Solving The Orioles Closer Controversy
Jim Johnson leads the league in both saves (29) and in blown saves (6). On Friday, he blew one of his worst opportunities of the year as the Yankees walked off 3-2 winners after the Orioles entered the bottom of the ninth up 2-1 in the Bronx.
It hasn’t been an easy season for the 2012 saves leader. Johnson’s WHIP has jumped from 1.019 in 71 games in 2012 to 1.314 in 43 games in 2013. His K/BB ratio has dipped from 2.73 in 2012 compared to his 2.29 mark this season.
In watching Johnson this season, I assumed that he was throwing more pitches per appearance this season given his WHIP increase. Right now he’s throwing just slightly over one more pitch than he did in 2012: 14.39 pitches per appearance last year, 15.48 this season.
The stat that jumps off the page is the BABIP against Johnson. In 2012, he held hitters to a .252 BABIP, that has jumped to .310 this season. Part of the increased BABIP has to do with Johnson’s ground ball percentage falling this season. Last year 62.3 percent of his outs were recorded via the ground ball (a career high), that’s fallen to 54.2 percent. His GB/FB ratio has dipped from 2.93 to 2.13.
We’ve talked all season, both here on BSR and on our podcast, about Johnson being a pitch to contact pitcher. There’s so little room for error when you’re a guy that depends on ground balls. Now that he’s not getting them, the Orioles are faced with a unique challenge.
It’s my opinion that Johnson needs to a change, he shouldn’t be closing games for the Orioles for the time being. His pitch command has suffered confidence appears to be faltering as a result.
Everyone seems to have a different answer for the Orioles closer issue. Some folks have demanded that the Orioles call Brian Wilson, who has remained off the field after his second Tommy John surgery. If a team thought Wilson could help them, he’d be on a roster by now. Even Jose Valverde has been given chances this season.
Others have written that Kevin Gausman should get a shot to close and cited David Price‘s rookie season as the blue print. Price never closed in the regular season, in fact he only pitched in the eighth once before being given the ball in the postseason as the Rays’ hot hand. Price and Gausman had two completely different paths to the big leagues.
Tommy Hunter is probably next in line for the job, but I’d still rather see Buck Showalter go with a closer by committee for the time being. The closer’s role is an incredibly over rated one and one that I believe baseball pays entirely too much attention to. Go with the match ups for now and help Johnson get back his confidence.