This winter the Orioles traded Jim Johnson and his 50 saves to the Oakland Athletics for infielder Jemile Weeks. After kicking the tires with Grant Balfour and Fernando Rodney, the O’s opted to stay in house and hand the keys to the 9th inning to Tommy “Big Game” Hunter. How will he fare in the new role? Let’s dive in to the numbers.
Ignoring the saves column, Tommy Hunter posted better statistics in the ERA and WHIP categories last season. He also appeared in 16 more innings than Johnson did. Of course, pitching in the ninth inning is a completely different beast than the eighth, where Hunter threw 39.1 innings last season.
As we go a little deeper and get a little nerdier, we discover that Hunter allowed fewer hits per nine and walks per nine that Johnson did in 2013. The biggest criticism of Hunter is his tendency to give up the longball. Last season he allowed 1.1 homers per nine, half of his total from 2012. While that mark is higher than Johnson’s 0.6, Hunter allowed fewer homers per fly ball than Johnson. Both players posted similar WAR totals last season, though Hunter had an above average Win Probably Added, while Johnson’s total was below average in that category.
Johnson’s pitch to contact style is will likely be a better fit in the roomy O.co Coliseum than it was in Camden Yards. Here are the pitches each reliever threw last season with their average velocities.
Hunter’s repertoire is more along the lines of a traditional closer’s. He’ll crank up the velocity on his four seam fastball, sometimes hitting triple digits, while mixing in a cutter, slider and occasional change. Jim Johnson depends on groundball outs which he gets with his sinker. When it works he’s incredibly effective, but it’s a risky way to go about closing a game.
The projection systems from FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus see similar seasons for Johnson and Hunter in 2014. JJ wins the ERA category in ZiPS and PECOTA, while Hunter takes the walks per nine, K per nine and WHIP.
There’s no question that Jim Johnson was a big reason for the Orioles success the past two seasons, but his loss likely won’t affect the Orioles as much as many people think.
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