Before the season began I wrote about the Blue Jays acquisition of Josh Johnson and whether expectations needed to be tempered in terms of 2013 performance. Through 60.1 innings, Johnson has given up 69 hits, 22 BB – 60 K and sports a 4.62 ERA, 1.51 WHIP and a 1-4 record.
Josh Johnson takes the mound today for the Toronto Blue Jays in the rubber match against the feisty Baltimore Orioles. It’s not going to be an easy day for Johnson in the hitter’s paradise known as Camden Yard but this is an important game for the Blue Jays and an important start for Johnson.
I am sure a lot of opposing teams scouts will be in attendance and will be focused on the 6’7” hurler toeing the mound for Toronto. I am sure opinions and sentiment will be mixed but Johnson could be one of the most intriguing guys on the trade market and a true high risk, high reward acquisition candidate.
What should the Blue Jays do with Josh Johnson?
At this point barring an extremely solid second half I doubt Johnson has warranted a lengthy or expensive contract extension and one has to wonder if Alex Anthopoulos will be fielding offers on him prior to the MLB trade deadline. While his traditional stats look awful, ERA (4.62), WHIP (1.51) and BAA (.272) Johnson hasn’t actually pitched as poorly as those numbers suggest.
He is striking out more batters this season (21.7%) than last (20.7%) and walking roughly the same (7.9%). His xFIP is 3.63 which is actually lower than last year as well and the long ball has really hurt Johnson thus far. His career HR/9 is an absurdly low 0.62 and this season currently sits at 1.19 hindered by a career worst 13.1% HR/FB rate.
This isn’t to excuse his 2013 performance or say it has been nothing but a product of rotten luck. He didn’t look ready to start the season and got off to an absolutely horrendous start but we also shouldn’t completely write him off as washed up either.
Jeff Blair was on Sportsnet radio a couple weeks ago dissecting Johnson’s early season struggles and he was of the opinion that Johnson wasn’t throwing as hard. Pitch F/X data doesn’t back up this claim however as his 2013 fastball velocity sits at an even 93.0 MPH while it was 92.8 for the Marlins in 2012. He used to touch 94.0 MPH from 2009-2011 but I don’t think velocity thus far has been his biggest issue.
It might be a small sample size issue but so far his highly advertised wipe-out slider that has been worth 0.93 runs per 100 pitches thrown is currently a negative -0.61 for the season according to Pitch F/X data. Look for that pitch to be a key in any type of resurgence or late season hot streak for Johnson.
Johnson is actually missing his fair share of bats this year evidenced by his solid 10.0% swinging strike rate and 77.0% overall contact rate. Both of those numbers are better than his career averages. If he can get his BABIP and LOB% closer to career levels while getting some solid defense and a bit of luck on the long ball Johnson could be one of the better pitchers in baseball down the stretch.
That brings us to the final issue that the Blue Jays brass must face – what to do with Josh Johnson? Will a team get overzealous at the deadline and pony up a top prospect? Perhaps the Jays can get lucky like the New York Mets a couple deadlines ago when they scored Zack Wheeler from the San Francisco Giants.
Should they just hold tight, let him pitch down the stretch and extend a qualifying offer to get a top draft pick in the upcoming 2014 MLB draft, which is supposed to be a much stronger draft than 2013. That would likely give the Blue Jays three top picks after they failed to sign their first round selection Phil Bickford.
I am sure Alex Anthopoulos has all the various angles figured out and is just seeing if the Jays have any hope for contention this season first before acting on it. What do you guys think, trade, sign, wait and see?
Let’s hear your thoughts!