MIAMI, FL - JUNE 11: Josh Johnson #55 of the Miami Marlins pitches during a game against the Boston Red Sox at Marlins Park on June 11, 2012 in Miami, Florida. The Marlins defeated the Red Sox 4-1. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
The Miami Marlins have spent most of the 2012 season looking to find the real Josh Johnson. For the most part, they were unable to find more than a few glimpses of him through the first two months of the season. While all of the Fish struggled in April, Johnson followed suit. When a good majority of the team played well in May, Johnson did not tag along as well as Marlins fans would have hoped. Overall, Johnson had just a 4.83 ERA through the first two months. He did post a 3.04 FIP during the first two months, indicating at least that his peripherals were intact and that Johnson was going to pitch just fine going forward.
When looking at the peripherals, however, they seemed a bit lower than Johnson's usual that we have come to expect since 2009. His strikeout rate was at its lowest since his rookie season. His walk rate has decreased a bit, and he is being as stingy as always on his home runs, but you could not help but feel that, aside from that fluky BABIP, Johnson was missing something.
Indeed, Johnson was missing some of his velocity. It had dipped under 93.0 mph on average, beginning at the start of 2012. He previously worked with Randy St. Claire earlier in the season to rediscover his timing mechanism of previous seasons, and that did help to increase his fastball from the 91-92 mph in which it sat for his first two or three starts to the more typical 92-93 mph fastball that we saw the rest of the last two months.
However, in his last two starts in June, Johnson's fastball seems to have picked up speed.
The black square shows Johnson's 2012 performance, and the red circle shows his velocity in the last two starts. It is significantly higher, and that is a great positive for the Marlins.
|Johnson, 2012||Fastball Velo (mph)||K%||BB%||ERA||FIP|
|June (Last Two Starts)||94.1||28.1||7.0||1.84||1.68|
Now, the June numbers are in only two starts, but one cannot help but recognize just where Johnson is improving with the increase in fastball velocity. That velocity has fueled a drastic increase in strikeouts, up to 28.1 percent from a career low. It is evident that the increased velocity has helped him get more swings and misses, as Johnson's swinging strike rate has gone up in these last two starts to 9.8 percent from 8.9 percent in April and May. Ironically, the fastball itself has not increased its own whiff rate, but as Tommy Hutton mentioned on telecast in these last two Johnson starts, an increased fastball velocity improves your other pitches by increasing the gap in velocity between those pitches.
Note that Johnson's other peripheral stat, the walk rate, was essentially unscathed with the increased velocity. Johnson may not be "overthrowing" his fastball to try and get some life out of it, but rather he may simply be finding his norm once again. It should not surprise anyone that a pitcher who spent the better part of a year on the shelf would take some time to fully recover his previous skillset, especially velocity. This goes double when the injury particularly involves his throwing mechanics, such as Johnson's shoulder injury from last season. Perhaps now he has finally recovered and is getting back into the zone.
The rest of Johnson's recovery to full form will involve some simple regression to the mean with regards to his BABIP. Right now he is allowing a .360 batting average on balls in play, and that simply is not likely to continue. With the rest of Johnson's peripheral skills on the way back to normal, it seems unlikely that Johnson would significantly struggle in allowing hits alone. He is due for some good luck and better play now that the velocity is back up, so expect Johnson's numbers to start regressing back to normal. If that velocity is present, as it was in the last two starts, Johnson could be in for an All-Star performance the rest of the season, and the Marlins sure could use it.