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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.