The Orioles officially have a closer problem. On Sunday in Toronto, Jim Johnson blew his fourth save in his last five chances. Over his last six games, Johnson has allowed 13 hits, 12 earned runs and three walks in five innings pitch. That’s a 21.60 ERA for you math wizards out there.
He’s falling behind hitters and struggling to keep the sinker down in the zone. Last week I examined his high release point and blamed it for his location issues, but right now I’m less certain about Johnson’s issues being mechanical. Perhaps the blown saves have started to wear on him mentally.
Buck Showalter assured fans that he would go to Johnson if a save opportunity presented itself on Monday against the Nationals. After watching him throw 37 pitches on Sunday and 14 pitches the night before, I don’t think he’ll keep that promise.
Even if Johnson was well rested, I believe it’s time for Showalter and the O’s to take a look at their other options for the closer’s role and allow JJ to work through his issues in the seventh or eighth. But who should the Birds’ skipper call on to replace the 2012 saves leader?
It’s not like the bullpen has been particularly effective of late. They allowed 16 earned runs in 14 innings pitched in their four games north of the border and have posted a 7.93 ERA over their last 12 games. Right now the Orioles are just hoping they’ll get to a save situation with those type of numbers.
Athletics GM Billy Beane famously discussed why closers have the most overrated role in all of sports. “Whitey Herzog had a lot of success with a closer by committee,” Beane told Jim Caple of the late ESPN Page 2. “Although now that I think back on it, I’m not sure they called it ‘closer by committee’ back then. I think then it was just called ‘using your bullpen wisely.’ Then closers became ‘specialists.’”
Each of the Orioles options to replace Johnson have some sort of flaw whether minor or glaring. Their best options are Darren O’Day (.140 batting average against vs. right handed batters, .333 BAA vs. LHB), Tommy Hunter (5 homers allowed over 29 innings pitched) or Brian Matusz (I question the mental makeup for the role).
I’d like to see Johnson out of that role and watch the Orioles implement the Beane approach for the time being. If JJ can improve his mechanics, build back his confidence and hit his spots again, then the job is his. If not, time for closer by committee.