Jim Johnson
Image Credit: Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Jim Johnson is a unique closer. He doesn’t overpower hitters with upper 90s fastballs, instead he makes his fielders work by forcing ground ball outs with a hard sinker.

At the end of April, Orioles fans witnessed what happened when a hard throwing relief pitcher lost his command. Pedro Strop went into a tailspin and put runners on base via walks and hit batsmen. Over his last two outings, Johnson has suffered the same fate due to a lack of control.

JJ threw 32 pitches and recorded just one out in the top of the ninth against the Rays on Saturday. He surrendered three hits and was charged with five earned runs, a blown save and his fourth loss of the season. I watched the implosion on TV, read some horribly dumb tweets about it and then watched it again several hours later on MLB.tv.

Just like his blown save on May 14 against the Padres, Johnson struggled to hit Matt Wieters‘s target behind the plate. The PITCHf/x data over at BrooksBaseball.net reveals inconsistencies in Johnson’s release point. If you look at some of his saves earlier this season, Johnson finds a common area to let go of the ball in his delivery. He was all of out whack on Saturday.

Jim Johnson release point - May 18, 2013

Luke Jackson over at BaltimoreSportsandLife.com took some screenshots of the balls that Kelly Johnson, Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce put into play and credited the Rays hitters for making good contact on quality pitches. Jackson chalked up Johnson’s night to “baseball” and just getting beat by the opposition.

I respectfully disagree.

Kelly Johnson did put a good swing on Jim’s fifth pitch of the at-bat. But Jim Johnson left it belt-high on the outer part of the plate. I’m sure if you asked JJ, he’d tell you that pitch was supposed to be lower in the zone.

After walking the next two batters, Johnson left his fifth pitch against Desmond Jennings up and inside for a single that loaded the bases. His release point on that particularly pitch was higher than we’re used to seeing.

Then Matt Joyce really frustrated the O’s closer when he hit one of his few good sinkers to right center and drove in two.

I can’t chalk up JJ’s blown save to quality hitting by the Rays when I watched him throw numerous pitches in the dirt and keep his sinker up high in the strike zone. Anytime Johnson throws less than half of his pitches for strikes, you know there’s a problem.

Command remains the issue for Johnson and until he finds that consistent release point again, he’ll be knocked around by hitters who don’t mind pitches up in the zone (all of them).

Zach Wilt is the Founding Editor of BaltimoreSportsReport.com and Host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @zamwi or send him an email: zach@baltimoresportsreport.com.

About The Author

Zach Wilt is the Founding Editor of BaltimoreSportsReport.com and host of the BSR Podcast. He's a loyal Orioles, Ravens and Capitals fan who is obsessed with baseball, loves traveling, In-N-Out Burger and Walt Disney World.


  1. Same series of comments I left over at BSL:

    Johnson is fine. Looking at the two blown saves…vs. the Padres, a guy who induces hundreds of ground balls every year is bound to have some get through. That’s all that happened. The tying run was on a ground ball, not even hard hit, right up the middle. Best pitchers in the game can’t avoid hits like that. Hence why there is a stat like BABIP available. No pitcher’s BABIP is going to be .000… even on weak ground balls.

    Then last night, vs. the Rays. Command is what killed him. A HR is a HR. Guys give them up. Look at Verlander the other night vs. Texas. Think the Tigers are benching him because of the terrible start? Homers happen. As for the proceeding plays…two walks are KILLER. Walking anybody in a save situation, let alone any inning in a game, is just asking for trouble. Have to make those guys be hitters.

    After the two walks, Jenning broke his bat on a high fastball and blooped a base hit. Again, nothing to see here.

    Joyce up. This is where I actually questioned Wieters yesterday a bit. On the 2-2 count, Wieters called for a changeup down, which ended up in the dirt. Joyce is known as a terrible off speed hitter, but mostly vs. breaking balls, so a change up doesn’t have the high odds of fooling him. Wieters, in that case, is setting up a full count with the bases loaded for a guy with obvious control issues on the day. I guess, hoping to fool Joyce, Wieters threw down a curve, which Joyce fouled off. Now he has seen all of JJ’s pitches, he has to go fastball. Has to. Really no other options here other than trying to beat the hitter. And we saw what happened from there.

    I’m not too worried about Jim Johnson. Why? The first blown save was nothing to see, and the second was some command issues. If the command thing is a recurring problem, then we have something to think about. But as of now, it could have just been an off day. Those happen. Guys don’t have the best feel for the strike zone EVERY single day. As I told some friends yesterday, I much rather have these things happen then to see JJ give up a bunch of hard hit balls in the gaps and leave after three straight doubles…or something like that. JJ has shown no signs of allowing guys to square up any of his pitches routinely, and that is what is most important to look at here. That is when there should be a concern. As seen with a guy like the starting pitcher Jurrjens, if your pitches become flat at any point in your career, you could possibly lose feel for them…forever. Fortunately, Johnson is looking at some command/luck issues…let’s all calm down and give him a day to rest and throw him right back out there, no questions asked.

    And I will say, my comments are to everyone, but not meant to argue any points made in this piece. It is purely my opinion and also reflective on the tons of people on social media claiming JJ is no good. I also found it funny at the game yesterday hearing so many fans boo JJ AND O’Day. Do people even realize how freaking lucky they are to have such a deadly back end combination? Probably 90% of teams in baseball would take that combo in a heartbeat, maybe even more.

  2. And my opinion is,,,,,,,,,,,,the league has found out what we the great fans of Balto already know , JJ likes to get ahead in the count and when he does he is lethal , but , when he does not he is very hitable (if that is a word),,,,,,,,,,now it is JJs turn to adjust , can he do it , we will see,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    • It’s the Flacco Phenomenon: one bad game and the “fans” in Baltimore want to send a guy to the gallows.

      • Hey Nick,,,,,I never said to get rid of him , I just said he needs to adjust like most major leaguers throughout their career,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,my goodness , the O’s need him to pitch well and I’m sure he will once he makes a few minor adjustments , he is too good not to make these changes and go forward,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,you know what , once he does this he wil have to make more later Nick , it’s part of a process for quality pitchers like JJ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,hope I made myself clear…………………

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