By what we’ve learned over the last several year, we know that the closer’s role tends to be an extremely volatile position. Mental breakdowns, mechanical issues, whatever the case may be, we’ve seen numerous guys move in and out of the job on a variety of teams. However, there have also been some stalwarts; guys with strong job security that give you little reason to be concerned. More often than not, they notch the save and if they struggle, you never worry that they’re going to lose their job. Some of them are no-brainers, like what Mariano Rivera was. But others we’ve seen, no matter how poor they are pitching or how frail they may be (I’m looking at you Huston Street and Fernando Rodney), they still seem to stay right where they are. Maybe they lose an opportunity here and there, but if they’re healthy, they’ve always seemed to slide back into the job. So why, after 101 saves in the past two season….yes, that’s right, 101…does Jim Johnson get no love?
I did a mock draft for another web site’s draft guide Monday and was hoping to start a bit of a closer’s run down in the 11th round. Only five other closers were taken (Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, Greg Holland, Aroldis Chapman and Koji Uehara) at the time so I figured now was as good a time as any. When I took Johnson, there was a slight rumble in the chat room and then Joe Nathan quickly went after him, followed by Trevor Rosenthal, Glen Perkins and Sergio Romo. Did I err in my choice? I don’t believe I did. And when I see all nine of those guys and Rafael Soriano sitting ahead of him in the current NFBC ADP rankings, I still feel like I made the right move.
What more does Johnson have to do to prove himself right now? His last two years as the Orioles closer have been outstanding for him and his fantasy owners. We’ve already mentioned the 101 saves, but there’s obviously much more. How about that substantial increase in his strikeout rate? Jumping from a 5.37 K/9 to a 7.17 K/9 is huge for him. Sure, you’d love to see a double-digit K-rate there, but he’s simply not that type of pitcher, and that’s okay. So long as he gets the job done.
Did his ERA rise last season? Yes, it did. Not by a lot, but it did increase from a 2.49 to a 2.94. Ideal? No, but still more than just merely acceptable. Many will point to his ERA outperforming his FIP and xFIP, but that’s to be expected from a pitcher with such a high ground ball rate (58.0-percent). Not to mention, that unusually high .327 BABIP he was saddled with. Things should certainly turn towards his favor with the move to Oakland as the defense behind him should be stronger. Maybe the A’s downgrade a bit going from Manny Machado to Josh Donaldson, but the rest of the infield should do right by him.
And speaking of that move to Oakland, how about those park dimensions? Sure, Johnson’s HR/FB spiked to 11.4-percent last year, but he still only gave up five long balls all year. Now away from that bandbox called Camden Yards, it’s going to be just a wee bit more difficult to put one over the wall. But in addition to that, there’s also the immense foul ground with which he has to work. If you’ve ever been to the Oakland Coliseum, then you know that you could be sitting in the front row even with the first base bag and you’re still miles away from the action.
Simply put, there’s plenty to love about Johnson and his move to Oakland. His last two seasons as the Orioles’ closer have produced outstanding numbers for fantasy owners, and the times where he has faltered, the damage has not been substantial and there has been no concern over him being yanked from the role. Heading to Oakland, he’s got a more pitcher-friendly ballpark and better defense behind him. He might not have the same stuff as Chapman or Kimbrel, but if you’re looking for security at a position that has very little, then I would much rather have him than trendy guys like Rosenthal or Jansen who are no lock to hold their jobs all year.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at email@example.com