What Is Wrong With Jim Johnson?

Posted Sunday May 26, 2013 at 10:56:27 pm in Real Sports

Another save chance, another blown save for Jim Johnson. His most recent being a blown save and a loss against the Toronto Blue Jays while starting with a 3 run lead. His first 3 run save situation that resulted in a blown save. But what is wrong with Jim Johnson?

There seems to be a problem with closers in the American League East. Outside of Mariano Rivera (who is invincible when not shagging fly balls in the outfield), there has been a litany of injuries and underperforming closers:

  • Joel Hanrahan of the Red Sox - ineffective, then hurt, then back, now done for the season
  • Fernando Rodney of the Tampa Bay Rays - 6.05 ERA, blown 4 saves in May with a 7.36 in that month as well
  • Jim Johnson of the Baltimore Orioles - 5.25 ERA, blown 4 saves in last 5 opportunities

The Red Sox, however, have Andrew Bailey filling in admirably for Hanrahan. The Rays haven't anointed a new closer, but Joel Peralta is an option for them. And Jim Johnson...well...he's the difference between the Orioles being 31-19 and 27-23. Yep, that's what 4 blown saves will do to a club in such a short time period.

I wrote about Jim Johnson's struggles in 2012 and how he bounced back after. In a nutshell, for a stretch of 12 games in 2012 Jim had a 12.60 ERA and blew 2 saves. He walked 2, hit a batter and allowed 22 hits in only 10 innings. That's a 2.500 WHIP. Hitters batted 431 against him with a 973 OPS.

After some adjustments (and a lot of fans calling for him to lose his role), he ended up pitching 14 straight scoreless appearances where he struck out 12 in 13 2/3 IP only allowing 6 hits (and no walks). So, he can clearly make adjustments. But he's in a very, very bad funk right now. 4 blown saves is certainly a lot worse than the 2 he had in a similar stretch last year.

But what's going on? I think we can find the answer in his PITCHf/x data (doesn't include data from Sunday's "performance" for the 2013 section).

From his amazing 2012 season:

Threw his 2 seamer 603 times and his 4 seamer 169 times. Also threw his change-up 123 times and his curve 121 times. That's a total of 1,016 pitches. Percentages:

2 seamer: 59.4%
4 seamer: 16.6%
change: 12.1%
curve: 11.9%

2013:

This year he's thrown his 2 seamer 182 times and his 4 seamer 100 times. His change 48 times and his curve 41 times. 371 total pitches. Breakdown:

2 seamer: 49%
4 seamer: 27%
change: 12.9%
curve: 11.1%

As you can tell he's throwing his 4 seamer much more this year. About 10% more. He's also throwing his 2 seamer 10% less. He's mixing up his curve and change about the same.

Looking further into it, hitters are hitting his 4 seamer more (280 average) than last year (227 average). In addition his change is getting hit as well (300 avg vs. 205 average last year). His 2 seamer (believe it or not) still only has a 238 average against (last year it was 235).

The problem lies in the fact that he's throwing his 2 seamer less (probably control) and his 4 seamer too much.

It really comes down to fastball command with JJ. When you're throwing that many fastballs, it's apparent that you need to hit your spots properly. And if you can't control your 2 seamer and are throwing your 4 seamer most of the time..it's going to get hit hard.

Can he make the necessary adjustments? I think he can. He proved that he can take a terrible stretch of 12 games and turn it into a dominant stretch of 14 games. But in order to do so, he needs to get his control of his 2 seamer back. And to throw his 4 seamer less (consequently).

FWIW, his save on Saturday was beautiful. 1-2-3 save with a groundball and a strikeout. No hits, no walks, no drama. Vintage JJ. He's got it in him. He just needs to get that consistency and 2 seamer back under control.

I'm rooting for him. I know you Orioles' fans are as well.

Go O's!

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view