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March 5, 2012 posted by Chuck Anderson

Fantasy Baseball 2012 Off the Grid: Jim Johnson

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Jim Johnson, RP, Baltimore Orioles

Vital Stats:  MDC Rank 282, 35th RP drafted, picked in 54% of leagues, 92% in Yahoo

Jim Johnson resides in the neighborhood of the cheapest closers but he has better skills and more job security than he is given credit for.  Those looking to pick up saves cheaply should remember his name for the end of their drafts.

Johnson has logged 261 innings for Baltimore and he has a 3.65 FIP.  It was 3.08 in 2010 and 3.22 in 2011.  With experience, his control has improved.  His BB/9 over the last four seasons has clearly trended down, from 3.67 to 2.96, to 1.71, before a slight uptick to 2.08 last year.  He started batters with a first pitch strike over 64% of the time the last two years, clearly above the league average that was below 60%.  In short, hitters need to earn their way on base.

Johnson owns a 2.13 career GB/FB ratio.  In 2011 his ground ball rate was 61.5%, the fifth highest of all pitchers with 60+ IP.  This is a key to him surviving in homer-friendly Camden Yards.  Pitch F/X classified 30.9% of his pitches as cutters last season, when he set a career high 2.56 GB/FB.  The added movement got hitters chasing, Johnson’s 2011 O-Swing% was 35.8% against a career average of 29.1%.

Johnson experienced a troubling drop in K/9 last year, going from 7.52 to 5.74.  That is a very low rate for a closer, and likely a number that is scaring away fantasy players.  There are reasons to believe that he can rebound, however.  There was no drop in his velocity, his cutter came in at 95 mph just like his four seam heater.  Compared to his K/9 his swinging strike rate saw a microscopic dip from 9.2% to 9.0%.  Most pitchers who miss bats at this rate generate many more strikeouts:

2011 SwStr% 2011 K/9
Yovani Gallardo 9.0% 8.99
Javier Vazquez 8.9% 7.57
Alexi Ogando 8.9% 6.71
Ricky Nolasco 8.9% 6.47
Doug Fister 8.8% 8.55
Ian Kennedy 8.8% 8.03

Johnson’s K/9 has plenty of upside if his ability to miss bats holds.  At minimum it should improve to near the league average of 7.13.

Examining the competition in Baltimore reveals few threats to Johnson.  Kevin Gregg is still around.  He lost the closer’s job last year and finished with a 1.33 K/BB.  His xFIP was over 4.00 for the seventh year running.  Matt Lindstrom was acquired in the off-season.  He has not pitched 60 innings in four years and in that time has lost over 2.0 off his K/9.  He will also be pitching in the American League for the first time.

In MDC drafts there are several less desirable relievers being taken ahead of Johnson.  He has no business staying on the board while Chris Perez (199), Francisco Rodriguez (221), Sergio Romo (219), Mark Melancon (241), or Greg Holland (244) are picked up.  Exploit this inefficiency in any upcoming draft.

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