Red Sox Prediction: Brian Johnson is the missing depth piece
Brian Johnson ingrained himself in the hearts of Red Sox fans with his complete game effort. Can he be the go-to reinforcement that Boston has searched for?
Perhaps the best story of the young 2017 season thus far for the Boston Red Sox occurred on Saturday, May 27 against the Seattle Mariners.
Making the spot start before frontline starter
returned from his rehab assignment, a 26-year old lefty made his Fenway Park debut in just his third career start. Nine innings later, Brian Johnson celebrated his complete game shutout with a cold Gatorade shower.
Getting sent back down to Triple-A later that night did nothing to ease the optimism around the start. With the carousel of starting pitchers hitting the disabled list for the Red Sox, perhaps a crucially important, viable sixth starter had finally emerged.
It’s not as if the Red Sox haven’t tried to find their guy to step up in spot starts and keep the team in the game. Over the last couple seasons, Henry Owens, Roenis Elias, Kyle Kendrick and Sean O’Sullivan have had their chance to grasp the role with little avail.
With his recent gem, Johnson is now the frontrunner to be the go-to reinforcement. In fact, he takes the hill tonight against the Detroit Tigers. But what should we expect of him for the duration of 2017?
Johnson has spent the majority of his professional career at the Triple-A level, where over 41 starts he has compiled a 3.12 ERA with a 7.6 K/9 and a 3.5 BB/9. It’s not too terribly far off from what he’s accomplished in his three major league starts: 3.93 ERA, 8.3 K/9, 3.4 BB/9.
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Solid, reliable, but unspectacular — exactly what the Red Sox are looking for out of a depth starter.
However, that’s not to say Johnson has hit his ceiling. Throwing a high percentage of offspeed pitches (48.1%), including his slider (15.2%), curveball (29.8%) and the occasional changeup (3.1%), the 26-year old has had his share of control problems.
In his small major-league sample size, 20 of the 76 batters he faced reached three-ball counts. Throwing strikes is especially important in a spot start, where the only expectations are to give the bullpen some rest and keep the team in the game.
Scouts haven’t raved about the quality of Johnson’s offerings; his fastball usually sits between 89 and 91 miles-per-hour, his curveball features more control than wipeout movement and his slider keeps hitters guessing but isn’t an out-pitch.
Yet what scouts identify most about Johnson is his mind. Soxprospects.com credits him with “advanced knowledge of pitching and sequencing” and dubs him “incredibly smart and has a good understanding of reading hitters”.
Pitchers like Kyle Hendricks, J.A. Happ and even Rick Porcello show that dominating stuff isn’t a prerequisite for major league success. Johnson seems to have the self-awareness in his own arsenal to find ways to get hitters out.
Exceptional results aside, Johnson’s complete game effort against the Mariners shows what kind of pitcher he can be. He threw 109 pitches over the nine innings, 85 for strikes.
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Six innings, three runs, a few strikeouts and even less walks. If Brian Johnson goes out and does that every time Farrell pencils his name in the score card, who’s complaining? And who doesn’t think he’s capable of that?