Josh Johnson labored a bit through his Opening Day start last Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals allowing three runs on 10 hits and two walks while striking out four. He threw mostly fastballs (74% of his 91 pitches) while his velocity continued its downward trend sitting at 92.7 MPH (95 in ’09; 94.9 in ’10; 93.8 in ’11), though he did max out at 95.4 MPH. Was it rust as he returns from injury or is something amiss? Johnson excited fantasy players with his Spring Training numbers that included a 2.42 ERA and 24 strikeouts against 10 walks in 22 innings of work. At the same time, he did allow 21 hits.
I don’t put much stock into Spring Training numbers at all. There are some instances where they matter a bit. If a pitcher is returning from injury, I’m checking to make sure he is getting his allotted work in without incident. I don’t even really care if he is getting knocked around, but if they say Johan Santana is supposed to go four innings or X-amount of pitches today, I want to see that fulfilled. The other instance is in a job battle. It doesn’t matter if marginal player X hit .904/.998/1.964 in his 20-something at-bats as that’s not at all indicative of his future performance, but it matters that he excelled if that is securing him a job for at least the near future.
Johnson was getting in his allotted work which was encouraging, but I didn’t change his ranking based on the numbers we saw. I don’t know who the 24 Ks came against nor do I know if the 21 hits were tons of line drives or bloops and bleeders. After seeing what can only be classified as a mediocre outing in last Wednesday’s opener, I looked forward to seeing Johnson face off against Roy Halladay Wednesday night in Philly for their second starts of the year. Here are my observations from the outing:
- 40 of his 80 pitches were fastballs (50%); down from his first start when he threw 74% heaters
- His fastball averaged 92.4 MPH; down slightly from the 92.7 MPH mark in his first start
- He threw almost only fastballs & changeups (68 of 80 pitches; 85%)
- He only threw breaking balls 14% of the time and didn’t even throw a curveball until the 3rd
- He threw just 6 sliders and 6 curveballs
- He struggled to get ahead of batters going just 9-for-21 in first pitch strikes
- That no doubt contributed to his struggles Wednesday including 11 H allowed & just 1 K
- For his career, Johnson has a 7.4 K/BB after 0-1 counts; just 1.2 K/BB after 1-0 counts
- For his career, Johnson allows a .220 AVG & .558 OPS after 0-1; .245 AVG & .739 OPS after 1-0
- He failed to put away batters w/just the 1 K despite 9 batters (of 23) facing counts w/2 strikes
- For his career, Johnson has struck out 43% of the batters who are faced w/2 strikes during a PA
This clearly wasn’t Johnson’s best outing. The fact that it came near the beginning of the season tends to give it more weight in the eyes of some since it is 50% of his entire sample so far. That is always dangerous for obvious reasons. Adding it all up, he has two starts that aren’t exactly Josh Johnson-esque and given his injury history, it does raise the antennae a bit. Right now the velocity is down and he isn’t getting the swing-throughs (just 1 on Wednesday) we’re used to seeing. The lack of breaking pitches thrown could be an indication that he is being timid with his breaking stuff in an effort to avoid getting hurt again. In the previous four years, he threw sliders more than a quarter of the time so he needs it to be successful.
For now, you can only stay the course with Johnson unless a full value trade comes along which is unlikely in most leagues. I look forward to his upcoming starts to see how (if?) he progresses back toward the Johnson we are used to seeing. I will post another update before the month is out. He faces the Cubs at home, Nationals on the road and Diamondbacks at home in his next three starts.