Game 113, Mariners at Blue Jays
King Felix vs. Josh Johnson, 7:10
This was supposed to be one of the most anticipated pitching match-ups of the year. Yes, the Jays had last year’s NL Cy Young winner, but Josh Johnson was perhaps the most talented new Blue Jay. He’s been beset by injuries, but he also put up a 6 WAR season in 2010, a year after a 5.5 WAR campaign. His fastball was down 1-2 MPH since returning from injury, but he’s still got plus velocity, as well as a curve, a change and a slider he throws to righties and lefties.
His big fastball didn’t have the natural sink of Yoervis Medina’s, but Johnson located it fairly well and in doing so maintained very low HR rates over the course of several seasons. His career high in any year was 14, a figure he hit three times throwing between ~160-210 innings. You can imagine Jays fans surprise then that Johnson’s yielded 15 already in just 76 innings pitched. Something’s gone terribly wrong with Johnson, and it’s not clear exactly what. Optimists will point out that his xFIP is actually better than it was in 2012, when he amassed 3.5 WAR. It’s essentially right at his career average. Sure, he’s not the dominant, untouchable force he was in 2010, but he’s a contributor whose been wrecked by terrible luck, much of it related to his inability to stay healthy. Pessimists will say that when a pitcher who’s famous for limiting home runs suddenly starts giving up lots of home runs, writing it off as “luck” and betting on regression may not work. As we’ve all discussed today, some times pitchers really do need to change something.
Johnson’s fastball movement and release point aren’t quite what they were before his 2011 shoulder injury, but it doesn’t look noticeably different than it did in 2012. He’s given up most of his HRs at home, like RA Dickey, but his overall results have been worse on the road, thanks in part to a comical BABIP and strand rate; HRs account for only a portion of his misfortune. He’s been destroyed by righties, which is so incongruous that it seems to benefit the “optimists” who’d point to luck and injury to explain why a Cy Young contender’s sporting an RA of 7.58. The BABIP stuff looks bizarre, and it’s definitely possible it’s inflated by a few games when he tried to pitch through injuries (he missed several weeks in May/June with a triceps injury). I just wonder why the Blue Jays have given up so many HRs, with guys like Dickey and Johnson seeing HR/FB increase and giving up more fly balls in general to boot. Is it related to Rogers Centre itself? Is it particularly homer-friendly with the roof closed (Safeco’s noticeably friendlier closed? Is it just a few pitchers having bad years? Whatever it is, this match-up reminds me of how rare and incredible it is for a pitcher to combine talent with durability. If you compared Felix to Johnson strictly on tools, I think Johnson might *might* come out ahead. Unless, of course, you view health as a tool.
1: Miller, SS
2: Franklin, 2B
3: Seager, 3B
4: Morales, DH
5: Ibanez, LF
6: Morse, RF
7: Smoak, 1B
8: Saunders, CF
9: Blanco, C
SP: King Felix
The big story in the minors was Wilhelmsen’s start, but James Paxton followed and pitched poorly as well. Not a great day in Tacoma, as the Rainiers lost 10-3. Charles Kaalekahi starts for Clinton while Anthony Vasquez pitches for Jackson.
Shannon Drayee recently tweeted that, according to Carl Willis, Wilhelmsen is NOT transitioning to the rotation, but is just getting slightly longer appearances (like today’s 2IP start) to work on his other pitches and his mechanics.