The Toronto Blue Jays' hopes for the playoffs are on life support, sitting 15 games back out in the AL East and 10.5 games out the wild-card race.
When the Jays traded for every serviceable player on the Miami Marlins, the excitement in the Big Smoke was at the highest it's been in years. The Boston Red Sox were coming off their worst record in 52 years, and the New York Yankees are ancient, leaving them to contend with the young upstart Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays.
In that Marlins trade, Josh Johnson was the wild card of the bunch. Since missing 122 games in 2011 due to shoulder surgery, this was the year he was supposed to be the Johnson of old, the one who was a back-to-back All-Star in 2009 and 2010.
Johnson is 1-8 on the year with a 6.60 ERA. Since the All-Star break, he's 0-3, has an ERA of 16.20 and opponents are teeing off at a .471 clip. There is nothing wrong with him physically. He doesn't average 95 mph like he did in 2009, but according to FanGraphs, he's averaging 93 mph on his fastball, and his secondary pitches are roughly where they should be.
Are his problems mechanical? They don't appear to be. He has a very fluid delivery, and his release point never changes. Johnson's issues aren't mental either.
There is a huge difference between Ricky Romero and Johnson at this point. Romero, who saddled with the "Ace" title last year, was filled with pressure from day one. And it was obviously something that weighed on him.
Johnson doesn't have that, and he's throwing strikes at the same time. Romero lost his ability to throw strikes, and unfortunately every strike Johnson throws gets hammered.
According to BrooksBaseball, in 2012 when Johnson went 8-14 with a 3.81 ERA, he threw 1,475 four-seam fastballs resulting in 48 strikeouts, allowing 16 doubles, four triples, 10 home runs and a .280 batting average against. BABIP (Batting average on balls in play) was .303. In 2013, the numbers are considerably worse.
In 2013, he's hurled 705 four-seamers and has surrendered nine doubles, a triple and 10 home runs. Batters are dialed in at .355, with a .384 BABIP and a slugging percentage of .593.
It's no surprise that he's not fooling anyone, and that's exactly the problem. You constantly hear baseball people talk about changing eye-level and keeping hitters off-balance. Opponents are too comfortable in the box against Johnson. The pitch selection is in need of an overhaul.
Johnson is not the same pitcher he was, but that doesn't mean he still can't get hitters out. Brooks has identified the pitches Johnson is successful with, and if you compare 2009 to 2013, it's night and day.
In 2009, Johnson was missing bats on a regular basis. He recorded 149 strikeouts with the fastball and 115 with his slider.
Over the last three years, Johnson has added a curveball to his repertoire. It has literally taken place of his fastball as an out pitch, or one that hitters don't recognize coming out of his hand.
The raw whiffs on a fastball have dropped dramatically to 50, slider at 54 and his curveball at 33. But when you compare to 2012, Johnson is on pace to surpass his totals significantly. Last year his fastball was the result of 77 swings and misses.
All this tells me is that Johnson is behind the count more often than not, relying more on the fastball to get out of trouble, and batters are well aware of that.
When he needs a strikeout, he relies more on the breaking stuff than ever before. A slight dip in velocity can make the difference between a strikeout and a single. Pitching ahead and placing your pitches becomes his biggest priority.
The offseason will be very interesting. According to Baseball-Reference, Johnson is making $13,750,000 (Marlins are paying $2.5M) and is set to become a free agent at the end of the season.
Jays fans are frustrated, no doubt, but at this point, re-signing Johnson at $15 million might be the best thing with no pressure of replacing him in the rotation. Heck, someone will give him that anyway next year.
Johnson has a history of success, and maybe this year is a one-off, but at 6'7" and 250 pounds, Johnson still has the potential to be that No. 1 guy he was in Florida, the one Jays Nation thought they were getting in the first place.
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