How Much is Jim Johnson Really Worth in Fantasy

Jim Johnson has 42 saves. You own closers for saves. Ipso facto bingo blatto, Jim Johnson is an elite fantasy closer.

— or —

Jim Johnson has 36 strikeouts in 58.1 innings. The average closer would have 65 strikeouts in that amount of innings. Ipso facto dingo datto, Jim Johnson is a poor fantasy closer.

Seems clear that your opinion of Jim Johnson is going to depend on your beliefs about the role of a closer on a fantasy squad. If you’re just chasing the saves, he’s been a top-three closer this season. Some fantasy rankings, based on valuations, have him as the second-best in the American League. If you’re trying to look forward, or base your beliefs on the value a pitcher brings to all five categories, then your rankings might look different.

So it made sense to ask Zach Sanders to run his valuation method on the closers to this point, just to get a real sense of how much value JJ has brought to fantasy squads. Sanders ran his calculator — which gives players credit for how many standard deviations above and below the mean they are in each statistical category — on all relievers with more than five saves. Already we’re making a decision here, since we could have run it for all relievers, and instead we are limiting this to relievers with saves. You might be surprised where Vinnie Pestano shows up on the list he compiled with 1+ save pitchers (hint: 21st).

In any case, here’s your backwards-looking valuation of all the closers with 5+ saves so far this season (5×5 Roto):

1 Aroldis Chapman
2 Fernando Rodney
3 Kenley Jansen
4 Craig Kimbrel
5 Jason Motte
6 Ernesto Frieri
7 Joel Hanrahan
8 Ryan Cook
9 Tom Wilhelmsen
10 Jonathan Papelbon
11 Rafael Soriano
12 Huston Street
13 Tyler Clippard
14 Joe Nathan
15 Santiago Casilla
16 Sergio Romo
17 Greg Holland
18 Jim Johnson
19 Casey Janssen
20 Grant Balfour
21 Steve Cishek
22 Sean Marshall
23 Rafael Betancourt
24 J.J. Putz
25 Chris Perez
26 John Axford
27 Glen Perkins
28 Jose Valverde
29 Jonathan Broxton
30 Addison Reed
31 Jared Burton
32 Alfredo Aceves
33 Brett Myers
34 Javier Lopez
35 Carlos Marmol
36 Dale Thayer
37 Javy Guerra
38 Matt Capps
39 Scott Downs
40 Frank Francisco
41 Brandon League
42 Mariano Rivera
43 Heath Bell
44 Henry Rodriguez
45 Brian Fuentes

Yup, so there’s Jim Johnson, hanging out around the half-way mark. For every save he gets you, he’s costing you a strikeout, more or less. When you cede five strikeouts a month to the average closer in a category, that hurts. Since most leagues require you to start relievers, and since most leagues require you to go after saves in some fashion, then it makes sense to compare Jim Johnson against other relievers. And if you had three Jim Johnson types and I had three Joe Nathan types, I’d have almost 100 more strikeouts than you.

Relievers pitch fewer innings, and their role is less entrenched. At first, this seems like an argument for spending less on them in the draft, not one that helps us suss out Jim Johnson‘s value now. But an iffy closer can lose most of their value with one decision by the manager. You do want to give Jim Johnson a little more value than, say, a Sergio Romo, whose ratios and rates have pushed his lower save total into a similar ranking. Romo is more likely to lose his job tomorrow than Jim Johnson. But when you’re looking back at pure statistical inputs, Jim Johnson has been about as valuable.

Since it’s more likely that a pitcher will continue to put up his career strikeout rate than it is to depend on a pitcher for saves, it makes sense to gravitate towards better pitchers — ones with better strikeout and walk rates. Even if a good strikeout rate is not actually a predictor of future saves, at the very least you got strikeout value while your pitcher was in there.

And so it becomes obvious that the future becomes a part of any valuation of a closer. Can he keep his job? Will he continue to get the same amount of save opportunities? These are as relevant to an owner as the correct evaluation of his contributions to date.

But we’ve seen here that it’s very hard to predict future save opportunities. The only correlations we could find were with team offense and team bullpen strength, and in both of these cases, the Orioles come up average or worse. Maybe you can give the Orioles’ bullpen a little bit more credit for their work in recent weeks, but their offense is not above-average.

We must give Jim Johnson credit for job security. There’s no way he’s losing the job now. Then his second-best asset is save opportunities, and his rate going forward is unclear. Since the average closer (top 30 by saves) has a 2.91 ERA, and Jim Johnson has a 2.88 ERA, he doesn’t add much value there. And then there’s his strikeout rate — worst among closers — that saps his strength quietly.

Add it all up, and you’ve got a third-tier, above-average closer — a ‘safe’ pitcher that should keep his job but needs a strikeout rate caddy.

[Update. I had Zach re-run his pitcher universe valuations. This includes the starters, and compares relievers among themselves and among the pitcher universe. It doesn’t value the strikeout and the save as equals from a reliever, but that isn’t to say strikeouts from a reliever aren’t useful. As you can see, JJ rises to eighth, which is about the highest I’d put him, especially considering he derives all his value from the save stat, which isn’t very predictable going forward. I’d still make him a third-tier reliever, but bottom of the second tier wouldn’t get much of an argument from me, especially given this list:

Num Reliever
1 Aroldis Chapman
2 Fernando Rodney
3 Craig Kimbrel
4 Jason Motte
5 Jonathan Papelbon
6 Kenley Jansen
7 Rafael Soriano
8 Jim Johnson
9 Joel Hanrahan
10 Joe Nathan
11 Ernesto Frieri
12 Tyler Clippard
13 Tom Wilhelmsen
14 Santiago Casilla
15 Casey Janssen
16 Ryan Cook
17 Chris Perez
18 J.J. Putz
19 Rafael Betancourt
20 Sergio Romo
21 Grant Balfour
22 Jose Valverde
23 Darren O’Day
24 Greg Holland
25 Glen Perkins
26 John Axford
27 Jonathan Broxton
28 Wilton Lopez


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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here or at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

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But if you count walk rates (which all good leagues do) for pitchers – I believe his ranking would go up quite a bit.