dent in Hanley's power numbers, as his slugging percentage declined from .497 from '08 to '10 to .379 in 2011.

The reason for Ramirez's power outage was two-fold: He hit fewer fly balls, and when he did loft a pitch, it didn't travel near as far.

From 2008-10, Ramirez's 46% ground ball rate was just slightly above the 44% big league average. Take a look at his ground ball percentage by pitch location over that time frame, and then the MLB average:

Ramirez's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2008-10

Average ground ball rate by pitch location, 2008-10Ramirez grounded out more often on low-and-away pitches (68%) than the average hitter (61%), but otherwise he hit a normal number of choppers. Now, look at his ground ball rate by pitch location in 2011:

Ramirez's ground ball rate by pitch location, 2011

Hanley's ground ball rate on low-and-away stuff climbed to a startling 82%, highest among all MLB hitters. Plus, his grounder rate on middle and high pitches increased from 41% to 47%. Overall, Ramirez hit a ground ball 52% of the time he put a ball in play. That's Jason Bartlett/Jamey Carroll territory.

When Ramirez did manage to get the ball in the air, he rarely ripped it. He lost nearly 20 feet on his fly balls hit, with his average fly ball distance dropping from 277 feet to 259 feet (the MLB average is about 270 feet). Most of that decline came on pitches thrown up and away:

Ramirez's fly ball distance by pitch location, 2008-10

Ramirez's fly ball distance by pitch location, 2011

Tonight, you'll hear plenty about , tape-delay diatribes to come from Ozzie and new duds by the cinematic classic BASEketball. Keep an eye on Hanley's swing, though -- it could be the difference between a run at a playoff spot and a fourth-place finish in the NL East.


Hitters Teeing Off on Big Z's Heat

I can't wait for the third and final season of HBO's Eastbound & Down to start in February, but Kenny Powers' antics might look downright prudish compared to what goes down in the Miami Marlins' clubhouse next year. You've got a brand new park arousing SEC suspicion, a manager in need of a three-second tape delay, two star shortstops on the left side of the infield, an Elvis-impersonating closer, and a Twitter-loving left fielder. And now, add Carlos Zambrano to that South Beach powder keg.

The Cubs shipped Big Z to the Marlins for young but lefty-and-homer-prone starter Chris Volstad. Chicago will cover $15 million of Zambrano's $18 million salary for 2012 (no word on whether the Cubbies will chip in for the extra Gatorade dispensers and Louisville Sluggers the Fish will inevitably need). Zambrano waived a $19 million option for 2013 that would have vested if he finished in the top four in Cy Young voting.

While Big Z was once good for 200-plus innings and a sub-four ERA, he's a far cry from Cy Young form these days. The 30-year-old right-hander is coming off his worst season in the majors, striking out a career-low 15.9 percent of batters faced, surrendering a career-high 1.17 HR/9 and posting a career-worst 4.59 Fielding Independent Pitching in 145.2 innings before calling it quits on August 12 after a five-homer outing against the Braves. Volstad actually had a lower FIP, at 4.32.

Zambrano's on-field woes can mostly be traced to his heat. His fastball didn't miss nearly as many bats as usual, and his sinker, well, didn't.

In 2009, hitters slugged .381 against Z's fastball and missed the pitch 16.6 percent of the time they offered at it. Zambrano's fastball was even better in 2010, limiting batters to a .242 slugging percentage with a 21.6 miss percentage (those are just his numbers as a starter, to make an apples-to-apples comparison). But in 2011, opponents teed off to the tune of a .513 slugging percentage and they missed Z's fastball just 11.5 percent. Lefties were especially troublesome, slugging .589 and missing just 10.4 percent of fastballs swung at. Z has lost some zip on the pitch, averaging 90.2 mph compared to 90.6 in 2010 and 91.5 mph in 2009.

In '09 and '10, Zambrano did a good job of limiting contact on fastballs thrown at the knees or at the tip of the strike zone. Check out his fastball contact rate by pitch location, compared to the league average:

Zambrano's fastball contact rate by pitch location, 2009-2010

Average fastball contact rate by pitch location, 2009-2010

This past year, though? Zambrano was seeing red just about everywhere in the zone, and that was particularly the case in the lower half:

Zambrano's fastball contact rate by pitch location, 2011While Z's fastball got hit more often and harder, his sinker refused to stay down. Zambrano threw about 14 percent of his sinkers high in the strike zone in 2009. That increased to 25.5 percent in 2010 and spiked to 28 percent this past year (the average for starters is about 23 percent).

