O’s Send Jim Johnson To Triple-A

With Brad Bergesen rejoining the team as the fifth starter, the O’s needed to clear a roster spot. So they decided to send Jim Johnson down to the minors. Terrible decision, in my opinion. His ERA is high a 6.52 (in just 9.2 IP), but he’s striking out batters (8.4 K/9), not walking a ton (3.7 BB/9 – and it’s 3.07 without his one intentional walk), and keeping the ball in the yard OK (0.9 HR/9) despite a below average groundball rate (41.2%). He’s got one of the better FIPs^ on the team at 3.81, and an even better xFIP^ at 3.74. There is no argument you could make for Johnson being worse than Matt Albers. None. Also, they’re keeping both Castillo and Ohman (plus Hendrickson) around – I guess having the third lefty is more important than an actual good pitcher. JJ’s got a .434 BABIP^ – it’s based on a high rate of line-drives, but that is certainly expected to regress to the mean heavily for a guy who’s a quality pitcher. The apparent justification:

“The 26-year-old Johnson has been largely ineffective in a myriad of roles for the Orioles and the general feeling is he needs to go down to Triple-A to get straightened out.

“This is a hard decision to make but I think it’s a decision that we made to help him,” pitching coach Rick Kranitz said. “So I’m certain it’s going to help him, he needs to get back to who Jim Johnson really is.”

The move is surprising given that Johnson is one of the longest-tenured Orioles and is a veteran among the relievers.  Kranitz, Johnson and manager Dave Trembley met this afternoon, with Johnson leaving before the clubhouse was open to the media. Both Trembley and Kranitz acknowledged that the decision was a difficult one, and last night’s performance -in which Johnson allowed a run on three hits and two walks, loading the bases before exiting.

“I thought he tried to adjust too much [to the hitters],” Kranitz said.  “You started to see too many different pitches in different counts and it’s really not Jim Johnson.  He got away from his sinker; he got away from what he loves.”

“We need him to be good. He is our main guy in the bullpen that has the experience and has done the job for us. So yeah, I do expect him to be back soon.”

Things that are true: (1) he’s throwing his fastball less than he used to, and his off-speed stuff more, and (2) his fastball (which always was more about tailing action than sink anyway) was sinking less than it used to (but still tailing quite a bit).

I don’t understand sending him to the minors to fix that, considering he’s thrown all of 177 pitches this year. That’s like two games for a starting pitcher. Also, how is throwing more fastballs not something that can be done in the majors if the team decides that that’s the issue? It makes way more sense (to me) to stay with the big league pitching coach to work something like that out.

If JJ had a 4.00 ERA with the exact same Pitch/FX^ and peripheral stats, would there be any chance whatsoever of getting sent down? Of course not. And that’s what’s really irritating me about the move. The outcome here is relatively insignificant; I just think the process was bad. Confidence in the team just dropped a notch.