Fact: Josh Johnson should be the NL ASG starter

After last night’s trumping of the Los Angeles Dodgers at the hands of Josh Johnson, it should be all too obvious that JJ deserves to be the starter for the National League All-Stars. It won’t matter whether he starts in terms of the actual game, obviously. As the starter, he would probably get two innings of work, then leave for another capable NL pitcher. In all honesty, what is the difference game-wise between having Johnson pitch two innings, followed by two innings of either Roy Halladay or Ubaldo Jimenez? Not much.

But as you know, even with the grandstanding of the All-Star Game “mattering,” the reality is most fans and players think of it as an award for first-half excellence. While some people choose to select All-Stars by seeing which players project best going forward (friend of the Maniac Justin Inaz did a great series of that kind over at Beyond the Box Score; the link here shows the first article), I am more of a fan of using the All-Star Game as a reward for players who play well. It should have more to do, in my opinion, with your in-season performance rather than your past. It’s no jab against those who don’t feel that way, but it is my opinion of the game.

Having said that, if you were to take a look at this season’s in-season performance of National League starters, wou would be hard-pressed to find a better pitcher so far than Josh Johnson.

Let’s compare the three starters in contention by various statistics. Let’s start with the basic ones.

Johnson Halladay Jimenez
IP 122 139 119
W-L 9-3 10-7 14-1
ERA 1.70 2.33 2.27
K 123 119 107

Essentially, this is a list of fairly typical Cy Young Award stats, the sorts of things CYA voters usually look at to award players. If you had to go by this, it would be a tough call. Jimenez’ 14-1 record seems unstoppable, but Johnson’s 9-3 mark is pretty impressive, and that 1.70 ERA shines compared to the other two.

Of course, we know that that set of stats is not the only stuff that should be looked at in determining how well a pitcher played. Let’s take a look at some rate stats of importance.

Johnson Halladay Jimenez
K% 25.8% 21.3% 23.1%
UIBB% 5.7% 3.0% 9.1%
HR% 0.8% 2.0% 1.3%
GB% 48.3% 50.0% 51.6%

These are pretty impressive rates by all of the pitchers. Johnson is clearly in the lead in strikeouts and home runs allowed (though the home runs probably include a good deal of luck), while Halladay wins in the walk department and Jimenez bests both pitchers in ground balls.

How about when we look at ERA estimators?

Johnson Halladay Jimenez
FIP 2.33 2.88 3.20
tERA 2.41 3.39 3.13
xFIP 3.08 3.02 3.74
SIERA 2.88 3.04 3.56

The estimators are mostly in favor of Josh Johnson, including both the estimators more indicative of “past performance” and the skill-based ones like xFIP/SIERA with more regression and an eye towards the future. The only one not in favor of JJ is xFIP, which has Halladay in a slight lead.

But all of those performances are dependent on the run environments in which these pitchers work. It is important to at least park-adjust these numbers when putting them all together. Indeed, we need to consider them in one statistic of merit, because otherwise we would be weighing walks and strikeouts and ERA and innings pitched without some rhyme or reason regarding relative importance. Ah, but that’s where WAR comes in.

Johnson Halladay Jimenez
fWAR 4.4 4.1 3.3
rWAR 5.0 4.3 4.3

Both measures of WAR incorporate park adjustments, and even after adjusting for the extreme hitter environment of Coors Field (and, to a lesser extent, Citizen’s Bank Ballpark), JJ still comes out on top in both measures. Now, technically we should wait and see what happens with Jimenez’ last start, as he is the only one of the three who has not made 18 starts. Still, it’s hard to imagine him surpassing Johnson in one start given their almost one-win game.

Based on how I view the All-Star Game, there is no question that Josh Johnson should be starter. I won’t be insulted if he “just” comes in relief of Jimenez or Halladay, as ultimately this is not a big deal. But if we want to reward the best NL pitcher so far in 2010 with the start, I think Josh Johnson should be the one to receive that honor.

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Tags: Josh Johnson Miami Marlins Roy Halladay Ubaldo Jimenez

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