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Josh Johnson, SP, Miami Marlins
Evolving from the old days?
So, are rotisserie managers happier when Johnson posts a 1.64 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 8.35 K/9 in nine starts, like he did in 2011, or makes 31 starts but registers a 3.81 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 7.76 K/9, like he did this season? OK, maybe the latter, but they're probably still disappointed.
If you'd told the members of any mixed fantasy baseball league this past spring that you could guarantee Johnson would pitch nearly 200 innings in 2012, the pitcher would've been a third- or fourth-round pick or a $25 player. He would've had roughly the same price point as Roy Halladay - and would've actually been a better investment.
The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Johnson can be that good. So if he's making 31 starts but putting up mediocre numbers (besides the strikeouts), what's wrong?
Glad you asked. We'll start with some Brooks Baseball data - the average velocity of his four-seamer (93.52 mph) and sinker (92.99) this year versus his career marks of 94.99 and 93.72, respectively.
The velocity of his four-seam fastball dipped some last season, but we can probably chalk some of that up to the fact that he'd gotten only two months into the campaign and was injured. This year's mark really dragged down his cumulative figure, which was in the 95s prior to this season.
Johnson's changeup has lost very little in the span of the last few seasons, but the pitch was plenty ineffective this year. The diminishing disparity between his fastballs and the change has to be responsible to some degree.
Johnson has thrown both of his fastballs less frequently this year than in years past as well. Last season he added a curveball - more of a slurve - that he's depended on much more often this season, and use of his once devastating slider has dropped a bit. The No. 2 hybrid became a high-end offering for him in 2012. That's likely to continue.
The changes in his approach are probably part of an effort to avoid health problems. A potential long-term benefit is his growth as a pitcher. His days as a max-effort pitcher are probably in the rearview. He may be looking to avoid the injury issues often associated with great dependence on the slide piece, too.
Johnson's evolution doesn't change the fact that he's already gone down with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and has dealt with structural damage in his right shoulder. The sequence of his injuries is a long-term red flag, based on the histories of other pitchers with such a chronology.
Regardless, the changes are for the better. Prior to the All-Star break (4.06 ERA, .280 BAA, 7.50 K/9 and 3.00 BB/9), Johnson appeared to be a righty on whom injuries had taken their toll, or at least one who hadn't pitched against MLB competition since the previous May. (In fact, his first couple of outings after the break were rough, too.)
Fangraphs writer Jack Moore made some observations about the remodeled Johnson near the end of July - unwittingly, just as the Fish's hurler began to turn things around. The data Moore examined suggested that Johnson was struggling when he pitched from the stretch, at least with a couple of his offerings. Those thoughts would also help to explain why those pitches became less useful.
From July 23 through present, however, Johnson has recorded a 3.01 ERA, .202 BAA, 8.00 K/9 and 3.48 BB/9. His BABIP has normalized, so perhaps he was just afforded some lucky correction. Or perhaps it was the start of a man who's becoming comfortable with the alterations he's made.
Johnson has put his somewhat reckless ways behind him, not his injury history. The 2012 season could be the start of a somewhat Halladay-like, though less pronounced, conversion for him, though. The risk of injury will be present because of the damage already done, but he's probably given himself a better health outlook. Ace-like prices are still too dangerous, but there may be more upside with an investment similar to his relatively safe cost this year.
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.