Buying Low on Josh Johnson

It may surprise some, considering this high ERA and low strikeout rate compared to his career average, but Josh Johnson actually has the seventh highest WAR of any pitcher in baseball. Despite having a similar FIP and xFIP as he has over the past number of years, his ERA has ballooned to 4.27, which makes me see a great buy low opportunity in Johnson.

As mentioned, his strikeouts are down compared to his career average. His 20.1% strikeout rate is certainly low for a pitcher with the kind of stuff and history that Johnson has, as he has struck out 22.1% of batters for his career and 25% in his last season of 180 or more innings, but he has complimented his lower strikeout rate with a lower walk rate as well. With his fastball velocity down to 93 miles per hour from the 94.9 its as in 2009, he has had to alter the way he pitches. In his two previous 180+ inning seasons, his walk rate was lower than it is now, but his current 7% walk rate is lower than the 8% mark he has for his career. This has allowed him to net a 2.87 K/BB rate, slightly better than his career 2.76 ratio.

Where Johnson is getting killed is in his BABIP, which currently sits at .360. Although there must always be a disclaimer of potential scoring bias when looking at line drive rate, his line drive rate of 25.4% does correlate with a higher BABIP, but the substantial increase seems unwarranted.

Owners will notice that he has a 3.16 ERA over his past four starts, but that does not mean that he cannot be acquired for a discounted price. If a team is pitching deep and owns Johnson, they could be willing to move him for something else at this point, as his overall performance has not quite lived up to expectations — though he did get drafted at a discount due to his injury history.

The injury history is certainly always a worry with Johnson, but it is good to see him go through the first third of the season unscathed. He is on pace for 207 innings, which would mark only his second season above the 200 inning threshold. The opportunity for injury is always there, which could also be played into the equation when attempting to acquire him. Is he the most attractive target ever due to his recent success and his injury history? No, but he still has been a similarly productive pitcher as when he posted a 2.64 ERA in 453 innings between 2009 and 2011. The fact that he has more-or-less pitched just as effectively but seen poor results should help any pitching starved team looking to acquire a potential ace-type reliever at a lower cost than usual.

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Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.

23 Responses to “Buying Low on Josh Johnson”

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  1. usdballum says:

    This was a waste of 469 words, as this piece should have been posted after Josh Johnson’s May 15th start against Pittsburgh. His being bought low has come and gone long ago.

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    • Zach says:

      Someone got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

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      • usdballum says:

        No, Zach, the proper heading for this post should have been, “JJ, buy low? Too late!”, and 50 words later lead into some fresh meat that could help peeps during the stretch run.

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    • junker23 says:

      Well, I think he couldn’t have been “bought low” after his May 9th start, which was better than the one on the 15th! Harumph!

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  2. Telo2 says:

    4 starts ago in my league Josh Johnson was traded straight up for Joe Saunders

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  3. dzigga says:

    Maybe I can buy low on Albert Pujols as well?

    Guys… you gotta be a bit more contrarian if you wanna be providing cutting edge fantasy advice. Where’s my buy low on Brennan Boesch? Brent Morel? Juan Nicasio? How did those guys go from pre-season fangraphs favorites to “no one willing to defend these guys?”

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    • Skob says:

      Yeah, I want an article on Brennan Boesch and Juan Nicasio! Who hyped up Morel? When you hype up a mid to late round pick as having upside it doesn’t make them a ‘favorite’, it makes them a calculated risk. Not worthy of a buy low. More like waiver wire pick-up!

      How about an article on who not to buy low on! Whose peripherals are scary and what flailing stars are unlikely to see a rebound.

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  4. Sparks says:

    a month ago Josh Johnson was traded for Sean Marshall in my league

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  5. jcxy says:

    I’ll defend the timing of this article. I think there are players who were holding Johnson for this exact moment–what they might view as a dead cat bounce. This could be the time when you have a willing seller, because they believe they can return something worthwhile, as opposed to two weeks ago when the haul was likely in the Joe Saunders territory. I’ve found a lot of times–especially earlier in the season–(irrational) price anchoring guides the trading actions of a lot of players.

    I think this article argues, effectively, that there is still a ton of upside for JJ. To get a potential ace at still discounted prices is a worthwhile topic IMO.

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  6. shibboleth says:

    Tough crowd today. Not everyone is up to date on every player’s happenings. As a manager in a competitive league, it’s impossible to keep tabs on every player. I’d rather hear it now than never at all, and the window to buy low still looks reasonable to me, especially if the Johnson owner isn’t a sabr genius like everyone here.

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  7. viconquest says:

    His fastball velo has averaged 94 mph his last few starts and the Swinging Strike % is up, which jives nicely with the recent improved results. If you’re willing to take on risk, JJ might still provide first tier production at a second or third tier price — but that’s not buying low. In any competitive league, there’s no buying low on him after yet another Quality Start.

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  8. yaboynate says:

    A month ago, Josh Johnson was traded for a foil Charizard in my league

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    • supershredder says:

      Dang, a Charizard??? That’s a pretty steep price for a month ago. I could see maybe a foil Charmeleon. He’s definitely worth that now though.

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  9. wynams says:

    These articles are all over the internet .. .buy low on X, sell high on Y
    Many are ill-timed or ill-informed … the good news (for us) is many are informed so that the time casual fans read this sort of article, we have already bought low (or sold high) weeks ago.

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  10. Mike says:

    Buy Low Window has been slammed shut on Johnson in all but leagues made up of young children.

    He has strung together a real nice run!

    Unless you look only at his seasonal numbers to consider trades and don’t watch baseball or read game logs, he is no longer a buy low!

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  11. jbdickson says:

    I’m actually ok with the timing of the article.

    Three or so week ago JJ was a bad pitcher with bad stuff because he had lost a few MPH off his fastball. His history demonstrated that he was a clear injury risk. I mean hell, did we ever get a medical reason for why he sat out last year?

    Thus a month ago JJ was a bad pitcher with a huge injury risk: no point paying for that sort of asset.

    Now he has picked up some velocity last two starts and his k/9 came up with it. Now JJ is hinting like he’s an elite SP with huge injury risk again. Maybe you can buy from an owner who doesn’t think the improvement is real and thus thinks they’re selling high.

    The “his babip is high and FIP is low” analysis is terrible tho imo.

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  12. supershredder says:

    Here’s one for the brilliant masses:

    When is/was the sell high for Bryan LaHair? Or Alejandro de Aza (in non-OBP leagues)?

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  13. Bubbles says:

    I traded away Josh for Daniel Hudson 2 weeks ago. Hating myself for that now.

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  14. Travis L says:

    I think you should have mentioned that his SwStr rate is only 8.9%, barely above average. I don’t see his K rate rising again, and without that, you have a Chris Carpenter like pitcher, who is good but at this point in his career, is not a top 10 SP.

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  15. cs3 says:

    This article shouldve been posted at least a month ago.
    Now it is just totally irrelevant.

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  16. Ben says:

    Got offered jj for melky and lynn. Thoughts? Melky would be replaced in the outfield by a quentin/stubbs combo

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  17. Viz says:

    I was just offered a trade in a 5×5 league, Josh Johnson for Jose Valverede… I accepted.

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