Saturday Night in Oakland, Jim Palmer again stated on the MASN telecast that Jim Johnson has the stuff to be an excellent starter.
Last September when Palmer stated similar thoughts, I wrote the following:
"There is nobody associated with the Orioles organization that I respect more than Jim Palmer.The man was part of every Oriole World Series team, won 3 Cy Young Awards, and was a 20 game winner 8 times. (On another day we can discuss how many within the sabermetric community believe Palmer was over-rated.)
My direct memories of Palmer are not of him as a player but as an announcer. I remember him doing games as far back as 20+ years ago with WMAR. With all due respect to Joe Angel, only Jon Miller stands above Palmer as an Oriole announcer during this time-frame. No matter how much knowledge of the game you believe you have, you will always learn something new listening to Palmer and his analysis day-after-day, summer-after-summer.
That long-winded preface brings me to yesterday and the MASN telecast of the O's in Toronto. Palmer, and his broadcast partner Jim Hunter, suggested once more that the future for Jim Johnson could entail a return to a rotation.
To me, this is evidence that even the best are capable of off days. Yes, Johnson was a Minor League starter. Yes, Johnson has that power sinker which could help him eat innings. No, there is no reason to discuss Johnson ever again joining the O's rotation.
Johnson turned 27 years-old in June. He was last a starter in 2007, when he pitched 148 innings for AAA Norfolk. Since that time, he has pitched a combined 172.1 innings during the 2008, '09, and '10 seasons. Let us say that you were able to stretch Johnson's arm out during Spring Training 2011 to the point he was physically ready to start again. Would that be the proper decision for a guy that missed 4 months of 2010 season to an elbow injury?
The O's are not lacking for options to start anyway. Baring trade or injury; Guthrie, Matusz, Arrieta, and Bergesen are locks for the Oriole rotation to begin 2011. That leaves only the 5th starter.
Why would Johnson be a better option for the rotation vs. Chris Tillman?
Johnson 2007 AAA (Age 24): 6-12, 4.07 era, 148 innings, 164 hits, 48 walks, 109 k's
Tillman 2010 AAA (Age 22): 11-7, 3.34 era, 121.1 innings, 120 hits, 30 walks, 94 k's
Zack Britton is also waiting in the wings, and will be the first option if/when injuries and non-performance occurs.
Even if Johnson was not coming off of his own injury, you would still want him to be part of the bullpen and providing quality depth to that group."
I certainly can admit the obvious that Palmer has forgotten more about pitching than I could ever hope to know. Based on the respect I have for Palmer, I'm willing to look at this again.
Johnson, who turns 28 in June, has made apperences in 23 outings and has looked overpowering at times so far here in 2011.
Johnson 2011: 3-1, 3.10 era, 29 ip, 26 hits, 3 hr's, 5 bb's, 25 k's, .657 OPS against, 1.87 G/F
Pitch F/X: http://pitchfx.texasleaguers.com/pitcher/462382/?batters=A&count=AA&pitches=AA&from=4%2F1%2F2011&to=5%2F29%2F2011
Pretty clearly, when there is a high leverage situation - Uehara, and Johnson are the two relievers you want coming out of the O's bullpen. I still do not see the reasons of why you would make Johnson a starter though. In-fact, I think there is even less reason to make that move now, than there was last September.
My rationale for saying that is that we have seen the emergence of Britton, and the growth of Arrieta. Also, as I said above, Johnson has not started since the '07 season. He was not stretched out over the Winter/Spring, and has not pitched longer than 2 innings in any outing here in '11. In fact the most pitches he has throw in any outing is 31. You are not going to be able to extend him in season, so the earliest he could make the move back to the rotation is to begin 2012.
At that point, it will have been 5 years since Johnson last started, and he will be getting ready to turn 29. I just do not see it. Also, the Pitch F/X link above illustrates Johnson is averaging 95mph on his fastball this year. When he was first converted to a reliever, we all saw the uptick in his stuff as he was allowed to max out. If he goes from throwing a maximum of 30 pitches, to being expected to throw a minimum of 100 pitches - you have to expect his stuff will regress. You also have to worry about him being a greater injury risk.
I do not see how Johnson going back to the rotation makes sense for the O's or for Johnson himself. However, if you agree with Palmer, I'm willing to listen to why you do.
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