Sep 18, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Jim Johnson (43) reacts with catcher Matt Wieters (32) after defeating the Boston Red Sox 5-3. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Why the Jim Johnson Hate?

I think the A’s got an absolute steal when they traded for Jim Johnson. They only gave up Jemile Weeks, who isn’t much, probably won’t amount to much of anything and is inferior to both Orioles’ 2B incumbents, Ryan Flaherty (the guy with whom he’ll presumably split time with at second base) and Jonathan Schoop, a solid prospect.

Meanwhile, the Orioles sold low on a 30-year-old reliever that both the Orioles organization and the fantasy baseball community quickly soured on. But why? Why the sudden hate of Jim Johnson?

The only explanation is that there are actually two Jim Johnsons. One is the Jim Johnson of our earth (the 616), while the other is a goateed Jim Johnson from an alternative earth, an earth gone mad. We are left to wonder, however, how exactly it was that Evil Goateed Jim trapped Good 616 Jim and how Good 616 Jim will escape from the dimensional corridor in which Evil Jim trapped him.

Jim Johnson: 2012 vs. 2013

2012's 616 Good Jim Johnson68.2552.491.02517.2552.0155.441
2013's Evil Goateed Jim Johnson70.1722.941.28509.2722.3187.256

So why all the sudden hate when the numbers from good Jim in 2012 and evil Jim in 2013 are almost exactly the same? I think this is a perfect example of how perception can change so quickly on the strength of a couple bad games. I’ll explain.

In 2012 Jim Johnson had 51 saves and the Orioles were the talk of baseball by being 29-9 in one run games. In 2013 Jim Johnson had 50 saves, but the narrative was that the Orioles had “lost their magic” as the team went 15-24 in one run games. Luck simply caught up to the Orioles and Jim Johnson took the blame.

Sure, Johnson got roughed up a bit more in 2013 than he did in 2012, but again, that was simply luck catching up to him, not any sort of measurable decrease in his skills. Most notable was the fact that his hits allowed increased. But Johnson has always been an extreme ground ball pitcher, and it’s highly likely that the variation was that a few more snuck through the infield in 2013 than did in 2012. Again, luck caught up to him.

Jim Johnson was the same pitcher in 2012 that he was in 2013. He didn’t change his pitches; he didn’t lose velocity.

In the 2013 season, his walks were up a titch, but so were his strikeouts. In 2012, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 2.73, but in 2013 it’s 3.11, measurably better. Not significantly better, but measurably better. Just like his 2012 numbers are measurably better than 2013, but they aren’t significantly better.  A very few pitches hit differently here or there and 2013 is exactly the same as 2102.

Critics will point to nine blown saves. Again, Johnson was unlucky, and so were the Orioles, which was bound to happen after a pretty darned lucky 2012. Even with that bad luck, Jim Johnson has an 85% save percentage, which is not bad, but admittedly is less shiny than his 94% save percentage in 2012. Still, there’s no reason for the sudden hate.

This would be another clear cut example of Bille Beane being a genius if it wasn’t for Jim Johnson’s $11 million dollar contract. But while it’s odd to see the cash-strapped, budget-controlled A’s take on an $11 mil bullpen salary, as it turns out, this is actually yet another example of Beane’s genius.

There is no such thing as a bad one year contract. Sure, the A’s overpay for Jim Johnson this season, but among the alternatives was resigning a much older Grant Balfour for  a multi-year, more expensive contract or the just signed  39-year-old Joe Nathan, who signed a two year deal for $10 million a year. And Beane didn’t lose a draft pick to sign him.

Th best case scenario for the A’s is that Jim Johnson pitches 60+ reliable innings as he has the past two seasons and the A’s are once again a 90+ win team. The worse case scenario is that the contract comes off the books next season. The likely scenario is that Beane flips Johnson mid-season once the A’s see what they’ve got with their young bullpen arms.

Now let’s talk fantasy. While real baseball suddenly turned Jim Johnson into an evil goateed monster, don’t do that yourself. His draft stock will be low, so snatch him up late in the draft and enjoy the saves he’ll rack up as a member of the Oakland A’s in 2014.

Tags: Closers Jim Johnson Oakland A's Oakland Athletics

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