Marlins or Braves, Take Your Pick

Posted by Corey Seidman, Tue, April 20, 2010 01:32 AM | Comments: 26

The Phillies and Marlins have one of the strangest rivalries in baseball.

It rarely seems to matter which team is on a hot streak or which squad sports more talent in a particular year – the results are always the same. Neither has a distinct advantage, and while one club may beat up on a third party, neither seems to do much damage to the other.

In 2007, the teams split eighteen games. In 2008, the Marlins won 10 of 18 over the Phils. In 2009, they again went 9-9. If you do the math, you see that since the contemporary golden era of Phillies baseball began, the Marlins (counting this year) have a 30-27 advantage. This is despite the fact that since 2007, the Phils are 32 games better than the Marlins overall, and have a winning percentage 64 points higher than the boys from South Florida.

On a large scale, fans, players, and management alike probably don’t place the Phillies’ record against the Marlins at the top of their respective priority lists. After all, the team has reached back-to-back World Series and won three consecutive NL East titles without once outdoing the Fish in an annual head-to-head series.

But should the Marlins ever put together two solid halves of baseball, as opposed to the one solid half they produce every year, this could be a problem.

Dual Aces

Simply put, the Marlins match-up well with the Phillies. If a three-game series features Ricky Nolasco and Josh Johnson, you are quite safe in assuming the Marlins will take at least two of three games.

Since Nolasco became a bona fide top-of-the-rotation pitcher in 2008, he is 5-1 with a 2.92 ERA and an extremely impressive 1.01 WHIP vs. the Phils. He has allowed only 50 baserunners in 49 1/3 innings pitched, while striking out 37. He stifled the Phillies once again last week, cruising to a complete game win after being spotted five runs in the top of the first.

Johnson, in that same time-span, is 3-1 with a 3.35 ERA, and has more strikeouts (42), but fewer hits (40) than innings pitched (40 1/3.) Like Nolasco, Johnson has compiled a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against the Phils.

With these two effective youngsters, and the underrated acquisition of former Tigers lefty Nate Robertson, the Marlins could prove to be a formidable foe as the season goes on.

This is no longer a team built upon wild swinging and pure power – it is one stocked with as deep a starting staff as any in the league, and one that has gotten more mature and patient at the plate (see: Uggla, Dan, as well as the development of Chris Coghlan and Cameron Maybin.)

Looking first at the rotation as a whole, we see that it contains:

  • A dominant one-two punch of Johnson and Nolasco,
  • A solid, dependable, much-needed lefthanded third starter in Robertson,
  • Chris Volstad, a 6’8″ right-hander who has been brilliant against the Phillies in six starts,
  • and an enigmatic Anibal Sanchez as the fifth starter.

Now, I won’t sit here and tell you that I think Sanchez will ever live up to his billing (because he makes it more and more apparent with each start that he will not,) but the fact that he has a no-hitter under his belt at least tells you that on a given day, he can be absolutely dominant.

For a fifth starter, can you really ask for more than that? Would you rather have as your fifth starter Sanchez, or, say, Todd Wellemeyer?

Better than the Braves?

In comparing the Marlins rotation to the Phillies only other NL East rival, the Braves, we see relative equality. Entering the 2010 season, the Braves were widely touted as having the best five-man rotation in the majors, but I vehemently disagreed.

Had they held on to Javier Vazquez, the Braves unquestionably would have possessed the deepest staff in baseball, but without him I didn’t, and still don’t understand the love affair with Atlanta’s starters.

Lowe Point

It seems that nobody has noticed the fact that Derek Lowe has stunk since coming to Atlanta. You would think that a sinkerballer going from one pitcher’s park (Dodger Stadium) to another (Turner Field) would continue to be successful, but such has not been the case.

Since joining the Braves, Lowe is 18-10 with a 4.67 ERA. Please ignore the win-loss record, because all it indicates is that Atlanta has hit well in his 37 league-average starts. His 1.52 WHIP is very high, especially when compared to his career mark of 1.29.

He’s walked 3.2 batters per nine innings while striking out only 5.2. Even if you’re not into stats, you can see that walking 3+ batters per game while striking out only 5 is pretty unimpressive…and Kyle Kendrick-y.

Lowe led the National League in hits allowed last year, with 232 in 194 innings. Adding in this year, he has allowed almost 11 hits per 9.

His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was higher than that of most pitchers in ’09, which usually shows that a pitcher has been unlucky. But with a sinkerballer who has given up so many hits in an infield that is not thought of as defensively inferior, I reject the notion that Lowe’s been unlucky.

