Is Josh Johnson An Ace?

There has been a lot of talk, understandably so, around the “big trade” which saw the Toronto Blue Jays land Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buerhle, Emilio Bonafacio and John Buck.  Honestly, I still can’t believe I am typing those four names in one transaction that involves the Jays – surreal. 

The general consensus is that the Blue Jays pitching problems are now solved with the addition of a true ‘ace’ in Josh Johnson.  I wanted to dig a little deeper into JJs stats and pitch selection to see exactly what we can expect for our shiny new mound toy.

First thing, he is a massive man, standing at 6’7” and 250 pounds and armed with a lively arm.  Let’s have a look at his 2012 stat line:

2012 IP ERA K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 GB% xFIP WAR
Josh Johnson 191.1 3.81 7.7 3.0 2.5 0.6 46.2 3.73 3.8

 Those aren’t numbers to take scoff at but they are also not the most dominating stats in baseball.  I’d say these are the numbers of a solid to above average number two starter as opposed to a true ‘ace’.  With Johnson heading to the American League for the first time I am also expecting his overall numbers to slightly worsen.

Now if you take away his horrific March/April (28.2 IPs, 41 hits, 5.34 ERA, .345 BAA) and his overall season line looks a lot better.  He had a ridiculously high .436 BABIP over that span which clearly didn’t help but he was definitely getting hit hard either way you slice it.

Johnson was mainly a two pitch pitcher prior to last season throwing his fastball and slider around 70% of the time.  Last season Johnson made the conscientious decision to mix in more curveballs in an effort to keep hitters off balance.  This is similar to what our own Brandon Morrow has been trying to do.

His [Johnson] fastball was thrown 55.1% of the time last season and the average velocity was 92.8 MPH, down over 1 MPH from 2011 and well down from his 2009/10 seasons where he was closer to 95 MPH.  Velocity isn’t everything and JJ is probably punished by the Pitch F/X wrongly coding his two-seam fastballs but it is still an alarming trend downward.

Amazingly, and probably speaking to his ‘pure stuff’ Johnson for his career has a positive run value on his fastball (0.55 wFB/c), slider (1.31 wSL/c) and curveball (1.42 wCB/c).  Only his seldom used changeup has shown a negative run value in the past, yet is still positive over his career (0.27 wCH/c).  Those numbers in brackets represent the run value per 100 pitches thrown, the higher the number, the better.

Johnson’s plate discipline and contact rates were all essentially at his career norms and his swinging strike rate (9.2%) was only slightly worse than his career rate (9.5%).  This bodes well going forward but again he will be facing harsher lineups in a much more offensive environment.

Bill James is predicting 196 IPs, 3.21 ERA, 3.08 FIP, 1.21 WHIP and a .242 BAA.  These are impressive numbers even if we inflate for the change in leagues.  If Josh Johnson can pitch to his full ability, stay healthy and give the Blue Jays 190-200 innings he could definitely be a major force at the top of the rotation. 

I just think expectations need to be slightly tempered.


3 Responses to “Is Josh Johnson An Ace?”

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  1. 1 What To Do With Josh Johnson? | AL Eastbound & Down Trackback on July 14, 2013 at 10:46 am
  2. 2 Projecting the New Look Blue Jays Rotation « AL Eastbound & Down Trackback on December 18, 2012 at 6:37 pm

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