Josh Johnson seemed to well on his way to a hall-of-fame caliber career.
We’ve been counting down every player to wear a Marlins uniform through their first 28 seasons since the offseason started back in October. With 623 in the bag, we’re left with seven through the final week of 2021 Spring Training. Today’s honoree, Josh Johnson, totaled 25.7 bWAR in his eight seasons with the club, third on the overall leaderboard and first amongst pitchers.
On a per-plate-transaction basis (that’s batters faced plus plate appearances), Johnson averaged .00626 bWAR. For context, yesterday’s entrant, Christian Yelich, averaged .00622, and tomorrow’s averaged .00646.
7. Josh Johnson
Josh Johnson is a six-foot-seven lefty-hitting, righty-pitching flamethrower from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Born on January 31, 1984, he was a fourth-round choice of the Marlins in 2002 out of Jenks HS, in Jenks, Oklahoma, one pick after Rich Hill.
Not initially ranked as a prospect, Johnson made his major league debut with the Marlins in 2005, starting in one of his four September appearances. In his first look, he struggled to put pitches in the black, plating only 53 percent of his offerings and walking as many as he struck out, with 10 of each in 12 1⁄3 innings.
Starting the 2006 season, Johnson was finally ranked by Baseball America. He was the number three Marlins prospect and the number 81 overall. He responded with a solid rookie campaign in which he finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year Award voting. Named the NL Rookie of the Month in both May and June, Johnson totaled a 12-7 record, starting in 24 of his 31 overall appearances through the season. He struck out 133 and walked 68 in 157 frames, holding his WHIP to a team-second 1.30.
Limited by a sore arm in 2007, Johnson only started in four games, racking up a 7.47 ERA in only 15 2⁄3 innings. Predictably, it turned out that he would end up needing Tommy John Surgery, and wouldn’t return to the rotation until midway through 2008. Once he came back, he started 14 games for the Marlins, going 7-1 with a 3.61 ERA and a 64 percent strike rate. He also struck out 77 in 87 1⁄3 innings, issuing only 27 free passes and holding his WHIP to a decent 1.35.
Johnson got off to a quick start in 2009, winning the NL Pitcher of the Week for his first two starts, winning both. He defeated the Washington Nationals 8-3, striking out eight over 6 2⁄3 shutout innings, then followed with a complete game victory over the New York Mets, 2-1, striking out another seven. He walked only one batter through those two starts, and only six through his first seven, comprising 50 innings.
With the month of May already in the books, and Johnson sitting on a 4-1 record and a 2.66 ERA, he earned additional accolades as the NL’s June Pitcher of the Month. He went 3-0 through five starts, striking out 30 and walking 10 in 36 2⁄3 innings while holding opponents to a .218/.278/.308 slashline. He then made his first appearance on the NL All-Star team.
On August 14, Johnson struck out 11 in 7 1⁄3 innings, surrendering only one hit, a solo home run in a 6-5 victory against the Colorado Rockies. Johnson’s overall 1.158 WHIP through the 2009 season led the Marlins rotation, and placed him eighth in the senior circuit. He eventually ended the year with a 15-5 record and a 3.23 ERA, striking out 191 in 209 innings while walking only 58.
On April 26, 2010, Johnson downed the San Diego Padres on 117 pitches with a masterful 10-1 victory. He struck out a dozen and gave up three hits and a walk. He got another invitation to join the All Star Team and led the NL with a 2.30 ERA and only 0.3 HR surrendered per nine innings pitched. Johnson went 11-6 and struck out 186 in 183 2⁄3 frames, topping the strikeout-per-inning mark for the only time in his Marlins tenure.
Johnson started the 2011 season winning the NL POM award for the third time in his career, going 3-0 with a 0.88 ERA through his first six starts. He struck out 39 in 41 innings and held opponents to a staggering .130/.195/.196 line for the hardware. Unfortunately, right shoulder inflammation put him out of action after his ninth start. He would eventually blame it on “tall man’s syndrome:”
It’s a matter of posture and a bunch of stuff that just kind of led up to it. Years and years of being tall, you’re always slouching down and bending over. You’re shoulder’s not in a good place. You start leaning over when you’re throwing. It snowballs. - Johnson, to the Miami Herald’s Clark Spencer
When Johnson returned to the rotation for the 2012 season, he posted a career-worst 8-14 record, but his stuff seemed mostly intact. He struck out 165 and put up a 1.280 WHIP in 191 1⁄3 innings, with a 3.81 ERA. Despite his mostly good season, the Marlins included Johnson in a multi-player trade with the Toronto Blue Jays following the season.
Johnson had clearly spent the best of his arm for the Marlins, and won only two more major league games, both for the Jays. Although he later signed with the Padres and later for the San Francisco Giants, he never again reemerged on baseball’s best stage.
In eight seasons for the Marlins, Johnson went 56-37, ranking third all-time on the franchise leaderboard with a .602 winning percentage and a 133 ERA+ of players with more than 30 starts. His 3.15 ERA places him ninth of players with at least 100 innings pitched. With 832 strikeouts, he trails only Ricky Nolasco’s 1,001 in the Marlins pantheon.
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