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.

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

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12 years ago

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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12 years ago
Reply to  Karl

what are these “wins” you speak of? some new-fangled pitching statistic?

Not David
12 years ago
Reply to  Karl

I get better analysis from Joe Morgan.