Blogservations 08/14/09: Josh Johnson Tames the Rockies


I didn’t get the pleasure to see Mark Buerhle’s perfect game or Jonathan Sanchez’s no-hitter that should have been a perfect game had Juan Uribe not bobbled a ball for an error, but I did get the chance to be a part of much of Josh Johnson’s effort last night, if only by radio. I watched the highlights and looked through the numbers, and it was by far the most dominating pitching performance that I have ever been a part of.

Josh Johnson was brilliant/electric/dominating/whatever…

No matter how you put it, he was the best player on the field last night. No-hitters often get credited entirely to pitchers when much of it should also go to the defense, and yesterday’s effort was no different. In particular, the line drive Hanley Ramirez snagged was just the type of pitch that would go for a base hit but in no-hitters is luckily grabbed.

Still, there’s no reason not to praise JJ for his performance. Here are the relevant charts for your viewing pleasure, courtesy as always of Brooks Baseball. Thanks Dan!

One thing of interest was that JJ was actually only in the strike zone 60% of the time, scary considering he only walked three batters and struck out a career-high 11 hitters. However, you can see that Johnson was a bit squeezed low in the zone, getting quite a few pitches called for balls, mostly on those heavy-breaking sliders. He really was much more in control of the strike zone than the 60% says.

Johnson’s night was more typical of a Ricky Nolasco start than your average JJ start this season. Johnson’s strikeouts came on the back of 21 whiffs, many of them ridiculous fastballs (I believe nine of his 11 K’s were capped off by the heater). You can see on the chart he was getting whiffs mostly away from the righties and upstairs. Johnson picked up nine whiffs in the upper half of the zone, two in the middle half, and four down. His other whiffs came on inside pitches. He also allowed eight balls in air versus only four on the ground, atypical of JJ and his 50% GB%. However, of those balls in air, only two were line drives according to Baseball-Reference, and three of the remaining six flyballs were popups. Of course, there was also the Garrett Atkins home run, so you can’t absolve him entirely, but I think we’ll take that from JJ.

The set of low whiffs in the lower right of the strike zone were all from his slider, which he threw away from the righties and low and inside to lefties. This goes against common wisdom, as generally righty sliders have a more of a likelihood of getting crushed going against lefties. However, Johnson’s location of his sliders was prime. Almost all of the yellow dots in the pitch type chart are in the same general location down and away from righties. Here’s the chart against lefties.

The majority he did hang came against lefties, which was a problem, but as you can see, those yellow dots are almost all low and in.

Surprisingly, Johnson did not throw a changeup according to Pitch f/x. A check of the vertical movement vs. speed charts agrees with that sentiment. It appears JJ figured his fastball and slider were enough versus the Rockies lefties, as the changeup primarily comes out against left-handers. Oh well, it worked out for Johnson.

…but the best laid plans…

One little rant on the bullpen’s play. Brendan Donnelly and Leo Nunez tried to make this game as close as possible before closing out a win that should have been done some time before that. Ironically, Renyel Pinto was in the game and did not participate in this attempt to ruin a perfectly good evening. I was very frustrated when watching this unfold in the ninth inning, but we obviously should put this in perspective. Things like that will often happen; such is the nature of bullpen work. We were lucky to have it happen when the team was up five runs instead of one or two, but it can be difficult to manage your emotions as a fan.

Let’s just try to keep the close ones on our side, OK? Also, interesting note. Nunez has allowed nine home runs this season thanks to last night’s shot by Chris Iannetta. JJ’s allowed ten home runs in over 100 innings more than Nunez. Nunez has been homer-prone for much of his career, and we should not be surprised that he has been now. Is this who we want taking ALL of the ninth innings for us going forward? Maybe a committee approach would be best.