Left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson is out of minor league options. Could he find a home in a Boston Red Sox bullpen short on southpaws?
The Boston Red Sox have a situation developing this season. With Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright likely to miss the start of the season, the Red Sox will need to find an Opening Day fifth starter. As a result, either Brian Johnson or Roenis Elias will likely have to fill that role.
I am here to tell you, though, why one of them should be headed to the bullpen.
The one I am referring to is Johnson. The 27-year old has a career 4.88 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and 24 strikeouts in 31.1 MLB innings.
In the minors, the left-hander was much more successful. He’s posted a 2.69 ERA, 1.131 WHIP, and 458 strikeouts in 518.1 innings.
However, there are some trends that are alarming for Johnson. That could lead people to believe that the lefty is more likely to continue his major league trend if he remains a starter.
According to Fangraphs, Johnson has a career fly ball percentage of 45.7% and only a ground ball percentage of 35.9%. The site notes that the first number is above the league average of 35% while the second is below the average of 44%.
While those numbers definitely could improve over the course of his career, I propose a different solution.
The team, at the moment, does not have a second lefty to complement Robby Scott in the bullpen. With that being the case, it would make sense for the team to look for that option from within.
Enter Brian Johnson.
In his limited sample size in big leagues, Johson has held same-handed opponents to a mere .133 average (two hits) in 15 plate appearances. He also has three strikeouts against them as well.
Meanwhile, righties hit .295 off him in 112 at-bats.
While it could be argued that the first sample size might be too small to determine anything from, the second is large enough to see that there is a correlation. He is much more effective, at least to this point, against lefties. With that being the case, the team should strongly consider giving him a chance to pitch out of the bullpen.
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Without dominating stuff, the lefty is likely at best a fifth starter if he stays in the rotation. If he reaches that potential, then that is all fine and well and he can make a nice career for himself as an innings eater.
However, based on his trends, it is more likely that he will be a depth starter that splits time between the majors and triple-A.
So why not try him out in the bullpen? He has shown, to date, that he can effectively get same-handed hitters out.
Another aspect of this to consider that the team only might use him in the rotation in April. The first month of the season, though, is filled with off-days, therefore not necessitating a fifth starter.
In fact, they have three off days before playing their 10th game. So the team could, theoretically, start Roenis Elias on April 2 against the Miami Marlins. They could then add Johnson on as the second lefty in the pen.
Since Johnson out of minor league options, it would make sense for the team to find out whatever talent they can get out of him. The Red Sox should try multiple roles that could work for him, but the bullpen might be the best option.