The Orioles Are Better Off Without Jim Johnson

Orioles vs. Indians

As a life-long Baltimore Orioles fan, I understand that it’s December which is the annual time for Oriole fans to moan and complain about how much it sucks to be an Orioles fan.  Of course Orioles management has given us plenty of things to gripe about, but I truly believe that Buck Showalter will not allow this team to sink back into irrelevancy.  Moreover I think we’ve actually already improved in one area of are ball club this year, and that area is closer.  With Jim Johnson and his hefty contract being jettisoned to Oakland it no longer forces Showalter to be a slave to the closer position, and he can be free to manage and scheme in such a way that maximizes the talents of all his relievers.

In case I wasn’t clear, let me state this unequivocally: The Orioles are a better baseball team without Jim Johnson.  That is we are better team without Jim Johnson if they embrace being a closerless ball club.  I am not the first person to propose such a novel idea of getting rid of the closer position.  (For a more extensive look into this topic check out Jim Caple’s article about the closing position being the most overrated position in sports.)  Why do baseball geniuses like Showalter insist on throwing out all the percentages and matchups and just going with a guy because he’s your guy in the ninth? To me, this is one of the true mysteries of baseball.

Hopefully now without Johnson we will have the freedom to play the matchups.  If you have 2 lefties coming up in the ninth, then bring in the left-handed specialist (I’m being generic here and just saying “left-handed specialist” because last year this role was filled by Brian Matusz, but this year I’m one of the chief proponents for Matusz being the 5th starter).  Also, you can take batting history into account.  Let’s say for example, there are couple batters in the lineup who have atrocious numbers against Darren O’Day; then bring in Darren O’Day to get these hitters out.

Also, it allows you to ride the hot hand.  Last season, there were stretches of baseball where Jim Johnson was not effective; yet we could not bench him in favor of another pitcher who was pitching better at the time (i.e. any other pitcher on our ball club).  Why?  Because he was our  “closer”.  Let’s throw out the labels and if O’Day is struggling then bring in Hunter and vice versa.  Koji Uhera is a prime example of riding the hot pitcher.  He only was put in the closer role due to injury; however, it proves my point that you don’t need a flame-thrower (though I like a 97 MPH fastball as much as anybody) you just need to put in the most effective player at the time.

Furthermore, closers, especially closers for winning ball clubs, tend to be overused.  Oriole fans witnessed the overuse of Johnson over the past three years, which often leads to a pitcher wearing down and decreasing in his effectiveness.  Not having a typical closer allows a manager to rest relievers without feeling compelled to put him out there time and time again.

I feel like everything I am saying is common sense.  In fact I’m simply saying manage the 9th inning how you manage every other inning!  This idea that just because it’s the 9th we are going to throw out all previous strategy and take a completely different approach because we have a closer is utter nonsense.  Fortunately, the good news for the Orioles is that without Jim Johnson they do not have a closer, and hopefully the Orioles play this entire year without a closer.

18 Comments

  1. J. Evans

    December 10, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Next article for Mr. Sroka “Orioles better off without Matt Wieters” followed later by “Orioles actually improve by letting Chris Davis go”.

  2. 9inchnails

    December 10, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    Sroka, I used to have faith in you. You have got to be nuts! Give me 3 teams that have won in the last 10 years without a bonafide closer? Now, I don’t think you must have a closer to win it all but you have to have a go to guy. You have to have a guy you can give the ball too in the 9th with one out. We are told we saved $10 million by trading Johnson. What are we doing with that money? 3% interest at M&T for Angelos? Oh, yeah, we were a better team by letting Mussina go and we were a better team tradin Eddie and I don’t want to forget letting Reggie go by free agency, they were good moves to that panned out really well. We need to do something to win championships, these little piss ant moves don’t help. As long as Angelos fool knowledgable guys like you and you write that these are good moves, he will never build a championship team. If you were my son, I would take you out behind the woodshed for writing something like this.

    • Matt Sroka

      December 10, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      No, I’m not nuts 9inchnails, you are just unenlightened, so let me now enlighten you. I will give you 3 teams who have won without bonafide closers IN THE LAST THREE YEARS! Last year, at the beginning of the season who would have said Koji Uhera wasa bonafide closer? The answer is of course nobody. In 2012 Sergio Romo was the Giants closer leading the way with 14 saves. And in 2011, Jason Motte, ‘dominated’ the regular season with 9 saves. So you see, in the last three years there has NOT been a world series champ with a bonafide closer… or maybe we just have different definitions of the word bonafide?

      • MGW

        December 10, 2013 at 7:21 pm

        Truth seems to be leaking out as Orioles are pursuing Grant Balfour at about $8-9 mil a year. Maybe Buck didn’t have faith in Johnson anymore. Is saving $1-2M really a cost savings?