With Zambrano putting more sinkers on a tee, opponents' slugging percentage against the pitch climbed from .343 to .444 to .489. Those high sinkers are the ones hitters scorched last year:

Opponents' in-play slugging percentage vs. Zambrano's sinker, 2011

Zambrano threw fewer fastballs and sinkers than usual in 2011 (a combined 50.5 percent, down from around 54 percent the two previous years), yet 13 of the 19 homers he coughed up came on those pitches.

The Marlins aren't taking much of a financial risk in adding Zambrano to a rotation that already includes Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Mark Buehrle, and the club's new stadium may well play as a pitcher's park that aids Z in keeping the ball in the park. But if Zambrano doesn't miss more lumber with his fastball and get his sinker to sink, Miami could regret giving up three years of Volstad for one year of mercurial mediocrity.


Josh Johnson Most Important Marlin in 2012

Much ink has been spilt over the nouveau riche Miami Marlins' free agent additions. From franchise shortstop Jose Reyes to ultra-durable Mark Buehrle to closer Heath Bell, the Fish handed out a total of $191 million to bolster Ozzie Guillen's lineup and fill their new $634 million retractable roof stadium. But the difference between the Marlins contending with the Phillies and Braves and once again being relegated to also-ran status may well be injury-prone ace Josh Johnson.

During Florida's bleak 72-90 season in 2011, Johnson was limited to just 60.1 innings pitched by right shoulder inflammation. He threw his last pitch on May 16, with the Marlins eight games over .500 and just one game back of the Phillies. While Anibal Sanchez turned in a quality year, Javier Vazquez was unhittable in the second half and the staff got little help from a plodding defense (17th in the majors in Defensive Efficiency), the Florida rotation was mediocre as a whole. They ranked eighth in the National League in Fielding Independent Pitching (3.88) and 12th in innings pitched, taxing the bullpen often. Without Johnson, the Marlins tried to convert Clay Hensley (5.53 FIP as a starter) mid-season and called on not-ready prospect Brad Hand (5.73 FIP).

Buehrle will provide innings, but Vazquez seems headed for retirement. That leaves Johnson as Miami's best bet at having a top-tier starter to combat the Halladays and Lees of the NL East. When he's healthy, Johnson qualifies. Check out where he ranks in some key categories among starters since 2009:

Batting Average Against: .227, 82nd percent among starters (better than 82 percent of starters). Places between Mat Latos and C.J. Wilson.

On-Base Percentage Against: .284, 92nd percentile. Ranks between Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw.

Slugging Percentage Against: .320, 94th percentile and sandwiched between Kershaw and Felix Hernandez.

Strikeout Percentage: 23.6%, 86th percentile. Between Zack Greinke and Latos.

Walk Percentage: 6.9%, 81st percentile. Between Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia.

The key for Johnson is a devastating mid-to-high-90s fastball. When hitters do manage to make contact (which isn't often -- his 20% miss rate with the pitch is ninth among starters since '09), it's weak contact. Look at opponents' in-play slugging percentage by location vs. Johnson's heater, compared to the league average. When Johnson keeps the ball low, they've got no chance:

Opponents' in-play slugging percentage vs. Johnson's fastball, 2009-2011

Average opponent in-play slugging percentage vs. fastballs, 2009-2011

Johnson has held hitters to a .338 slugging percentage with his fastball since 2009, trailing only Felix Hernandez among starters.

With a wicked fastball, Johnson ranked ninth among starters with 12 Wins Above Replacement from 2009-2010. Verlander, Greinke, Halladay, Lee, King Felix, Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jon Lester were the only guys with higher WAR totals, and Johnson placed high on the WAR leader board in 2011 before his shoulder shut him down. To keep pace with Philly, Atlanta and an upstart Nationals team, the Marlins need a healthy, Cy Young-level season out of Johnson.