Josh Johnson made his last start of 2011 on May 16 and then went under the knife, becoming one of the many pitchers faced with the not-so-dreaded Tommy John surgery. Honestly, it seems the only bad part about the operation these days is that you miss a year of your career. Once you get back, you’re pretty much as good as new.
Unless you’ve already begun the “decline” phase of your career, which Johnson might be well into.
But wait, before stumbling through his first season post-TJS, Johnson had posted annually declining ERAs of 3.61, 3.23, 2.30, and 1.64 from 2008-2011. How can he possibly be in decline? OK, sure, Johnson’s ERA suggests he’s still in his prime, and possibly getting better, but he’s also seen his fastball velocity decline each year from 94.9 mph in 2009 to 92.8 mph last year.
But wait, he just had elbow reconstruction surgery. Of course his velocity was lower last year. Actually, that’s not really how things work. Adam Wainwright returned from Tommy John last year and posted velocities right in line with his career averages. So did Stephen Strasburg. Heck, even Shaun Marcum maintained his velocity after his second Tommy John operation.
Now moving to the AL, Johnson finds himself in situation with a lot of unknowns. There’s a new manager, completely new rotation, some new offensive parts, and high expectations. Will all that equal a return to form for Johnson, or was 2012 the beginning of his inevitable decline?
At a Glance
Strengths: K, ERA, WHIP, L
Neutral: W, IP, QS
Best-case scenario: Mat Latos (CIN)
Likely scenario: Jake Peavy (CHW), Anibal Sanchez (DET), Tommy Hanson (OAK)
Worst-case scenario: Jonathon Niese (NYM)
Josh Johnson 2013 Fantasy Projection
Don’t misconstrue the intro as a Johnson bashing session. I just think it’s important that you know there’s reason to be wary of drafting him this year. Honestly, I like Johnson this year. I’ll probably end up passing on him because somebody else will pay for name value, but Johnson still posted FIPs of 3.37 or better from 2008-2011, and in both 2010 and 2011 they were under 2.70. His elite ERAs weren’t fluky. He legitimately dominated. And even though his 3.81 ERA last year was terrible by Johnson standards, it did come with a 3.40 FIP.
Generally when pitchers transition from the NL to the AL, they see their strikeout rates decrease. We projected a rise in Johnson’s strikeout rate from last year, but like with Jon Lester‘s down 2012 I believe that leaving a toxic environment in Miami will help him rebound some.
Johnson’s probably a poor pitcher to target in points leagues where pitchers can gain value through sheer volume of quality innings as well as in H2H leagues where an unexpected injury could strike and leave your team without a replacement for a crucial matchup (maybe the playoffs?), but in roto leagues even if he gets hurt you should get some real quality innings counted towards your season stats while he’s healthy.