Guest Post by Cody Colston. You can follow him at @The_OtherCody.
Yes, the inevitable has happened. People have figured out that Jim Johnson is, in fact, human and, as all baseball players do, is going through a slump, giving up 13 hits and 12 earned runs in his last five innings pitched and making this clip extremely relevant. Now, I’m not going to sit here and try and to be a hitting coach (pitching coach in this case) like Zach does, but I will sit here and tell why you shouldn’t panic just yet.
Jim Johnson blew a total of 3 saves in the regular season last year. Let’s put this in perspective, before 2009, any time Mariano Rivera recorded at least 40 saves, he blew at least 4. He did something the best closer EVER couldn’t do until he was 39, 11 years older than Johnson when he did it, did it with 50 saves, and he isn’t Rivera. Now, comparing Johnson to Rivera isn’t all that fair, but that’s my point. Johnson isn’t going to be perfect, especially since he’s a contact pitcher, so let’s get over that right now, but not many closers will be perfect either. Johnson is going through a slump; it’s inevitable, it happens to all baseball players, especially pitchers. At one point in Rivera’s career, he blew 3 saves in the span of 6 days. Now what did the Yankees’ manager do to get him out of this slump? Sent him right back out there the next day, precisely what Buck is doing.
Buck isn’t the only one breaking out the saddle to ride his closer through a slump, Fernando Rodney has blown 5 saves already this season after his historic season last year, even Craig Kimbrel and Chris Perez, two of the better closers in the league, both have 3 blown saves this season, while no as close together as Johnson’s are, it still is 3 blown saves pretty early in the season. So no one has the right to question Buck’s decision on keeping Johnson as the closer, not only because it’s the right thing, but because his hand are tied.
Who would replace Johnson? Darren O’Day is who fans are crying out for to take the closer role, but his role as a groundball pitcher and setup man are too volatile to move him, plus he has given up hits in 8 of his last 10 appearances. Tommy Hunter is another hot hand that Buck could go to but, he is a work horse out of the bullpen, as is T.J. McFarland, and does tend to give up the long ball at bit too much (5 homers allowed this season, the most of all the relievers) for a closer. Troy Patton has struggled this season, posting an ERA of 4.79 so far this season, but having an ERA of 8.00 in his last 9 innings pitched. Brian Matusz is the go to lefty specialist and emergency long man, so his role is too valuable to give up and he blew a save against Oakland, which makes you question his mentality. Pedro Strop is — well, I’d rather not touch that one but I think you know what I’m talking about. Closing by committee? Can’t waste too many arms in one day since the starters don’t go that deep and it may lead to “dry humping” pitchers, warming pitchers up without using them, which Buck doesn’t like.
So Johnson cannot be moved out of the closer role, seeing as there isn’t another available option at this point in time but if Johnson can’t get out this slump soon it might provoke Buck to move him but at this point in time he is staying put. I’m confident that he will get out of his slump, he went through something similar in April of 2010, he blew 3 saves and gave up 7 runs in 9.2 innings pitched. Johnson will need to return to form in order for the Orioles to make the playoffs, that is certain. I also don’t think I can make it to the playoffs having fans ask for the goggled one himself, Kevin Gregg, to come back.