He’s just been an old sinkerballer who has not been inducing ground balls the way he has in the past. Lowe’s groundball percentage last year was 56%, well below his career average of 64%. His line-drive percentage has gone up every year since 2006, showing that batters are simply hitting the ball harder off of him than they used to.

In addition to being hit harder, Lowe hasn’t been able to induce nearly enough swings and misses. In the past, Lowe has used a low sinker to get batters to chase non-strikes and usually flail at the disappearing baseball. Last year, though? Not so much. Batters made contact on 72% of Lowe’s pitches out of the strike zone in 2009, a huge leap from his career mark of 59%.

Why do you think Atlanta tried so vigorously to trade Lowe in the offseason? They saw the writing on the wall. Unfortunately, no team wanted his massive contract, forcing the Braves to instead part ways with the infinitely more valuable Vazquez.

Impressive Quintuplets

Back to the question at-hand – which rotation is scarier, the Marlins’ or the Braves’? Since I’ve just detailed why Derek Lowe is no more than a fourth starter, let’s rearrange the two rotations to allow us to make an easier comparison. The ten men pair off as follows:

  1. Josh Johnson – Jair Jurrjens
  2. Ricky Nolasco – Tommy Hanson
  3. Nate Robertson – Tim Hudson
  4. Chris Volstad – Derek Lowe
  5. Anibal Sanchez – Kenshin Kawakami

(Before going into each matchup, allow me to first let you off the hook if you have previously confused Kenshin Kawakami with Hiroki Kuroda. Don’t be embarrassed, I ran into this often on Twitter. People would argue with me about the Braves rotation and tell me why Kawakami was the best fifth starter in the league, before realizing he wasn’t the K-surnamed Japanese righty that had dominated the Phillies on multiple occasions.)

Johnson vs. Jurrjens

Some of you may disagree, but I take Johnson over Jurrjens here, and it’s not even close. Sure, Jurrjens has straight-up killed the Phillies in his career and has run through the league with relative ease in his first few seasons, but in his career he has struck out 6 per 9 while walking 3 per 9. By no means are those numbers the “be-all, end-all” for pitchers, but they are surely an important measure of a pitcher’s stuff and the  sustainability of his success.

As we saw in San Diego recently, when Jurrjens fastball isn’t moving and his location is not precise, bad things happen. How bad? Try, 8 earned runs to the worst offensive team in baseball at the most spacious park.

Nolasco vs. Hanson

Too close to call. Hanson has been prodigious in his 23 major league starts, and despite Nolasco’s incredible strikeout-to-walk numbers, the veteran simply cannot be deemed better just because he is a veteran. I call this a wash; a tie. In a few years, we might be comparing Tommy Hanson to Tim Lincecum, but for now, it’s too early to call him better than Nolasco. It is not, however, too early to call him worse.

Robertson vs. Hudson

One of the reasons I dismissed the claims of Atlanta’s rotation being the best was that I didn’t trust Tim Hudson’s ability to return from several injury-plagued seasons. If he’s feeling any rust, he sure hasn’t showed it in two starts this year. Should Hudson stays healthy, we can expect him to go something like 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA. He’s still damn good, and I can’t think of a team in baseball that wouldn’t want a healthy Tim Hudson as its number three. No contest.

Volstad vs. Lowe

I don’t pick favorites based on name, I vote based on production and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately. If you can give me one good reason that Lowe should be ahead of Volstad on this list given recent production, I’ll listen. But I’m looking at the numbers and I do not see it.

Sanchez vs. Kawakami

As previously stated, I’m not an Anibal Sanchez fan. I’d rather have a fifth starter with potential over a fifth starter like Todd Wellemeyer – or, dare-I-say, Jamie Moyer – but that doesn’t mean I’m in love with Sanchez.

We know very little about Sanchez’ opponent, though. Kawakami pitched 142 innings as a starter last year and compiled a 3.97 ERA. He struck out 6.2 per nine and walked 3.4, unimpressive K/BB numbers. In an extremely small sample size, he’s been an adequate fifth starter, and I give him a very slight edge over Sanchez just because Sanchez hasn’t been good since 2006.

For those of you tallying at home, that’s 2-2-1, with one of the Braves advantages being very slight. All things considered, the rotations are equally deep and dangerous.

We’ll discuss hitting another day, but I’ll let it be known now that I don’t trust a Braves offense relying on the aging Chipper Jones, a has-been Troy Glaus, an undeveloped, crowned-too-early Jason Heyward, an enigmatic Yunel Escobar, an unsustainably hot Martin Prado, and an overrated Nate McLouth, to make it through a full season.

