UPDATE: Since the original posting of this article, the Oakland Athletics have announced that they have designated Jim Johnson for assignment.
Although you could argue that perhaps the time has already passed, there is no arguing now that Jim Johnson’s time in Oakland needs to have come to an end with his last outing last night against the Houston Astros.
Johnson, traded for to be the closer to replace the popular Grant Balfour, came to Oakland with a very impressive 101 saves over the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He has recorded just two saves this season for the team, and that number probably shocks the vast majority of A’s fans that have come to dread hearing his name announced as the reliever entering a game.
The difficult part to this situation is Johnson is a hard guy to root against. By all accounts he is a great teammate, he is very accountable with the media, a hard worker that cares about his short comings this season, and an all around nice guy. He’s the type of guy you want to root for, not against. And yet, he receives the largest volume of boos that any player in an A’s uniform has received as far back as I can personally remember.
The A’s have tried to trade their embattled former closer to the Marlins at least twice this season, and back to his former club, the Baltimore Orioles. Neither trade ever materialized, and it’s really no wonder why.
It’s clear the A’s want to move on from Johnson, and judging by his body language after each failed appearance, it would appear that he would probably welcome a change of scenery as well. All parties involved seem to be at a loss for answers as to what has gone wrong this season and how to move forward.
In 40.1 innings pitched this season, Johnson has allowed 33 runs to score for a 6.92 ERA. Last night he allowed four runs to score (three earned) on four straight hits without recording an out! At the time when he entered he had a 9-2 lead. By the time he was off the hook the score was 9-6 and there still wasn’t an out to his credit. Dan Otero, Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle had to come in and bail him out. All three pitchers were supposed to have the night off as manager Bob Melvin had hoped to get two innings of work from Johnson to save his bullpen for the day game today.
Pitching at home he has a very robust 12.21 ERA. In 14 innings pitched in the Coliseum, Johnson has allowed 19 earned runs to score. He has been better on the road, but still not to the tune of any stats you’d boast about reading off the back of the baseball card. He has a 4.10 ERA in away games, having allowed 12 earned runs in 26.1 innings pitched.
Opposing batters are batting .355 against him with no outs in the inning (.375 BAbip), .403 with one out (.480 BAbip) and .283 with two outs (.303 BAbip). His batting average on balls in play by opposing batters does suggest that he has been the victim of some bad luck, but considering the situation the A’s find themselves in — atop the entire Major Leagues with the best record in baseball, yet still just two games ahead of the Los Angeles Angels in the standings — they can’t afford to keep running him out there hoping he figures it out.
Johnson’s “money” pitch has always been his sinker, and he throws it a ton at 68.41% according to BrooksBaseball.net, resulting in 60% of balls hit into play against him being grounders. His batting average on balls in play by opposing hitters on grounders is .309, suggesting that perhaps he needs to cut down on the sinker and try to become more of a fly ball pitcher, taking advantage of the spacious Oakland Coliseum and its abundance of foul territory. His BAbip on fly balls is .045 after all. The problem here is that those are on fly balls only, not taking into consideration line drives, which of course are also hit “on the fly” (obvious enough for you?). His BAbip on line drives is .839.
The stats are no better if you try to use situational analysis. Johnson has failed in every role the A’s have tried to use him in, including what was supposed to be a meaningless innings-eating role last night, instead turning it into a save situation for Doolittle and taxing a bullpen right before a short turn around day game.
This may be the most damaging effect of keeping him on the roster. It doesn’t reflect directly in the stat sheet, but having to use other relievers to continually clean up his messes is racking up their innings counts and forcing them to throw more pitches that can tire their arms out as the season progresses. The A’s have a shot to go deep in the postseason this year and need as many bullets in those arms as they can get. Right now Johnson is wasting his teammates’ efforts and the effects may not be seen until into October.
Any interest that may have existed on Johnson on the trade market has likely disappeared. Even with the A’s willingness to eat the entirety of his remaining contract, why would any team trade away any piece of their organization with the knowledge that the A’s are out of options with Johnson and will likely just cut him within the next week?
If there is a team out there that wants to take a chance on him for the remainder of the season, it will be less of a gamble to simply let him pass through the waiver process and sign him for the pro-rated league minimum without giving up a player to the A’s to secure his services.
For the A’s, the time has passed for trying to salvage the trade they made last offseason sending Jemile Weeks to Baltimore for Johnson by holding out to receive any kind of compensation at all for their struggling reliever.
His presence on the 25-man roster is keeping pitchers such as Tommy Milone, Drew Pomeranz or Evan Scribner in the minors. The A’s are letting a $10 million contract keep them from fielding the best possible 25-man roster.
Designating Johnson for assignment and eating the remainder of his salary is addition-by-subtraction, allowing the A’s to promote a more deserving pitcher, and preventing Johnson from continuing to hurt the team.
Hopefully for Johnson’s sake, he can turn it around with a change of scenery and revive his career. He’s a talented pitcher and a great person who deserves the best, but it’s just not working in Oakland and the time has come to move on. In the end, it will be better for Johnson as well.
I imagine that Wednesday night was the last outing we will see from Jim Johnson in an A’s uniform. It’s unfortunate if that truly is his last impression as an Oakland A, but truthfully the time has long passed that he should have been in a different uniform for the remainder of the 2014 season.