Will Erik Johnson Be Relevant?

He throws all four pitches, has solid velocity, a big solid frame, will begin the season in the White Sox rotation, and is a top 100 prospect. With all of that said, will Erik Johnson be worth a flier in fantasy formats this season?

Having owned him in an expert dynasty league the past full season, I have been anticipating Johnson’s entrance into Chicago’s rotation for some time. I also took a late round flier on him in a keeper league this past weekend as I have relative high hopes for the big right-hander to have a successful 2014 and be a solid keeper next season.

It should be noted that ZiPS and Steamer are not a fan of Johnson whatsoever. Steamer has him at 4.93 ERA and ZiPS has him at a 4.58 mark. I am sure much of that is due to Johnson’s five starts in the majors at the end of last season, in which he got good results that led to a 3.25 ERA but the process to which he got there was, for lack of a better word, worrisome. Putting together 18 strikeouts and 11 walks in 27.2 innings isn’t something you want to see in a prospect’s first cup of tea, but it does not doom him to be a back end starter for life either.

The 10 starts he had in triple-A were far more promising, and while he’s looked at as a very high floor and somewhat low upside starter in prospect rankings, there’s reason to take a flier on him very late in drafts as I did. He showed solid strikeout potential and kept his walks per nine under 3.00 at triple-A, and while we have to assume the strikeouts would drop and the walks would rise, he still could net an FIP under 4.00 if he can keep the ball on the ground at a high rate.

While we can’t simply get rid of the five starts he made at the end of last year, his 25th through 29th starts of the season might I add, I do wonder what projection systems would expect from him had he ended his season at triple-A. I think they are undervaluing his minor league production, which has been stellar through and through aside from a slight dip in strikeout rate at double-A last season – which he spent more time at than any other level.

Taking him with your final draft pick is essentially a no risk bet, even if you aren’t completely sold on him being extremely fantasy relevant this season. You get the ability to stash him on your bench for a few starts, or stream him depending on your leagues settings. If he struggles, dropping him is a non issue and if he succeeds you just grabbed a solid middle of the rotation arm that could be valuable this year and in the future if you are in long term leagues. It’s somewhat of a low risk, medium return decision, but it’s one I advise shooting for late in drafts.

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Ben Duronio writes for Capitol Avenue Club, FanGraphs, and does the Sports Illustrated Power Rankings. Follow Ben on twitter @Ben_Duronio.

8 Responses to “Will Erik Johnson Be Relevant?”

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  1. centerfield ballhawk says:

    Are you worried at all about his struggles this spring? Would you rather take a flyer of Johnson or Hutchinson late in a twelve team keeper?

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  2. jdbolick says:

    I don’t agree with characterizing Johnson as having “a very high floor,” as I think he can easily be a detriment to ERA and WHIP. He throws a lot of strikes, which is generally nice although a bit of a danger in that home park, but I’d consider his “stuff” to be below average for a major league starter.

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  3. Llewyn Davis says:

    Johnson is definitely on my late round radar. But I also wonder if Hutch provides more upside with that change up. Ben how would you rank Johnson compared to others in his neighborhood I.e., Hutch, W Peralta, Carrasco to name 3?

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  4. Kermit says:

    “Taking him with your final draft pick is essentially a no risk bet, even if you aren’t completely sold on him being extremely fantasy relevant this season. You get the ability to stash him on your bench for a few starts, or stream him depending on your leagues settings.”

    Wouldn’t this fall under the tag of opportunity cost? To pick up Johnson now I would have to drop Yordano Ventura. Or I could pick up Odorizzi or Gausman. I often see articles here at Rotographs that recommend putting someone on my bench, but it’s hardly useful advice if the player in question is not put in context with some other players. After all, I’ve only got 3 bench spots.

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    • jdbolick says:

      And I would consider Johnson to be the worst of those four.

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    • cavebird says:

      I think the context he is speaking in is a much deeper league. If Odorizzi and Gausman are on the wire and Ventura is in your final spot, Johnson is not fantasy relevant.

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      • Kermit says:

        But therein lies the problem – it isn’t at all clear what type of league is being discussed, as no other pitcher is mentioned as a reference point. My AL-only league is rather odd in its configuration, so the best starting pitchers available on the waiver wire or at the end of a draft would be somewhere in the 50 to 60th best in the AL. Is that where Ben is suggesting Erik is? In a more conventional league, the last picks of the draft would be, what, 100th in the majors? That would be about equivalent to my league, right?

        Given the variety of leagues out there, I think it would be worthwhile to include even just a single sentence that puts him in a tier of pitchers. Something like, “I would consider adding Erik over before Carrasco or Ventura, but after guys like Paxton or Hutchinson.”

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