Miami Marlins Season Preview: Josh Johnson

Feb 24, 2012; Jupiter FL, USA; Miami Marlins pitcher Josh Johnson (55) during spring training at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

We have moved from the Marlins' starting lineup now to the team's starting rotation in 2012. The club's rotation is going to be a critical piece to the puzzle if the team intends to contend this upcoming season, and of all the parts of the rotation, Johnson is going to be the most pertinent. With Josh Johnson, the Marlins may have one of the premier rotations in baseball, a powerhouse set that can compete every evening with most teams. However, Johnson's checkered injury past may prevent the Fish from having a full season of his work, and the Marlins lose a significant number of wins without Johnson at the top of the rotation.

Rotation

1. Josh Johnson

Last season, Johnson got to yet another hot start, racking up 60 1/3 innings of 1.64 ERA with an impressive 2.64 FIP. Of course, much of that was due to an extremely low .239 BABIP, hence the drastically low ERA. His true performance from last year looks a lot more like his FIP than it does his massively deflated ERA, but that does not take away from how impressive his game was in 2011. Prior to the injury concerns, Johnson was rolling along as usual.

Johnson, Year K% BB% HR/FB% GB%
2011 23.9 8.6 3.8 51.0
2010 25.0 6.5 4.2 45.7
2009 22.3 6.8 7.5 50.3
Three-Year 23.6 6.9 5.7 48.5

The numbers were not all that far off from the 2009-2011 totals. Johnson was walking more hitters last season, but such a rate could have easily gone down over the course of the year with simple regression. When looking at his Pitch F/X plate discipline numbers, there certainly did not appear to be much of a difference in terms of quality of pitches thrown.

Johnson, Season Swing% O-Swing% Contact% O-Contact%
2011 43.8 29.5 80.1 59.7
2010 47.3 29.8 74.9 62.4
2009 44.7 27.9 79.7 62.4
2007-2011 (Pitch F/X era) 45.6 29.0 78.2 61.9

Essentially, these minor changes from his career numbers are mere fluctuations. Aside from the appallingly low BABIP, Johnson was likely on his way to another Johnson-esque season prior to his previous year's shoulder troubles. Consider those things on a pitcher who was previously successful and likely to maintain some modicum of success even at a more advanced age of 28 (pitchers who survive with great success through age 27 are obviously more likely to maintain a higher level play through age 28 and beyond) and one suspects that Johnson should be in line for only a slight decline heading into 2012.

What do the projections say about Johnson's 2012 performance? Let us take a look at the rate stats that various systems are projecting.

Johnson, Proj K% BB% ERA FIP
ZiPS 23.1 6.6 2.66 2.71
Steamer 22.8 7.5 3.52 3.32
PECOTA 21.9 7.0 3.20 3.04
Fans 23.0 7.0 2.68 2.81

The differences seen here are primarily in terms of home runs allowed, but the range of numbers is well within reason. Steamer's projections seems a little high, while ZiPS and the Fans are probably a tad optimistic. If you look at an average of all the projections listed, both ERA and FIP, you are looking at a pitcher with a projected 2.99 ERA. I would consider that more than reasonable for Johnson heading into 2012, so we will use that.

The true question, of course, is how many innings we can expect from Johnson this year. Let's take a look at that table, but this time with innings projections:

Johnson, Proj IP K% BB% ERA FIP
ZiPS 128 2/3 23.1 6.6 2.66 2.71
Steamer 164 22.8 7.5 3.52 3.32
PECOTA 187 2/3 21.9 7.0 3.20 3.04
Fans 175 23.0 7.0 2.68 2.81

ZiPS is not really designed to guess at playing time, but we will consider their "projection" along with the rest of these systems that attempt to ascertain playing time. PECOTA is the most optimistic surprisingly. The average of the four systems yields a projection of 164 innings, which is a value with which I am fairly comfortable.

Using our ERA projection, the above innings pitched projection, and last season's run environment, we get the following projection:

Projection: 164 IP, 4.4 WAR

With a season that essentially includes Johnson missing six random starts, we get a projection that almost equals the production of Jose Reyes. We can generally assume that Johnson's missing innings are likely replaced by replacement-level talent, as Wade Leblanc will get the bulk of the "sixth-starter" innings. So for now, let us presume that the Marlins will get around 4.5 wins from Johnson's slot in 2012. Given that he gave us almost two wins last season just in his 60 innings, we are looking at an immediate two-win improvement and change from a decently-healthy Johnson.

Now, if you want to dream, you can imagine a 200-inning season from Johnson in 2012, which yields a 5.4 WAR season. You can also imagine the disaster campaign in which he gathers 60 innings, much like last season. If Johnson loses another year to a season-ending injury, we may be looking at only 1.6 WAR of production, much like last year. This is the sort of range we should consider: a range between effective part-timer and almost average pitcher over a season and an All-Star and Cy Young-contending season for Johnson. The middle projection is 4.4 WAR, and that is what us fans should expect now.

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