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When He Goes to Sleep at Night, He's Fishing in His Dreams: Next Series Pitchers Preview: Florida Marlins

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Hey all, sorry I haven't done one of these in a while.  Anyway, this weekend, our beloved Passerines come back home triumphantly after a successful -- if abbreviated due to rain -- series road trip to Texas, in which we took two of three games, though we did drop the third in pretty heart-breaking fashion, 1-0.  The Jays will be hosting the Florida Marlins at the Rogers Centre this weekend, 12-14 June, before a day off on Monday and then heading back out on the road.  The Jays seem to have sorted out the issues that caused their rocky spell and they have a chance to continue that strong play against a Marlins team that just dropped a series to the Cardinals.  The series opens on Friday night at 7 pm with Doc Halladay looking for his 11th win and Ricky Nolasco looking for his third.  On Saturday afternoon, Casey Janssen looks to build on his strong performance this past week, while Sean West faces the Jays for the first time in just his fifth career start.  On Sunday afternoon, in the last game of the series, Brian Tallet pitches for the Jays against Marlins fireballer Josh Johnson, a personal favorite of mine, who I will be rooting against anyway.

 

12 June

Ricky Nolasco (2-6, 8.17, 1.816 WHIP)

Nolasco was excellent last year, when he pitched to a 3.52 ERA over 212 1/3 innings and garnered 15 wins with excellent peripherals (8.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9).  He has had a rough start to this season, however, giving up less than four runs in just three of his ten starts.  So far, he's pitched 50 2/3 innings and struck out a respectable 41 (6.5 K/9), while walking just 16 (2.5 BB/9) en route to a 2.6 K/BB ratio and he hasn't been any more prone to giving up the long ball than last year (1.27 HR/9 in 2009, 1.25 HR/9 in 2008).  Obviously, that is some regression, but his ERA is greatly inflated by a very high 25.4% Linedrive rate (resulting in a .380 BABIP) and an impossibly low 53.8% strand-rate.  Nolasco is not pitching even nearly as well as he did last year, but nor is he pitching as badly as the numbers would suggest at first glance.  The sharp decline in his K-rate should be hurting him, but sooner or later his luck has to even out a bit (let's hope it's later than Friday night).  After briefly being demoted, Nolasco makes his second start since being called back up.

So far this season, Nolasco has PQSed 4, 1, 0, 3, 2, 3, 4, 0, 0 and 2 for a mean of 1.9 and Dominance- and Disaster-Rates of 20% and 40%.  His PQS scores have been affected somewhat by luck, however, as bad luck on balls in play does result in fewer outs and, consequently, difficulty reaching the fifth and sixth innings (Nolasco pitched at least six innings just five times in ten starts).

Over his career, Nolasco has been devastating on righthanded hitters (.258 / .298 / .424; 5.05 K/BB) but has had some trouble with lefties (.286 / .340 / .484; 2.07 K/BB).  Nolasco was even tougher on righties last year, when he struck them out roughly 1/4 of the time (99 of them in just 397 plate appearances).  This season, Nolasco has made it tough on righties to hit the ball (again striking them out in roughly 1/4 of their plate appearances), but a BABIP of .418 has helped them along to an OPS of 957.

Nolasco, similar to Shaun Marcum, gets a lot of strikeouts despite not having an overpowering fastball, because of his ability to throw several different pitches for strikes in almost any count.  He throws a decent four-seamer that he can get into the low-90's and also mixes in a two-seamer and an occasional splitter to induce groundballs.  He also throws a tight curve that drops off the table and a good hard slider that he may try to backdoor against lefties.

 

13 June

Sean West (1-1, 2.22, 0.945 WHIP)

The 22 year-old West is a tall (6' 8") lefty.  He makes just the fifth start of his Major League career on Saturday afternoon and will try to repeat his excellent performance 8 June against the San Francisco Giants, in which he struck out six, walked one and yielded just two hits over eight innings en route to his first major league win.  Although I have nothing against West, I doubt that he'll be able to maintain this level of production at this age, particularly considering his high walk-rates throughout the minors (5.4 BB/9 over 100 IP in 2008 at High A ball).  He has had some success getting strikeouts (8.2 K/9 in 2008 and 7.6 K/9 in 2006 at A ball), though it is possible that he his command has not fully returned in his recovery from a torn labrum in 2007.  I would not be too worried about strikeouts in the low minors, however, as many of the batters pitchers face are raw high-ceiling prospects, who tend to strike out a lot regardless of who they are facing.  Coupling his 30% groundball-rate with his 6.3% HR/Flyball-rate should mean that he's going to give up a few more dingers as the season goes on.

In his four starts thus far, West has PQSed 3, 3, 0 and 5 for a Mean of 2.75 and Dominance- and Disaster-Rates of 25% each.

West dominated lefties in the minors to the tune of 9.8 K/9 (8.0 K/9 vs. righties), but had some control issues against both as well (3.6 BB/9 vs. Lefties and 3.8 BB/9 vs. Righties).  His groundball-rates in the minors were better than what he has done so far, so he may keep the ball down better than what we've seen so far would indicate.

Sean West's arsenal features a low-mid 90's four-seamer which he has thrown with great frequency thus far.  As many lefties do, he mixes a changeup in to keep righthanded hitters off-balance, but he has trouble locating it at times.  He also throws a very tight cutter-like slider (a pitch Jonathan Papelbon calls his "slutter") and a looser slurve-type slider.

 

14 June

Josh Johnson (5-1, 2.73, 1.067 WHIP)

Johnson is a big (6' 7", 240 lbs.) righty who dials up the heat.  At just 25 years old, he is becoming one of the best starters in the National League and could arguably already be well into that category, had he not been abused in a meaningless September game when then-Marlins manager Joe Girardi sent him back out to continue pitching following an 82-minute rain delay.  He is currently leading the National League in innings pitched, with 89, and has struck out 77 (7.8 K/9) and walked 20 (2.0 BB/9) for an excellent 3.85 K/BB-ratio.  Outside of his very brief injury-riddled 2007 season (he pitched just 15 2/3 innings), Johnson has a 3.13 career ERA.  His 2.73 ERA so far this season may come up a tad, but it is pretty legitimate, so we're going to have to rely on a strong outing from Tallet to keep us in this one.

Johnson's PQS log this season reads 4, 5, 5, 5, 3, 4, 4, 0, 5, 5, 5, 5 and 5, resulting in a PQS-mean of a Doc-like 4.23 and Dominance- and Disaster-Rates of 85% and 8%, respectively.  Like I said before, this guy is the absolute real deal.

Over Johnson's career, righties have had a lot of trouble reaching base (.231 / .296 / .357; 3.02 K/BB) and this year he's dominated them even more (.210 / .251 / .309; 6.00 K/BB).  Career-wise, lefties have fared a little better (.270 / .349 / .369; 1.74 K/BB), but he seems to have figured out how to take care of them a bit more efficiently this year (.241 / .295/ .306; 2.42 K/BB), so our offense will have its work cut out for it on both sides of the plate.

As I said earlier, Johnson's a fireballer and what we'll see from him is mid-to-high 90's four-seamer gas.  He can locate his fastball extraordinarily well and if the umpire even gives him just a little bit off the plate, we are in for a long, long day (or a short one, depending on how you look at it).  He shows the change every once in a while, just to keep hitters honest and throws a slider that comes in around the same velocity as his change, but breaks slightly down and away from righthanded batters.