We just caught a glimpse of what the 2010 Marlins have to offer, now we’ll get a chance to take a look at the Braves. This little conversation might need reexamining after Thursday.

Avatar of Corey Seidman

About Corey Seidman

Corey Seidman has written 210 articles on Phillies Nation.

Corey is Analysis Editor for Phillies Nation and also writes for CSNPhilly.com.

  • Posts: 0 Brooks

    Burning the midnight oil?
    For me too, the jury is out on the Braves hitting. I was not impressed from the start – but like you said, we may have to re-assess come Thursday.

    Regarding the Stinkin’ Fish – to date, other than his last start vs the Reds, his first 2 outtings have been rather, well Kendrick-y if you will (maybe not as lofty numbers) – he had only gone 10 innings, given up 13 hits, 7 runs, walked 7 (2 baserunners per inning?)and 10 k’s. Not so impressive. We have the Fish again at the end of May. Perhaps the Phils will have evened out their hitting issues, Jimmy will be back and we can get a better gauge on what we are facing.

    Nolasco is good but the Phils just sputtered. We had a glimpse of years past with 2 men on base (2nd and 3rd) with no outs and the result 0 runs – I wont pin that on Nolasco as much as the Phils offense just belched instead of exploded. We have seen this before but no worries! This wont happen that often, specially when Jimmy comes back –

    For the Phils, if KK falls apart in this game tonight well, that has to be it. #1, Cholly has to have a very short leash ready. No need to rehash or hope for a Jamie recovery from a bad inning. It just will not happen. I think KK as well as everyone else knows tonight is pretty much do or be done for KK.
    #2, what to do about filling his shoes? Bring up Carpenter for a test drive? Can this be worse than what we are seeing now? Bring back Pedro? I’m not in love with starting Nelson (go)Figueroa nor starting Contreras. Worth a try perhaps but we still need to fill in when (ok if) KK falls apart.

    If I could bring up Jamie Moyer. And a comparison if you’ll bear with me – let’s talk Bobby Abreau. Pretty much on a yearly basis we could expect about a .300 average, close to 100 rbi, 20 hrs or more, close to 30 sb’s or more, near 40 doubles. Hey, these could be potential HOF numbers if extracted for a career but, other than his lack of effort, Bobby rarely came through for the big one. Men on base, late in the game when you need a key hit, it was not Bobby. Now to Jamie – he has had 2 bad innings in his starts. Guess what? They cost the game in each of his starts. When we need a gutsy performance, we don’t need a 5 run crap inning. I really do like Jamie but, unless we can rely on 7 run games in every one of his starts, perhaps his best role is for a long reliever (last year his long relief stints were a thing of beauty).

    This and $1.27 will get me a WaWa coffee.

  • Posts: 0 bfo_33

    WaWa coffee….mmmmmm.
    I know Atl scores runs, but no one in the line-up really scares me (as opposed to the Marlins who have a very deep offense). Heyward will be a stud, but he can’t carry the whole offense. The infield defense is probably the poorest in the NL, if not all of baseball (Vic – please learn how to bunt, and do it every at bat when less than 2 outs!). Put the ball on the ground and you will get a lot of baserunners.

    The Braves are a solid team that will probably peter out in Sept, but the Marlins have far more potential. If they could somehow manage to stay focused for the whole season, they could win 90+ games, where I see Atl’s upside @ 88.

  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    I said a few days ago that Nate Robertson is one of those veteran pitchers with playoff and WS experience that lots of teams need in the middle of their rotation if they are going to contend. That’s exactly why the Marlins went out and got him…..to solidify a rotation that is becoming more credible.

  • Posts: 0 WFC010

    I am not sure what team is better overall, since both the Marlins and Braves stack up very well against eachother, but the Marlins constantly get written off, while the Braves are constantly being hyped up.

    Which team is a bigger threat to the Phillies this year, who knows?

    A case could be made for either team, but I consider the Marlins to be arguably more dangerous, and one of those reasons is because everyone constantly under-estimates them. People expect the Braves to be great every year, while ignoring that most years the Marlins put up a similar record, and consistently are a threat.

  • Posts: 0 Danny

    Hey Im a Marlins fan and just wanted to say that ive only picked up on your page a few weeks back and absolutely love it.

    1 thing that will always be against us is our Bullpen (Bar Badenhop n Brian Sanches) It stinks!!! And will cost us many a game unfortunately!!

    Last season everyone was talking about our rotation n look what happened, it choked bigtime.

