Johnson Leads Florida’s Rotation

Over the weekend the Marlins swept the Phillies to move within four games of them in the NL East and three games out of the Wild Card lead. The Marlins are a real surprise this year, as some projected them to be worse than the Nationals. Last night Josh Johnson won the game for the Marlins, pitching six innings of four-hit, one-run ball while striking out 6, walking only one and getting seven ground balls on 14 balls in play. Johnson has been great this year, doing everything a pitcher should do, getting lots of strikeouts and ground balls while limiting walks. He has a FIP just over 3, good for ninth in the league.

Johnson has come back from his 2007 Tommy John surgery in a big way. His fastball averages over 95 mph, third highest among starters and his slider averages 86.4 mph, is one of the ten fastest. He also throws a changeup.


As you can see he throws a four-seam fastball with a good 10 inches a rise. This is really interesting as he is a ground ball pitcher; he gets over 50% of his balls in play on the ground. Most ground ball pitchers do that with a sinking two-seam fastball, like Derek Lowe, or get their groundballs on a slider or curve, like Brett Anderson. Johnson’s four-seam fastball induces 50% ground balls, even though it has 10 inches of rise. He is able to do this by locating it low in the zone.


The difference appears subtle, but over the course of the a season has a huge effect. This placement makes Johnson’s four-seam fastball a ground ball pitch, unlike most four-seam fastballs. He is able to locate his ‘rising’ fastball low in the zone. Here is how he uses his three pitches to lefties and righties.

|          |  vRHB |  vLHB |
| Fastball |  0.66 |  0.67 | 
| Slider   |  0.30 |  0.19 |
| Changeup |  0.04 |  0.14 |

The slider is a strikeout pitch getting lots of whiffs and out of zone swings, but also lots of fly balls. His changeup is not a strike out pitch, like Tim Lincecum‘s or Rich Harden‘s. It gets very few whiffs and out of zone swings, but is an extreme ground ball pitch (over 67% ground balls per ball in play). This leads to a very interesting platoon split.

|        |   vRHB |   vLHB |
| OPS    |  0.646 |  0.713 | 
| K/PA   |  0.228 |  0.179 |
| BB/PA  |  0.073 |  0.099 |
| HR/BIP |  0.033 |  0.019 |

His slider is much better than his change and he fastball has a normal platoon split, so has a whole he has a pretty big split. He can locate his slider well in the zone and gets lots of whiffs with it, but it induces FBs. As a result against RHBs he gets strikeouts and walks them rarely, but they hit more HRs against him. Against LHBs he goes with his changeup which gets few whiffs or out of zone swings, but lots of ground balls. So he actually gives up fewer HRs against lefties.

Josh Johnson is one of the ten best pitchers in the game and a valuable asset to the Marlins in their playoff push.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

29 Responses to “Johnson Leads Florida’s Rotation”

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  1. Karl says:

    Josh Johnson has been one of the hottest pitchers in the NL lately with 4 wins in his last 5 starts. He’s now 18-3 dating back to last season. The Marlins have him for 2 more years but the longer they wait on an extension, the more expensive it will be. The kid’s only 25, can throw up to 96 MPH, and may already be the top young pitcher in the NL (apologies to Jair Jurrjens).

    He’s gonna be huge down the NL East-heavy stretch if the Marlins hang in the Wild Card race. He’s 3-1 against the Phillies, Braves. Johnson has never lost to the Nationals and owns the Mets. Imagine the press this kid would get if he pitched in a Red Sox or Yankee uniform.

    Karl Moats, Writer
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  2. Karl says:

    Sorry make that one of the top young pitchers in the NL East. Apologies to Lincecum and Co.

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  3. Matt B. says:

    If they don’t cap his innings, I’ll cry.

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  4. CH says:

    This IS NOT meant to be a flame-war-inducing comment at all, but considering this website had the Marlins ranked as the 2nd worst franchise in baseball before the season started, don’t they deserve to be moved just a little bit higher for next year? Even though they’ve been outscored (barely) this year, they appear to be on solid ground at the MLB level, with plenty of talent waiting in the minors.

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    • Michael says:

      I didn’t check out the preseason rankings from FanGraphs, though I clearly recall the one from BP. Still, it would not have been an unfair point, given the Marlins’ lack of offensive and defensive efficiency. The team struggles outside of Hanley Ramirez offensively, and this season they’ve suffered from down years from most of the other contributors (Uggla and Cantu in particular). Combine that with the decision to place Bonifaicio at third, and you really can’t blame the projections for burying the Marlins.

      I do however question how the Marlins could have been dropped so badly while the A’s were projected as division winners in the West when both teams had similar issues (bad offense, young starting pitching that might be good) going into the season. The teams were likely about 4 wins away from each other on defense.

      Liked the analysis Dave, I too was wondering how JJ was getting those groundballs. However, I’ve read your stuff on The Baseball Analysts, and you never seem to have nearly as many typos and uncomfortable sentences than you do on FanGraphs pieces. Just wondering what’s going on there. This one in particular turned into a chore to read.

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      • Nny says:

        The reason that computer projections were so hard on the Marlins was because they projected JJ, Nolasco, and co to only make 15ish starts. Because they had missed significant time in ’07 and ’08 it did not project proper playing time.

