Boston Red Sox lefty Brian Johnson has been working on a fourth pitch in hopes of making an impact in 2020.
Losing Sale would almost certainly mean that the Sox would have to punt on the 2020 season before it has even begun.
Sale will not be ready for Opening Day (I’m estimating June 1…and that’s me being conservative) so that leaves Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Martin Perez as your top three starters as presently constituted.
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I have no real concerns about ERod (career season in 2019), but Eovaldi (injury prone) and Perez (5th starter at best) are still relative question marks as far as what they can contribute in 2020.
Enter the intriguing case of Brian Johnson, who was DFA’d this winter, cleared waivers, and re-signed with the Sox as a non-roster invitee to spring training. Johnson has been with the Boston Red Sox since 2015, but besides some isolated, promising performances, he has generally shown himself to be an ineffective pitcher.
He has a career record of 7-9 with a 4.74 ERA in 65 appearances (26 starts). Statistically speaking, last season was Johnson’s worst. He posted a 6.02 ERA, a point and a quarter higher than his career average, with 53 hits and 23 walks in only 40 innings pitched.
He’s garnered more success as a reliever than a starter, so why is Johnson even in the conversation to crack the rotation, despite its tenable state?
Johnson has been working on improving his changeup, a pitch that he threw exactly zero times last season. Johnson currently throws three pitches, but none of them are especially fearsome to batters.
Heres a breakdown of Johnson’s current arsenal of weapons: Four-seam Fastball: 88 MPH, throws 46 percent of the time. Curveball: 74 MPH, throws 32 percent of the time. Slider: 78 MPH, throws 19 percent of the time (Johnson mixes in a sinker, and to a lesser extent the changeup for less than 3 percent of his total pitches thrown).
Johnson’s changeup has been his worst pitch. Batters are hitting .400 against him with a .500 slugging percentage when he tossed his off-speed junk.
But recently, Johnson had noticed that the pitch was ineffective because of his especially long delivery, which may have either tipped the pitch to hitters or allowed them more time to get set for the delivery.
Brian Johnson has reportedly shorted up his delivery and has noticed marked improvements thus far.
Johnson noted that he was 100 percent more confident in the pitch than in years prior. Additionally, he noted that he is less sore after outings when he mixed in the change.
This all good news, because here is the weird stat about Johnson…he gets more effective the deeper he goes into games. In the first plate appearance by a batter when Johnson starts, his BAA is .289. By the fourth time he’s faced a batter, his BAA is .111. If the new and improved changeup can reduce the wear and tear and help Johnson go deeper into his starts, he will become less of an “opener” and more of a true starter for the Boston Red Sox.
I’m not 100 percent sold on Johnson. There are questions if he’ll even make the team, never mind be a starter. But so far this spring he has a 0.00 ERA in three appearances, and he’s proven in the past that he can contribute from time to time.
With little options internally by way of prospects, or externally by way of trade or free agency, it wouldn’t hurt to give Johnson a shot.