    At the end of the day though you cant look past the Phillies to win the National League pennant again, the batting lineup is dangerous top to bottom and when the rotation gains Blanton n Happ, and Lidge closing you are gonna be even harder to beat.

    I am hopeful of the playoffs via the Wildcard but as you say we need to turn up for both halfs of the season not just 1.

  • Posts: 0 George

    I don’t even consider the Braves to be a threat. The rotation is questionable, what with the decline of Lowe, the inexperience of Hanson, and the injury histories of Hudson and Kawakami. Chipper Jones always spends time on the DL, and Glaus is another DL candidate. Their defense isn’t stellar. They’ll win more than they lose only because Cox knows how to squeeze a little extra out, but in the long haul of the season, they’ll eventually succumb.

    The Marlins would seem to be a bigger threat, but once again, they haven’t always been healthy. But this year, the Phils have had a lot of key injuries. Blanton and Rollins will recover, but Lidge is a concern, and Happ may have continuing issues, as he was out some last year, too.

    In the future, we’ll also need to a look at the Nats. They’ve already shown some offensive ability, and soon Strasburg will be up. If Wang returns to form, and Marquis and Hernandez do their usual things, they could be tougher than we’d like. They won’t win the division, but they’ll be a real pain in the seating area.

  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    EVERY team and EVERY game….all 162….needs to be considered some sort of threat. NOTHING should be taken for granted. And, yes, the Nats have improved. Look for them to possibly finish out of the basement this year.

  • Posts: 0 Ed R.

    I agree Chuck. I think last place in the NL East will belong to the baseMets!

  • Posts: 0 BurrGundy

    It is going to be a dog fight in the NL East this year. Phillies, Braves, Marlins — all teams are stacked with talent and eager to win. It will be a fun time for the fans

  • Posts: 0 mikemike

    now people know, what I said weeks ago phillies are third best team in the east now, lee trade killed them. good pitching beats good hitting most times. but it was a good couple of years, owners should be ashamed to have trade lee for junk and left us without a solid two. but i saw a title so I KNOW that i will be dead before they ever win again, shame had a chance to be dominate.

  • Posts: 0 WFC010

    Ahh mikemike, my severely moronic pal…

    knew you couldn’t resist commenting on YET another thread with EXACTLY the same damn words as in every other thread.

    NOBODY in here is claiming that the Braves or Marlins are better than the Phillies, we are just looking at the 2 biggest threats in the division to the Phillies.

    The Marlins and Braves are both great teams, but so are the Phillies…but according to you we should probably be in last place right now!

    You know, why doesn’t Amaro trade for Lee again at the trade deadline this year and then send YOU to Seattle on a 1 way voyage…

  • Posts: 0 Manny

    “I am not sure what team is better overall, since both the Marlins and Braves stack up very well against eachother, but the Marlins constantly get written off, while the Braves are constantly being hyped up. ”

    Well said, WFC010.. Braves get a lot of respect while we take the Marlins for granted. Like Danny said, the weakness is the bullpen… but everything else (hitting, pitching, and even their defense) is improving and has a lot of room to grow. Scary team.

  • Posts: 0 The Dipsy

    Atlanta pitching v. Marlins pitching? While I like the Marlins pitching a bit, I will take Atlanta’s any day. Well, IF healthy, Jurrjens is my guy, no question. He has tremendous movement and keeps the ball DOOO-WWWN. Johnson is good, but he’s not in the same class as Jurrjens. Jurrjens is a future Cy Young guy, as is……Tommy Hanson. That curve is sick. Take Hanson…and its not even close. A healthy Hudson? Not close again. If you go by what Lowe did last year and only last year, thats a mistake. If we did that then you would also take Volstad over Hamels. Lowe has pedigree, he’s done it, and ya gotta give him the benefit that he can do it again.

    The Dipsy

    The Dipsy

  • Posts: 0 Chuck

    Thanks for writing this WFC010…. I was in the middle of a response similiar to yours an hour ago and I got busy (you know, work)

    mikemike…..question for you. You mentioned you live in South Philly. Have you never left, you know, gone anywhere?? Or do you just spend your days and nights attached to your front stoop at your rowhouse.??
    Because you sound like a very lonely man that’s just waiting to witness the next hit-and-run as your form of entertainment.

  • Posts: 0 JLR

    Take it from this Marlins fan, terrific analysis! I’ve now bookmarked your site, its a pleasure for once to read commentary from a rival site that is spot-on.
    It looks like we’re all in for a terrific pennant race.

