Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Howdy Jim!

Coming off his worst season in the majors, Jim Johnson is taking his talents to The Ted for 2015 after inking a one-year contract on Wednesday with the Braves. A former fifth round choice by the Orioles in 2001, Johnson led baseball in saves in 2012-13, but after a trade to Oakland last winter, the wheels came off. Johnson, who normally possesses great control, walked nearly 6 batters per nine innings last season while being unceremoniously benched from his closing job by the A's and released on August 1st. The Tigers, who were desperate for any relief pitching, gave him a look and he wasn't much better.

It was a major fall from grace for Johnson after 2012-13. However, the O's, to their credit, were smart to get anything for Johnson after he blew nine save opportunities in 2013. Johnson is a rare four-pitch reliever, relying on his hard sinking fastball 60% of the time while sprinkling in a curveball to righties and a changeup to lefties. He also can gun in a four-seamer in efforts to get the hitter chasing up in the zone. This repertoire unsurprisingly leads to a lot of groundballs. Since 2011, his groundball rate in each season has been 58% or better. Luis Avilan led the Braves with that rate last season.

Even at Johnson's best, as he was between 2011-13, he won't post very high strikeout numbers. His best K/9 rate is 7.17 in 2013 and his career rate is  about a strikeout less. He's known for giving up a crushing homer, too. His career rate of 0.58 with that kind of groundball rate is a little concerning.

However, he was still very productive with FIP's ranging between 3.22 and 3.45 and xFIP between 3.38 and 3.63. Those are respectable, but last season, he walked 35 in 53.1 ING. To put that into perspective, in the two seasons preceding that, he walked 33 in 139 innings. A pitcher like Johnson, who relies on location over stuff, can't pitch effectively either behind in the count or with runners on base.

That turdball of a season led to Johnson missing out on huge payday this winter. He will try his luck again after the season and will earn a base salary of $1.6M in 2015 with another $900K possible in incentives. While closing pays much more than middle relief, Johnson would look to get paid well if he finds his control and posts a season closer to his All-Star quality 2012 (3.26 FIP, 1.02 WHIP). Even his weaker follow-up campaign in 2013 would do the trick. The Braves are counting on that.

They are also counting on his one-year deal being attractive in July if the Braves aren't able to compete this season. Acquiring a good prospect for their investment in Johnson could be the king of shrewd move that gets the Braves a little closer to being in position to make a jump back to top contender status.

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