        Buck saw 9 games slip by, maybe he didn’t want Johnson anymore.

  3. Ravens2488

    December 10, 2013 at 7:27 pm

    Sroka, where do you get your stats? Just pull them from the air I figure cause you have to make up stuff to apologize for the Orioles…

    Koji had 21 saves for the Redsox
    Santiago Casilla had 25 saves for the 2012 World Series Champs Giants not Romo
    Fernando Salas had 24 saves for the 2011 World Series Champs Cardinals not Motte

    Look Hoss, you can apologize for the Orioles all you want but don’t throw out players & stats that are wrong.

    Can’t believe you would actually do that! Hurts credibility…

    • Matt Sroka

      December 10, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      But don’t you see Ravens2488 you are making my point. First off as far as my credibility is concerned… the discussion was about having a bonafide closer and being a World Series team. I mentioned Koji (who pitched fantastic) was only put in that role because of injury and was not initially looked upon as a closer. As far as Casilla and Salas go could you please inform me how many saves these pitchers had in the playoffs? (and remember that’s the whole premise of this discussion is having a closer on a World Series team)… the answer is ZERO compared to Motte and Romo who were closers by the time the playoffs started and had a combined 9 saves. So now that my credibility is once again unquestioned, let me address the bigger point that you are helping me make. Casilla and Salas were not dominate closers either… this is my point, you don’t need a dominate (highly paid) closer to win the World Series.

      • J. Evans

        December 11, 2013 at 5:55 am

        BUSTED! You were BUSTED Matt Sroka and can’t get out of it! Like 2488 says, your credibility is shot! Matt Sroka spoke lies in his comments above and is trying to retract! BUSTED! Don’t lie Matt Sroka, it will come back to get you!

      • Oriole Fan

        December 11, 2013 at 5:57 pm

        Mr. Sroka, to be a writer and legitimately falsify (I’m not going to say lie because I feel you just made a mistake, we all do) about players and stats to help your point is not what a good writer does. You need to fess up so that your credibility does not take a big hit. Your a good writer, just admit your mistake as people will forgive you. I gave you the benefit of the doubt as I checked the respective websites and you did make a mistake in what you wrote.
        On another note, I’m a long time Oriole fan but cannot believe what they are doing to the fanbase.

        • Matt Sroka

          December 11, 2013 at 6:16 pm

          Oh my goodness; I can’t believe I’m defending a comment I wrote… not even the article but a comment… a COMMENT. Well fine, I thought J. Evans comments were just the ravings of a lunatic, so I was not going to acknowledge them. However, since Evans got a witness I will attempt to address this COMMENT again. I did not falsify or embellish any information. Furthermore I did NOT even make a mistake or knowingly mislead the reader. If I may allow myself to quote myself in the much debated comment I wrote, ” I will give you 3 teams who have won without bonafide closers IN THE LAST THREE YEARS”. And when I say “won” the context from our discussion is clear that we are talking about world series. Therefore, I listed the 3 closers for these world series teams and they were Koji, Motte and Romo. I understand that all three of these guys were not the closers at the beginning of the season. I get that. But again, the question that we were discussing was do you need a historically dominate closer to win a championship. Wouldn’t it make sense to discuss the closers that were actually closing games in the World Series and playoffs in making this argument? I’m trying to be sincere and the fact that Oriole Fan joined in the discussion worries me a bit that I’m missing something. I double-checked (actually quadruple-checked) my stats and still stand behind what I wrote.

          • Matt Sroka

            December 11, 2013 at 7:05 pm

            Correction: *Dominant closer (or, if you prefer, a closer who dominates…)

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  5. Ryne Mehan

    December 11, 2013 at 2:02 am

    Thank you! I have been saying this since the ’11 playoff series against New York. Why restrict yourself? Why make it seem as if there is only one option? In game 3 against New York that series I had been saying the same thing, this entire season I had even saying the same thing. Ibanez was coming up to bat, I was yelling at the television to
    Bring in Brian Matusz…the rest is history.

    You know what the truly ironic thing is about all of this? Buck is very intelligent. He is clearly aware of all of the matchups, all of the numbers, yet he contributes to ignore them as if they aren’t that way for a reason. This isn’t even just about Jim Johnson. It’s also about him keeping Markakis in the number three spot almost the whole season, about him batting Davis fifth in the lineup when he should be batting third, not pinch-hitting when there was clearly a better option on the bench, continuing to Bring out Jim Johnson when he could have at least rested him or eased him back into the role, things like that… There are a few games specifically that stand out so much to me.