  • Posts: 0 Matt Kwasiborski

    3rd best team in the division? You are smoking some serious dope! This site is only for people who know baseball.

    The Braves and Marlins both have solid young cores that have the potential to overtake us by 2012 or 2013. But for now, we own the best lineup, best 1-2 punch in the division, and outside of Lidge right now, a pretty solid bullpen. And we also have the mental edge in experience and we KNOW what it takes to win.

    The Braves for all of their success won only 1 WS title in their domination. And every time the Marlins get competitive they either fire the manager and/or begin to trade all of their young stars because they don’t want to pay them. That MAY change with the new stadium but that kind of ownership mentally and emotionally deflate teams because the more they succeed the more unstable their situation becomes instead of the opposite.

    I think the entire division besides the Muts are better but we are clearly the superior team and barring a major injury (Happ is not major if it is long term) we should win the division easily. Remember we blew 25 saves last year too. That won’t happen again!

  • Posts: 312 Corey Seidman

    Avatar of Corey Seidman


    1) Cole Hamels is not an aging sinkerballer who can’t induce as many ground balls anymore…that’s Derek Lowe. So, in that case, it makes sense to look at production over the past year and a half, since he is getting older and losing his biggest strength.

    Hamels, on the other hand, maintained every single positive peripheral last year, despite having a markedly worse ERA.

    2) I understand if you consider Jurrjens better than Josh Johnson, but can I ask why in particular you think Jurrjens is “in another league?” Or why Jurrjens is a Cy Young candidate and Johnson is not?

    3) Or why, despite saying I shouldn’t go off one year’s worth of production, you think Tommy Hanson has proven enough to be considered leagues above Ricky Nolasco?

  • Posts: 0 Don M

    I look at the Braves as a much more COMPLETE TEAM than the Marlins…

    Both pitching staffs have guys that, if healthy, could have huge years..

    Both have a mix of veterans and young talent in their lineups..

    The braves have a much better bullpen, in my opinion

  • Posts: 0 mikemike

    yeah I believe its braves marlins then phillies like don

  • Posts: 0 mikemike

    hope marlins get some bullpen help make the race with atlanta for first better.

  • Posts: 0 WFC010

    That settles it, i’m now completely certain that mikemike isn’t a Phillies fan AT ALL(well, that much I knew for a while now)…but merely a troll trying to plant the seeds of dissension among the Philly Phaithful.

    NOBODY can be as negative,stupid, or 1-track minded as he is, unless it’s all an act to get people riled up.

    He ignores what he wants to ignore, takes other peoples comments out of context, and pretends that any positive developments never happened.

    Bravo mikemike, you are a pitiful excuse for a human being… but a surprisingly capable troll.

  • Posts: 0 The Dipsy

    Corey – I know you have seen Hanson pitch and that you know that he has incredible stuff. Some of the best pure stuff in the league. He did well last year and I expect him to get 15 or 16 this year. RE: Jurrjens. Nah, he’s not in another league but I happen to be a huge Jurrjens fan. I think he has the makeup and stuff to be good for a very long time. Johnson is good but I like Jurrjens better. RE: Lowe. He’s older, ok. But its too early to write him off. I’m sure you will agree that if you had one game to win and you had to choose between Volstad and Lowe…..

    The Dipsy

  • Posts: 0 Manny

    I agree with Corey (disagree with “Dipsy”). Josh Johnson is >>> Jair Jurrjens

    And I really like Jurrjens (had him on my fantasy team last year)… but if you compare the Ks and BBs between the two, it’s clear that Johnson is the better pitcher, with the better stuff. Jurrjens had an unbelievable ERA in 2009, but Johnson is just flat-out dominant. Bonus: Johnson: 6-7, 252 pounds… Jurrjens 6-1, 200 pounds..

  • Posts: 0 Manny

    …But I’ll agree with him in that Lowe > Volstad, at least as of today.

  • Posts: 0 Choo Choo Coleman

    mikemike and WFC010: Is this serious commentary or are you a clandestine straightman / stooge comedy team?

    Even though the mikemike is the resident village idiot, you have to give him credit for tenacity. I think he feels no pain.

    The NL East is a real beer and a shot divison despite the occasional offensive and pitching brilliance the Phillies exhibit. Any of these teams can win a series from the other unpredictably. The Mets lack hitting and the Nats lack pitching in order to qualify for the post season. But the Braves and Fish should both be in contention into the final weeks of the season with the Phillies finishing first by at least 2.

  • Posts: 0 mikemike

    HA HA choo has a crystal ball we will not win by 2 but take third by 4 games over washington maybe

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