Marlins Season Preview: Important Numbers, Pitchers Edition

This man will be one of the keys to the Marlins' 2012 season. How many innings will Josh Johnson get to hurl? Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Yesterday, we discussed the most important numbers that should interest the Miami Marlins' starting position players. Today, we are going to go into the pitchers' side of the equation and explore one pertinent number that will key the season for each important pitcher on the Marlins staff. Like the position players, these numbers may be milestones for next season, the previous year, or just numbers of interest that fans and players should look at in 2012.

Josh Johnson: 180

This is my tentative innings target for Josh Johnson. Different projections may call for different numbers, but most systems have him at around 160 innings this season, so you can call this a "cautiously optimistic" innings guess. Of course, I am of the opinion that Johnson will either get close to 200 innings or he will not make it past 60 or 70. The fate of the Marlins' season really does depend a good deal on how healthy Johnson's shoulder is and whether he can carry a significant pitching load in 2012. I think the Marlins should unleash Johnson in his entirety without much regard for limitations, provided we are not purposefully endangering his career. It remains to be seen if doing this will give us 200 innings of Johnson as it did in 2010, or whether the Marlins are in line to receive another disappointing, low-innings season for the talented hurler.

Anibal Sanchez: 6

Sanchez is in his sixth and final season of team control, but the Marlins did not engage much in talks for an extension, suggesting that they would be willing to part ways with him after the 2012 season and take compensation rather than risk a multi-year deal. So this sixth season may be the last year for Sanchez as a Marlin, and Fish fans are hoping it is his best year yet. In the last three seasons, Sanchez has proven to be a consistent commodity, posting an ERA and FIP around the 3.60 region and proving that he has come all the way back from the shoulder ailments that held him out for two and a half years. Sanchez has done enough to earn a decent payday after 2012, but his sixth year with the Marlins may be the most important for assuring a long-term extension for some team next year.

Mark Buehrle: 33

It seems like Buehrle has been around for ages, but he is only 33 years old heading into the 2012 season, so he is not absurdly old. Yet the Marlins did sign him to a four-year contract through his age-36 season and that carries some large amount of risk. That risk may very well begin this year; since 2007, Buehrle's ERA has ranged from 3.59 to 4.26, and his FIP has ranged from 3.90 to 4.46, so he has remained decently consistent over the last few seasons. Can he maintain that ageless consistency heading into the most important season in Marlins history, or will he finally begin a decline just as he signed a new deal? The Marlins are banking on Buehrle's crafty gameplan to maintain its efficiency, and this theory does make some sense. It is difficult to imagine Buehrle losing any more velocity, as he already throws at 86 miles per hour and has been for most of his career. If he loses any bite on his pitches, the Marlins may be in trouble, but heading into this season, it is likely he can at least remain a three-win pitcher.

Ricky Nolasco: 1.19

Over the last three years, this number represents the difference between Nolasco's high ERA (4.76) and low FIP (3.57). It is difficult to imagine that we have had three seasons in which Nolasco has underperformed his peripherals, followed by three offseasons in which bloggers like myself express the likelihood that Nolasco will regress to the mean and play better. We know about his problems with runners on, and we suspect that some of that is "real" in the sense that it is repeatable. Still, the drastic difference should regress to the mean even if Nolasco is a worse pitcher with runners on, so the projections are once again expecting some return to normalcy. Most systems have Nolasco around an ERA of 4.00, and Marlins fans would probably take that given what Nolasco has given them over the last few seasons.

Carlos Zambrano: 2.5

A lot of Marlins fans are concerned about Carlos Zambrano, but the key to this acquisition is that the Fish are only paying him $2.5 million out of his $18 million owed in this final year of his contract. In addition, Zambrano is not being asked to carry the rotation, but rather be the team's fifth starter. Few teams have a fifth starter whom, just two seasons ago, posted a 3.33 ERA. Moving from Wrigley Field to the spacious Marlins Park should help return Zambrano to his old home run-suppressing ways, and that should go a long way to returning him to a semblance of what he once was in Chicago. As for his temper, this is one time when manager Ozzie Guillen may be able to do a world of good; if there is anyone who can match the fiery temperament of Zambrano, it is the Marlins' own fiery manager.

Heath Bell: 20

Last season, Bell struck out hitters at around a 20 percent rate, the worst strikeout rate of his career. Sure, he still converted 43 of 48 save opportunities, but such a dramatic drop in strikeouts from a 34-year old pitcher must be more than alarming for Fish fans. We already discussed the likelihood of Bell bouncing back to something similar to his old self, and the spacious digs may help to temper the loss of Petco Park for him. Still, almost all of the success of this deal (and I use "success" relatively, because I do not believe that giving relievers this kind of money) will hinge on whether Bell can return to normalcy in strikeouts, as that is what separated him from "decent" to "elite" closer status. The Marlins paid for an "elite" player, and it is necessary that they get a strikeout rate closer to 26 percent mark he has put up over the last three years in order for him to fulfill that "elite" status.

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