Saturday, September 13, 2008

Scouting Report: Nationals at Marlins (9/13)

Hey buddy, you say, aren't you the one who predicted doom for Shairon Martis and Scott Olsen last night and a 14-10 slugfest? Shows how smart you are!

Well, I say, who won the game? I called that right. For the ninth time in the last ten in fact. If Bowden was right 90% of the time, we wouldn't be on our way to 100 losses would we?

Here's my take on game two from muggy Miami. For more on the Marlins' offense, see my preview of game one.

Pitching Match-Up
Josh Johnson: The 6'7" 24-year-old righty was drafted in the fourth round of the 2002 draft by the Marlins and broke into the major leagues in 2006 as part of Florida's four-rookie crop of ten-game winners, along with Anibal Sanchez, Scott Olsen, and Ricky Nolasco. With Dontrelle Willis as the 24-year-old veteran leading that group, it seemed the Marlins were set for life, or at least the better part of the next decade.

Then everything went haywire. Johnson's elbow blew out and he had Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery last July; Sanchez went down with a torn labrum, same injury Chad Cordero has now; Olsen went on a bender and got himself tasered and all that; Nolasco went down in May 2007 with chronic elbow inflammation; and Willis was shipped off to Detroit, where he commenced sucking. Most people seem to blame Joe Girardi, especially in Johnson's case, because his aches followed a game when Girardi made him pitch after a long rain delay (which is probably fair, but just a little bit in Girardi's defense, they have a thunderstorm between 5 and 7 pm every damn day in Miami).

It would appear, however, that not all is lost. In addition to the spoils of the Willis trade, the Marlins have Josh Johnson back, and he's looking great. Eleven months is short recovery time for a TJ, which can often take more like a year and a half to recover from. But recovery times are shortening up, and Baseball Prospectus's Will Carroll observed that TJ survivors whose problems resulted from overuse (which was the case for Johnson) tend to recover faster than pitchers with mechanical problems (like Kerry Wood).

It's not uncommon for pitchers to come back from Tommy John with more velocity, and that's been the case with Johnson. He threw 90-92 in '06, but is hitting 93-95 now. More unusual is that his command is better now than it was before the surgery. He's walking just 7.9% of batters faced this year, against 11.2% in 2006. I read in some places that his strikeouts were up, but that's not really true--he's K-ed around 20-21% of batters faced this year, which is essentially the same as '06. And it's terrific.

He throws a sinking fastball, slider, and a change. In addition to the excellent strikeout numbers, he gets a ton of groundballs--46.5% of balls in play this year (42% is average). Lefties have given him a little more trouble than righties over his career, with a .356 OBP against .298 for righties. (Anyone know where we can find some left-handed hitters?)

To win, the Nationals will need to wait for the sinker to drift up in the zone and then get XBHs when that happens, not just slappy singles. They did it to Mike Pelfrey the other night, who is a pretty similar pitcher to Johnson, and not just in stature.

Tim Redding:
Redding is looking to build on another nice little run of solid but unspectacular starts. (Hey Phillies, you could've had Redding for a lot less than that bum Blanton you emptied your minor league system for!) He's gone 5.2 or 6 innings in five straight games and allowed 3 runs or fewer in the last four. It's kind of eerie, but he's gone 5 2/3, 6 1/3, or exactly 6 innings in 18 of his 30 starts this year. Dude's got like a little internal egg timer in there or something.

He's actually survived some command issues in his last two, in which he walked three in both. Nothing disastrous, but nothing he can get away with consistently either.

Fearless Prediction

(Season record: 27-15)
The Nationals take one step closer to their fateful smackdown with Scott Boras, agent for Steven Strasburg, with a 5-2 loss.

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