Throughout the 2013 season and in the few days which have now passed since it finished, a lot of the discussion amongst Orioles’ fans has been on the closer position, which has been held by Jim Johnson for the last few seasons.
By his own high standards, Johnson’s 2013 season had periods of poor form which lead to increasing frustration amongst fans, however the talk of him being replaced as the team’s closer for 2014 is premature and quite simply, it is unjustified.
In addition to the frustration experienced by Johnson, 2013 was a tough season for many of the game’s best closers, as seen below.
As demonstrated, Johnson’s numbers weren’t far behind the great Mariano Rivera who in the eyes of most baseball fans, had a relatively solid season for the Yankees.
Furthermore, Johnson’s numbers aren’t overwhelmingly different to what many called a fantastic 2012 season.
In 2012, Johnson recorded 51 saves in 54 attempts, a conversion rate of 94.4% which is comfortably ahead of his 2013 mark. However, he finished the season with an ERA of 2.49, which isn’t overwhelmingly lower than his 2.94 mark in 2013.
Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find that in 2012, Johnson struck out 41 hitters through 68.2 innings pitched, a much lower strike out ratio in comparison to the 56 strike outs in 70.1 innings pitched in 2013. With regards to hits, Johnson allowed 72 in 2013, a higher mark than the 55 he allowed in 2012.
So what do I think all these statistics mean?
Quite simply, it appears that Jim Johnson was throwing more strikes in 2013 than he did in 2012 and when you throw more strikes, there’s a greater chance opposing hitters will make contact.
Unfortunately for Johnson, baseball is a game of inches and when luck was on his side in 2012, this contact produced a lot of the ground-outs. In 2013 however, this contact seemed to find gaps and ultimately hurt Johnson in crucial situations.
To confirm this theory of Johnson throwing more strikes in 2013 than 2012, a quick check of Baseball Reference reveals that in 2013 Johnson threw 1114 pitches, of which 699 were strikes (63%). By comparison, in 2012 Johnson threw 1022 pitches, of which 625 were strikes (61%). Theory confirmed.
Having 9 blown saves in a single season is always going to get fans asking questions, however with the more detailed information above in mind, along with Johnson’s undeniably good record of 101 saves in 113 attempts over the last two seasons, Johnson remains the best option for the Orioles moving forward.
To put Johnson’s achievements over the last two seasons into perspective, there have been just two other closers in the history of MLB who have achieved two 50-save seasons: Mariano Rivera and Eric Gagne.
If Johnson was to achieve this feat for a third time in 2014, he’d be the only one to ever do so.
If someone is in contention to achieve a feat like that, then I want them on my team.
Guest post by Daniel Clark from Pen & Paper Sports. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DJC_Sports.