Last night marked the eighth time the Baltimore Orioles held a lead in the ninth inning and saw their closer Jim Johnson blow the lead to take over the MLB lead with eight blown saves. The question that is on everyone's mind is how much longer will Buck Showalter continue to hand the ball to Johnson in the ninth and who gets the ball the next time the Orioles lead by a run in the ninth?
First, let's examine what has changed from 2012 to 2013 with Johnson after such a dominant and breakthrough season last year.
There are a lot of glaring statistics that have worsened this season for Johnson, but if there is one stat that really shows how well a pitcher is performing is their WHIP (Walks and hits per inning). Johnson had an outstanding 1.019 WHIP last season, but this year that number has skyrocketed to 1.310 this season and it does not take a genius to figure out that if you put more runners on base, the odds of giving up more runs goes up exponentially.
What has gone into Johnson's WHIP increasing so much? The answer is two fold, first his batting average against of .268 has increased almost 50 points from the .220 average he held opposing hitters to last season. Secondly, his walks per nine innings have almost increased an entire walk from a season ago as he bodes a 2.7 walks per nine innings this year, whereas he allowed just 2.0 walks per nine innings last season. Right handers are hitting a monstrous .287 against Johnson this season, whereas last season they hit just .214.
His overall command is just not nearly as good as it was last year, his sinker is flatter and his fastball command is hit or miss. He is a confident guy, but when you have failed as many times as he has this season, it has to ware on you. His frustration was visible last night when he entered the dugout after the ninth inning and kicked the bat rack.
So, the next time Baltimore has a three run lead or less in the ninth inning, will we see Johnson on the mound or someone else?
First, it needs to be said that the possibility of going out and finding a closer is not an option, the good closers are on contending teams for the most part and they are not cheap. So if Johnson were to be replaced it would have to come within. The AAA Norfolk Tides closer is not an option because we have seen him at the big league level already this season and he was not impressive, that of course was Jairo Asencio. So who would it be?
Earlier in the season, people were clamoring for Darren O'Day or Tommy Hunter to take over the closer's role when Johnson went through his horrible funk. O'Day gave up the game winning home run on Monday night in the ninth inning and if he had been labeled the "closer" would Orioles fans have been asking for him to be replaced? Tommy Hunter has been fantastic this year, but is actually in a little bit of a funk right now as he has a 5.40 ERA over his last nine appearances.
Other than those two, the other obvious option would be the recently acquired Francisco Rodriguez, or K-Rod as he is known as. Overall this season, including his time with the Brewers, he owns a 1.93 ERA with a 1.010 WHIP and held opponents to a .191 average against him. Since he was acquired, K-Rod has mostly pitched in wash up situations for the Orioles, but in the games he has pitched when the game is still in question, he has been great. Recently, he has allowed just one hit and struck out eight over his last four outings which spans four innings of work. Although he has allowed four runs in his time in Baltimore, all three of those appearances were in wash up duty and the adrenalin was probably not pumping as much. Rodriguez has held opponents to a .172 batting average and has a miniscule 0.88 WHIP since joining the Orioles. While he was with the Brewers, he was a perfect ten for ten in save opportunities.
Baltimore is in a playoff race and is within two games of a wildcard spot and still within shouting distance of the AL East lead. This team cannot afford to keep losing these games where they have a lead in the ninth inning, and as much as you want to believe that Johnson can return to his 2012 form, the time is now to make a change and give the guy who you traded a top five prospect in your organization for a chance to prove you right.
We believe K-Rod should be given the chance to become this team's closer down the stretch, but what do you think? Let the discussion begin by posting a comment!
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