        What pissed me off about the fangraphs early season projection was not so much calling the Marlins the 2nd worst franchise but the offensive post by Dave Cameron insulting everyone who said otherwise, especially with such gems as one of the reasons the Marlins would do worse is John Baker would regress to the mean (This coming off a season where the Marlins had a catcher OPS of .664….[it’s .757 this season]). But, oh well. I had my own offensive response so I’m not some angel and I’m probably stirring up shit which the original poster didn’t want to do but that post still annoys me.

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  5. David A says:

    JJ has been remarkably consistent this year also. He’s only given up more than 3 runs twice all season, and more than 4 runs only once. That’s Halladay-esque. This site says he’s a 4.1 WAR player, which sounds about right. The Fish are like 17-6 in his starts this season.

    Combine Johnson’s 4.1 WAR and Hanley Ramirez’s 5.4 and you have basically the only explanation you need for the Marlin’s winning record this year. It wouldn’t surprise me if the rest of the team was a combined negative WAR, in fact.

    Just goes to show what a couple of really good players can do for your squad.

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    • Michael says:

      Right off the top of my head…

      Only two offensive players of the nine regulars (two catchers) have negative WAR values. The only other negatives come from the fifth starter spot and a couple of the bullpen pitchers, but the pen overall is average to above average and, in addition to Johnson, Ricky Nolasco has posted a 3.38 FIP and has been worth 2.6 WAR this season (different places disagree, but you get the picture).

      Please, let’s not make any ridiculous arguments about WAR. It isn’t even that hard to look up honestly.

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  6. CJ says:

    Roy Oswalt is another pitcher who has been successful over his career in locating the 4 seam fastball low in the strike zone, and inducing groundballs. When hitters comment about facing Oswalt, you will sometimes see quotes about the deceptiveness of a fastball which appears to be rising but ends up at the knees. I assume that Johnson gets the same kind of effect.

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  7. Wrighteous says:

    Does anyone have a theory as to why Josh Johnson’s fastball velocity suddenly jumped from the low 90’s into the mid-90’s after his arm surgery?

    No? Well I do, and it starts with an S and ends with an TEROIDS.

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    • CH says:

      Do you have any legitimate reason to say that? Or are you talking out of your ass because you want attention on a website?

      If his fastball was 92 with a ligament on the verge of popping, he could easily hit 95 after that ligament was replaced by a tendon from elsewhere on his body. In fact, it happens all the time.

      Mariano Rivera had it done in 1992, Smoltz had it done in 2000. Plenty of pitchers return to mid-90s stuff after the surgery.

      But, I’ll give it a shot:

      “Strengthening the elbow with incredibly reliable surgery that has proven to be effective on such future hall-of-famers as Smoltz and RiveraTEROIDS?”

      That doesn’t make any sense. Maybe you should stop letting your fat ass do your typing for you. It’s making up words that don’t exist.

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    • Bill says:

      Yeah, fastball velocity going up a little bit after Tommy John surgery is really rare…

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    • Michael says:

      Starting flame wars is fun. Good job buddy.

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    • Eric says:

      Tommy John rehab is a strenuous process that includes a ton of work strenghtening not just the elbow but also the shoulder, sometimes making it stronger than it’s been at any point in an athlete’s career. That’s why some come back with better velocity than they ever had pre-injury.

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      • Wrighteous says:

        He has put on a lot of weight since his rookie season. Also, he has many of the defining physical characteristics of a steroid user. These include:

        -Rippled, protruding forehead
        -bloated facial features
        -disproportionate upper-body size

        I should amend my statement a bit. Johnson has likely used both steroids and HGH.

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      • Mike I says:

        Yes, players in their mid 20’s adding muscle mass and putting on weight is quite rare. Thanks for your sharing your expertise with us, bud.

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      • Wrighteous says:

        What does adding muscle mass have to do with changing facial features

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      • Wrighteous says:

        I do agree with you though that it is not rare for players to put on muscle/weight in their mid-20’s. Alex Rodriguez did it, and so did David Ortiz, Manny, Brett Boone, Brady Anderson, Sosa, McGwire, JuanGon…. the list goes on.

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  8. Sal Paradise says:

    One suggestion about graphs on this site for the PitchFX stuff (that isn’t taken from BrooksBaseball) — it would be really nice if you all made a consistent color-coding scheme. It would be nice to see the varieties of fastball all in shades of red, for instance, and to have off-speed stuff use a bluish tint or something at least for the movement graphs.

    It seems like each author is using a different set of colors for the graphs and it makes us have to check the legend and take extra time interpreting each — some consistency would go a long way in helping.

    Another thing I’d like to see is the graphs to use non-filled circles for the plot points. That way, when there is a lot of data clumped together, you can see the density a lot easier (I am assuming you’re using Excel — if it’s another program, using 50% opacity would also help because overlaps would make the color stronger and make it even easier to see density).

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Good idea Sal, I will start using the colors that are on the player pitchf/x pages for my pitch types. I will play around with opacity and non-filled circles.

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  9. R M says:

    I never understood those projections for the Marlins anyway. Computer based projections are taken way too seriously.

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  10. PhillyPhantastico says:

    Face it, the guy can flat out throw. I hope he moves out of the NL East (or to the Phils) once he really learns to pitch.

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