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2013 Predictions: Josh Johnson
When news of the Blue Jays blockbuster trade with the Marlins started to trickle, Josh Johnson’s name was among the first we heard. The inclusion of Johnson instantly alerted Jays fans that this was to be a major deal. It’s a testament to how monumental that deal turned out to be, and for that matter, how transformative the Jays offseason was, that Josh Johnson has not been a huge focal point heading into 2013. He doesn’t have the storyline of R.A. Dickey, the controversy that comes along with Melky Cabrera or the luminescent grin of Jose Reyes. Heck, he didn’t even swing by Toronto for a press conference, but players like Johnson are not dealt every day. Despite having missed more than a year due to Tommy John surgery as a 23-year-old, Johnson was an All-Star by the age of 25 when he posted 209 strikeouts and a 3.23 ERA. He followed that up by posting a 2.30 ERA and finishing 5th in Cy Young voting in a 2010 season that was cut short in early September due to back problems. Johnson then missed most of 2011 with shoulder problems, before finally logging another healthy year last year in which he posted a 3.81 ERA and 165 strikeouts over 191.1 innings.
Pitching Stats (Past Three Seasons):
The start of Josh Johnson’s story is a familiar one: an immensely talented pitcher succeeds in his early-to-mid-twenties by getting by on raw talent. There are a number of ways the story could go from here. The Jays are banking that this is the age old tale of a pitcher who refines his craft as his physical gifts start to slip, and there is some evidence this may be the case. Johnson has lost a couple of miles per hour off his fastball in the last two years, but he added a curveball to his repertoire in 2012. My fear, though, is that this could also be the tale of a gifted athlete whose body can’t quite seem to hold up long enough for him to fully realize his potential. Sadly we’ve seen these stories play out often and Jays fans don’t need to be reminded that injuries to starting pitchers are a fact of life and Johnson seems like a most likely candidate. When he pitches, I expect he’ll pitch well. I’m just leery that might not be as often as we’d like it to be. Hopefully I’m wrong.
I’ve long been a fan of Josh Johnson from afar. He epitomizes the type of pitcher over whom fans (and MLB teams) salivate. He’s got size (6’7″/250), power (mid-90s fastball), and can truly dominate hitters (8.17 K/9 IP for his career). In fact, in 2011, Johnson took a no-hitter into the fifth inning in four of his first five starts. He was en route to a banner season (1.64 ERA through nine starts) when he once again succumbed to injury. He returned in 2012 with a strong, albeit less dominant season. He posted a career worst 3.81 ERA and his lowest strikeout rate (7.6 K/9 IP) and average fastball velocity (92.8 MPH) since 2006. Coming to Toronto, he faces a number of challenges: mainly a) moving to the higher run scoring environment of the American League and, b) staying healthy. While I recognize that Johnson is not without risk, he’s also eligible for free agency after the 2013 and there’s no lack of incentive for him to perform. I’m counting on big things from JJ, and much like my predictions for Brett Lawrie, I’m letting optimism cloud my better judgment.
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