Get To Know ‘Em: Jim Johnson

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(Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison)
Bringing Jim Johnson to Oakland only cost the A’s Jemile Weeks, but Johnson’s contract is a hefty one

by Jim Turvey

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Moving on in our series of profiling the A’s offseason acquisitions, we get to the move that was scrutinized the most by A’s fans, and pundits who know Billy Beane’s style – Jim Johnson.

Stats Chart

ERA WHIP ERA+ SO/9 SO/BB Saves Blown Saves IS%
2013 season 2.94 1.280 143 7.2 3.11 50 9 36
Second half 2013 1.69 1.275 XXX 6.8 5.00 17 3 XX
Steamer projection 3.27 1.26 XXX 6.88 2.57 28 XXX XX
Career 3.11 1.233 140 6.0 2.30 122 28 35

 

Jim Johnson has led the American League in saves each of the past two seasons. He has saved at least 50 games in each of those seasons, and has only blown 12 out of a possible 113 save opportunities, good for an 89 percent save rate.

However, Johnson has given some baseball analysts fits because his numbers, beyond his save totals and save percentage, aren’t necessarily that great.

His WHIP is very high compared to his ERA, which carries over to his above average IS% (percentage of inherited runners he allowed to score). While the 36 percent of inherited runners he allowed to score in 2013 was high (league average was 27 percent), it was nothing compared to his downright horrendous total in 2012, when he allowed 75 percent of inherited runners to score. Mind you, this was in a season when his ERA was just 2.49 – like I said, he’s been giving baseball’s analytical minds headaches for a while now.

Where Johnson does thrive, however, is in his ability to control his pitches. He doesn’t strike out very many hitters, but still has an above average strikeout to walk ratio, meaning his control is very good.

It is unsurprising to see that once again, the A’s have gone after a player who’s numbers were far superior in the second half. As I have mentioned in other posts, looking at a player’s second-half totals can be a great way to project forward to this season for underrated value. This is true because those second-half numbers often got lost behind the cumulative nature of the first-half numbers.  All three of Jim Johnson’s blown saves in the second half came in three straight games, a trend that was present in his entire season. Of his nine blown saves in 2013, six of them came in two three-games stretches. This means if he has a tough stretch for the A’s next year, A’s fans need to know that he is more than capable of bouncing back from several straight blown decisions to remain a steady presence at the end of games.

The Steamer projected total for Jim Johnson’s saves in 2014 is far lower than expected, but this is due more to the Steamer system than Johnson, as Craig Kimbrel (arguably the best closer in baseball) is also only projected for 28 saves in 2014.

 

Background

Jim Johnson was drafted right out of high school; his large frame (6’6” 240 lbs. currently) helped MLB teams feel he was ready for the league. He spent five full seasons in the minor leagues before cracking the Orioles’ big league roster. Johnson was a starter for most of his time in the minor leagues, and the fact that he has started 127 games in the lower levels is impressive given the fact that most players who spend that much time in the minors only make the major leagues for a brief visit. However, thanks to the fact that he was drafted right out of high school, he was able to make his major league debut at the relatively young age of 23, and was already a seasoned pro pitcher.

 

What the Scouts Say

Here are some snippets from a June, 2013 scouting report of Johnson:

The good, “[Fastball] Explodes as it gets to the plate. Has great control and command over it. Works the corners well, and keeps it down in the zone,” “Works east to west mainly, and likes to keep the ball away from hitters in an effort to induce groundball outs. Not a huge strikeout guy, but doesn’t walk many batters. A pitch to contact, groundball pitcher. Capable of getting both lefties and righties out with consistency. Keeps the ball in the ballpark very well,” “Big physically imposing frame. Has great weight distribution and muscle definition.”

The bad, “[Curveball] Doesn’t have great command or control over it. Struggles to get consistent break on it, and leaves it up in the zone too often,” “Has struggled in high pressure situations. Doesn’t have a tonne of playoff experience and has struggled in the playoffs. Has a tough time rebounding from a tough call or situation. Works quickly when things are going well but slows down and takes his time in between pitches when he is struggling. Shows visible frustration at times on the mound. Struggles to regain control when things start going badly.”

 

What Does He Throw?

As astute readers can take from Johnson’s scouting report, his fastball is by far his best, and most used, pitch (very much unlike new Athletic Luke Gregerson). The two pitches he threw with most regularity in 2013 were two different varieties of fastball, which he threw a combined 75 percent of the time. In 2013, Johnson threw his two-seam fastball more often, despite the fact that hitters had more success off of it. They hit .305 against his two-seamer vs. just .233 against his straight fastball. Both fastballs come in at around 94 mph on average, with the difference being in the horizontal movement of the pitch. A’s management will have to see if they can reverse the trend of Johnson relying more on his two seam fastball this season, especially if hitters continue to have success off the pitch.

 

Going All-In?

Many baseball writers, and A’s fans alike were very surprised to see Billy Beane trade for a closer due to make more than almost anyone currently on the A’s roster. Given that Beane has always tried to draw his closers from the ranks of his own “cheap bullpen” guys, this trade was very un-Beane like. In fact, the trade has led to the question of whether Beane is finally going all-in to try to get the A’s past the first round, and playing for a shot at their first World Series since 1989. Between the Johnson trade, the Kazmir signing, and the general flurry of moves made early this offseason, it would certainly appear that Beane and the A’s organization are sick of the first round exits. In what will be a stacked AL West division next year, this is a bold move, but one that A’s fans have to love.

No More Balfour Rage

It is sad to see Grant Balfour leave Oakland, as he was one of the great personalities to play on the A’s in a while. In an interesting move that will allow both A’s and O’s fans to pass judgement on their ownership, the Orioles seem to be the leading suitor for Grant Balfour in the market right now. If the two men do swap teams, the comparison is one that will be one made all season by fans of the A’s and the O’s.

As of the most recent posting I could find, Jim Johnson’s entrance song is “Pretender” by the Foo Fighters, so maybe A’s fans can keep raging to their new closer.

Author: Jim Turvey

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