Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Can Josh Johnson Rebound For Blue Jays


This is a special feature written by former Jays Journal Staff Writer Travis Bateman. Travis is now covering all Toronto sports as Editor of FanSided’s All Toronto Blog, Tip of the Tower (Check it out, you know you want to). You can follow Tip of the Tower on Twitter and Like the Facebook page to keep up with all of your Toronto sports needs.

Josh Johnson’s first (and possibly only) season as a Toronto Blue Jay has been an unmitigated disaster. Between injuries and ineffectiveness, Johnson has been worse than what many imagined was the worst-case scenario thus far.

Or has he?

While it is indisputable that Johnson’s results have been anything less than horrendous, he’s currently sporting a 6.08 ERA to go along with his 1-7 record, what is disputable is why his results have been so poor.

Many reasons have been thrown out to give reason to Johnson’s grievous efforts, from his status as an “NL Pitcher”, to his penchant for ‘nibbling’ around the strike zone, and his very real fastball decline.

While contemplating Johnson’s season, and what exactly the Blue Jays should do with him for 2014 I ended up on his FanGraphs page. I started comparing Johnson’s career numbers to his numbers in 2013, and I was surprised what I found.

Season

O-Swing %

Z-Swing %

O-Contact %

Z-Contact %

Zone %

SwStr %

Career

27.7 %

65.4 %

59.6 %

87.3 %

46.6 %

9.6 %

2013

32.3 %

65.9 %

65.4 %

87.8 %

38.5 %

9.6 %

If you’re unfamiliar with the above stats, check out the FanGraphs Glossary here.

What the above chart tells us isn’t all that surprising for those that have seen both past and present Josh Johnson. He is throwing less pitches in the strike zone (8% less which is kind of a lot). By virtue of throwing more pitches out of the zone, Johnson is getting more swings at non-strikes, but his also giving up more contact on pitches outside the zone.

Aside from that, Johnson’s swinging strike rate, in-zone swings, and in zone contact are virtually identical. The pitches and contact outside of the zone are odd, somewhat concerning, but certainly don’t explain the ineffectiveness.

Off to chart number 2!

GB/FB

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB

K%

BB%

xFIP

Career

1.46

20.7 %

47.0 %

32.2 %

10.0 %

8.1 %

22.0 %

8.1 %

3.57

2013

1.40

23.4 %

44.7 %

31.9 %

9.3 %

18.7 %

22.3 %

7.5 %

3.54

Josh Johnson has been a very similar pitcher this season to what he has been throughout his career. In fact xFIP has Johson has pitching slightly above his career average! If you didn’t spot it on your first time over, check out the above chart again…do you see the one anomaly that is causing Josh Johnson’s results to deviate from his peripherals?

DING DING DING

If you spotted that Johnson is giving up home runs on 18.7% of his fly balls, you’re correct!

In case you were wondering, which after seeing that statistic I certainly was, HR/FB rate is minimally under the control of the pitcher.

From FanGraphs:

While pitchers can control (to a certain extent) the type of batted balls hit against them, there is less skill involved when considering whether a long fly ball is hit into the seats or to the warning track…. extreme home run rates in either direction are likely unsustainable.

Alright, so Josh Johnson has an 18.7% HR/FB rate, which is a full 10% higher than his career average, maybe he was playing with fire his whole career and he’s now regressing to the norm right?

Wrong! The MLB average HR/FB rate is generally around 9.5%, FanGraphs tells us that anything above 13% is considered “awful”. So Josh Johnson’s 18.7% rate? Due for a nice big ol’ serving of regression!

You may now be wondering what if Josh Johnson’s HR/FB rate regresses, what can we expect from him? For that we can look at xFIP, a stat that takes FIP and “normalizes” the home run component, by replacing the pitcher’s HR/FB ratio with one of 10.5% (slightly below average). As mentioned earlier Josh Johnson’s xFIP for the year is 3.54.

Josh Johnson in his career has actually outperformed his xFIP in terms of ERA, whether that was due to defense or just plain luck is to be seen, but if Johnson can normalize that HR/FB ratio would it be some much to expect an ERA under 4.00 for the rest of the season?

I think not.

I’m going to go out on a limb here (but maybe not if you believe in the above statistics as I do) that Josh Johnson will be the Blue Jays best pitcher over the next two months. He’s going to pitch well enough that we Jays fans will feel silly for ever having doubted the fact we would extend him a qualifying offer, and will be extolling his effectiveness at this time next year when the Jays are in the middle of a pennant race.

That is unless he doesn’t, and in that case you can all make fun of me in the comments section or on Twitter.

Tags: Josh Johnson Toronto Blue Jays

  • Andrew van Laar

    I do not know how you can make the assumption that his home run will regress because of luck. These ‘luck’ stats and assumptions are bollocks. If he is not pitching well and leaves a flat 92mph fastball over the middle of the plate, its out of the yard. No luck involved on the batters part. Major leauge players take advantage of bad pitches and JJ, while in my mind not a player playing as horrible as some stats show, has thrown some very bad pitches that have turned into multiple runs.

    • Travis Bateman

      It’s not an assumption, it’s a proven fact that HR/FB ratio is something that is (for the most part) under no control of the pitcher. Some pitchers are better than others, but they all generally fall into the range of a 7.5%-13.5% range. Josh Johnson is currently at 18.7%.
      Johnson clearly hasn’t pitched well, but as the facts tell us, he’s been historically unlucky

      • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

        or historically awful ;)

  • brad

    Wow. Loving the bold prediction….. but I’m not sure I agree

    I too am a believer in these stats but I think in a lot of cases it needs to be coupled with the good old eye test. The root cause of JJs struggles is not his absurd HR/FB rate, but what is causing his HR/FB rate. He is throwing his fastball down the middle of the plate….. and his two seam is also belt high and a little slower. He still has a good curveball and that great slider but a fastball down the plate gets hit for homers in his division(not that I think the AL East is his problem)…. and the fact that it is always down the middle or drastically off the plate takes away from the credibility of the off speed pitches. He may have the same contact and strike percentages, but don’t be fooled, that HR rate is not gunna go down until he stops throwing fastballs over the heart of the plate

    If I was clever enough to figure out pitch f/x I would point some stuff out that supports this but I’m not. I’m sure that if someone looks you will see decreased movement and increased contact % on his 2 seam and 4 seam fastballs and a slider that is about the same as historically.

  • Justin Jay

    Good article Travis. I have to say he’s leaving too many pitches in the zone, right down the middle. He got away with it at 97-98 MPH in Miami, but he won’t at 92-93 MPH. The decline in velocity should really be the most alarming stat. Sure he’s almost 30, but this is a pretty steep decline.

  • yoodler

    Felt the need to make fun of you. 7 runs in 2.1 innings??

    • brad

      woah now…. only 6 of those were earned. Let’s not overreact lol

    • Travis Bateman

      You win some, you lose some…when his numbers regress and he wins 20 games for the Rays or A’s next season I’m reposting this 1000 times haha

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