    There was one game in Chicago late in the season where Buck elected to keep Tommy Hunter in to face Adam Dunn in the tenth inning… Does anyone really need to explain why that is a bad move? Let me point out that this was also the last game of the series and the Os had the next day off, Matusz and McFarland were still in the bullpen, and first base was open. But, nope. Walk off homer instead. It is literally the one player on the team you should be afraid of and you leave in your absolute worst possible (and home run prone to lefties) pitcher when you know the other player is an all or nothing hitter… Just, no…

    There were two other games, well, bsides the games Britton started and Jim Johnson blew saves in. One game the Os were ahead one in the with with a runner on second and one out, Nate was up to bat against a lefthander. It was against the Padres, I believe. Instead of pinch-hitting Reimold, who was fully healthy and was playing decent at the time, Nate was retired easily and the runner was stranded. Johnson then blew the save and lost the game the very next inning… Two things: 1: Nate can’t hit lefthanded pitching. 2: he can’t hit with runners in scoring position. Not really a tough decision to make.

    My last example is a game where Buck chose to sit Wieters against the Mariners when Joe Saunders was starting against them.. Anyone who watched the Orioles and Matt Wieters knows that he is a much better and much more powerful hitter from the right side. You then add that Saunders is terrible and Camden is a very hitter friendly ballpark (Wieters also homered against Saunders earlier in the season). And, once again, Baltimore had the next day off. They went on to lose to Joe Saunders and his sub six ERA.

    My point is, as bad as Jim Johnson was, and as bad as the Orioles were down the stretch, it was all Buck’s fault. Very few players on the team underachieved and very few injuries came into play. A manager’s job is to get the most out of his team and to put players in position to succeed (ironically something that Buck preaches a lot). He didn’t do that. Markakis is no longer a 3 hitter, Davis shouldn’t be batting fifth where he has no protection behind him, the AL is really the last divison in any sport you want to be “experimenting” in because the margin for error is close to zero.

    But, yeah. I agree with everything you said. I have been saying the same thing for a year and a half now. It is stupid to put labels on players, specifically “closers.” The only time a player should be labeled a closer is when they are along the lines of a Craig Kimbrel or a Koji and have obvious advantages over all of the other bullpen options, which Johnson did not. For some reason people get really defensive over notions like that. It’s a lot like religion in that way. If you question it or trump facts over faith then you are “wrong.” You must be delusional for seeing things as they really are when in reality you and I are just giving out the facts and the reality of the situation. Bottom line, you have to do whatever you can, with the resources you are given, to win. The ninth inning could have and should have been utilized better by Buck. He deserves most of the blame because Johnson didn’t have to be labeled the closer and he certainly didn’t do a good job of putting his players and the team in position to succeed.

    Great article. It’s Nice to see someone who actually knows what they are talking about for once and aren’t just basing their arguments off of opinions, but rather facts. Look at Koji, who I mentioned earlier. He was the third option for the Red Sox and only closed because Hanrahan and Bailey got hurt, he turned out to be the best closer in all of baseball. I could go on forever. There are endless examples and reasons as to why you are right. Don’t waiver just because others can’t see that.

    • Matt Sroka

      December 11, 2013 at 7:09 am

      Good stuff Ryne! Yeah, ideally your closer is your best reliever, but there were many times last year when Johnson was not the best pitcher in the bullpen and was therefore, not your best option to get hitters out.
      I’m not sure if I would go as far as you and say it was all Buck’s fault, but I do think he deserves some of the blame. I have been critical of him in the past for sticking with his guys long past when it makes since to do so. You meantioned Markakis in the 3 hole too much; I would also add in 2012 when he insisted on batting Hardy in the 2 hole even when he wasn’t performing. Another example would be sticking with Flaherty far too long.
      I’m sure there are hundreds of decisions that any fan base can second guess for a manager each year; I just hope the Buck sticking with a struggling closer is not a mistake we see again this year.

  6. ceboscuit

    December 11, 2013 at 7:20 am

    Couldn’t agree more though I think the point should be that you don’t pay $10 mill for a closer unless it’s Mariano Rivera. The Orioles will be better off with that money spent on multiple players and closers are a dime a dozen these days. Sroka makes a good point that many times the guy that finishes the season closing games is not that guy that began the season. Whether it’s injury (Red Sox 2013) or production (Brewers 2013) things happen and it’s vital that you be able to try other bullpen pieces in that closer role. With Johnson on the roster that was never going to be the case. Guy almost broke a record for blown saves last year and was still the go to.

    bmore2boston.com

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  8. CurlyC

    December 14, 2013 at 7:23 am

    What did they do in the olden days when there was no closer? I miss those days. Let’s go back to them this year. It certainly can’t hurt. And BTW, Buck isn’t so smart as he thinks he is.

  9. Randy Buchman

    December 15, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    This is a great article – am posting the link in my weekly link dump at The Baltimore Wire. I will have my own article on this at some point coming up – an article I re-work and occasionally re-post because I so passionately believe what you have written is accurate. If you’ve got Rivera, you have a closer, but there are only a few of them out there. Closers are as rare as unicorn sightings.

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