Mark Buehrle has been a consistent bright spot in the Miami Marlins' rotation this season. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
Yesterday, we began the examination of the Miami Marlins at the halfway mark by looking at their performance on offense. Today, the name of the game is defense, and the Marlins' pitching staff is what is being investigated and reviewed today. The rotation of the Miami Marlins looked like it was headed towards good things, but sometime in June, The pitchers suddenly suffered one of the worst pitching months in team history, and the bullpen did just as poorly. As a result, the team went from being stellar in terms of numbers to among the worst in baseball.
Runs Allowed: 390
Team ERA: 4.19
ERA Rank: 20
Team FIP: 3.80
FIP Rank: 10
As mentioned, the Marlins were using the pitching staff to keep them alive this season as the offense struggled through the first half of the season. At the end of May, the Fish were in the top five or ten in ERA and in FIP, and they remain in the top ten in FIP in baseball. But June happened and the Marlins suffered so many losses and so many blowout games that the pitching staff went from stellar to merely human to worse than that. There have been few consistently good performers on the team, but there have been more than a few consistently bad performers on the team's staff this season.The Good: Mark Buehrle
Truthfully, Buehrle could have yielded to Josh Johnson or Anibal Sanchez, both of whom have been more impressive at times this season. But while Johnson has lost strikeouts and Sanchez had a rough month of June, Buehrle has been the model of consistency so far this season. And yes, I have raged against the use of "consistency" when it is meant to mean "good," but Buehrle has been both good and consistent. The left-hander has not seen great or poor months, and for the most part his starts have been pretty consistent start-to-start.
Earlier in the year, we mentioned that Buehrle has been nothing if not the same guy we've seen all throughout his career, but his last three starts have put his season into "best of his career" category. Buehrle is striking out more batters than he has in four seasons, and he is posting the lowest walk rate of his career. Meanwhile, his home run rate is perfectly normal for his usual performance, meaning that the move for Buerhle from the American to the National League has been mostly successful. His ERA+ is at his best since 2008 as well. Buehrle's peripherals haven't done all that differently and in fact has improved, though part of that is due to the lowered run environment in baseball.
If there is one signing that the Marlins have to be happy about, it is Buehrle. When a guy is good, you want him to be consistently at that level, and Buehrle has been just that.
The Bad: Heath Bell
Like there was any doubt. The tally for Heath Bell's first half looks like a nightmare of epic proportions for any reliever, let alone a closer. In 34 2/3 innings, Bell managed 19 saves and six blown saves. This understates just how much downside Bell has shown for the Marlins thus far, however. When we look at Shutdowns (performances of greater than 0.06 WPA) and Meltdowns (performances of less than -0.06 WPA), we see Bell has 15 Shutdowns and 11 Meltdowns. Among relievers with at least 10 saves, only two have Shutdown/Meltdown ratios comparable to that of Bell's, and those two are John Axford (16 SD, 10 MD) and Santiago Casilla (10 SD, 10 MD). Essentially, Bell has been among the worst high-leverage relievers in baseball.
And it is not the least bit surprising given the numbers he has posted. Whereas Axford is still striking batters out (31.8 percent rate) and Casilla at least has a decent strikeout to walk ratio (2.73), Bell can claim none of those things. Bell's strikeout rate of 19.1 percent is the lowest of his career, and that is coming off a season in which he set a previous career low at 19.9 percent. Bell's walk rate has never climbed above 10 percent before this season, and but it has gone up to 11.9 percent this season. Even Bell's three homers are more than usual for him by this time this season. Batter's are still hitting .360 on balls in play against him. In short nothing has gone right with Bell in 2012.
We will get more into Bell's struggles later today as we lay out the facts of Bell's 2012, but suffice to say that, with nothing going right for him, it is difficult to predict good things going forward.
Bounceback Candidate: Josh Johnson
Josh Johnson has a 4.06 ERA through the first half of 2012, but his work has been an oddity so far this year. On the surface, it looks like he is just having some bad luck on balls in play, as hitters are hitting .341 on balls in play against him versus a career .301 mark. But there are also other issues in Johnson's line so far this year. His strikeout rate is down compared to his career mark, down to 19.9 percent thus far this year. His walk rate is in line with his career mark but is up from his 2009-2011 standard from before this season.
Much of this might stem from his decreased velocity this year. After a few years with his velocity hanging out easily in the mid-90's at around 94 mph, Johnson's velocity has dipped back down to a range similar to when he broke into the league before Tommy John surgery. For whatever reason, Johnson is now throwing at 92-93 mph, and at that speed he is bound lose some effectiveness.
So part of what Johnson has done has been due to decreased velocity and associated skill. But even then, his 3.06 FIP shows that he is still decent and still has his classic stingy home run rate. So even though he is likely a little worse than he was in the last two or three seasons, he must still be a stellar pitcher, and he should do better going forward.