by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Bud Norris, who led the Angels in saves last season, is a free agent but that doesn’t mean that Los Angeles didn’t already have potential options to fill the late game void. Cam Bedrosian has always been viewed as the closer in waiting and Blake Parker showed the skills to do the job in ’17.
The team added to the mix on Thursday, importing Jim Johnson from the Atlanta Braves in an unheralded move. Could he, with a history of closing, ultimately rise into the role? It’s worth exploring, at least for now as we can’t rule out the team further adding to the bullpen:
It was a story of two halves, and the significant falloff has given people the impression that he can no longer do the job:
- First Half – 4.23 ERA
- Second Half – 8.35 ERA
Obviously the first half mark wasn’t overly impressive, but the skills were as he posted an 11.27 K/9, 3.05 BB/9 and 51.5% groundball rate. The problem was a 66.4% strand rate (which fell further to 55.9% in the second half). The control was right in line with his 3.02 career mark and he’s always been an above average groundball pitcher (57.2% for his career).
Is he that great of a strikeout pitcher? Definitely not, as he posted a 9.4% SwStr% last season. That said the other skills play and he surprisingly struggled last season with home runs on the road (1.78 HR/9). That shouldn’t be an issue, and with his history of doing the job (176 career saves) coupled with the other numbers it’s easy to envision him getting an opportunity to close either on Opening Day or if others struggle.
It’s easy to see the skills, with an 11.50 K/9, 2.14 BB/9 and 47.0% strand rate over 67.1 IP last season for the Angels. He earned 8 saves and now the question is if he can maintain the production.
He showed swing and miss stuff, with a 13.8% SwStr%, as he basically used two pitches to get the job done:
- Fourseam – 59.44%
- Split-Finger – 32.85%
- Curveball – 7.71%
Opponents hit .400 against his curveball last season, so it makes sense that it was shelved. You also have to wonder if that change in approach helped to solve any control questions (4.1 BB/9 over his minor league career). That will be interesting to watch, and he was consistently strong with it all season long. If he does continue throwing strikes he’s going to have the skills to do the job.
Could he open the year with the role? Absolutely, or he’ll be there waiting in the wings if someone like Johnson stumbles.
His velocity was down last season (93.9 mph on fastballs), and he blew nearly 50% of his save chances (6-for-11 in save opportunities). We know injuries played a role (as well as poor luck, with a 62.8% strand rate), but could those struggles lead to him being third in line? It’s quite possible, despite his strikeout stuff and solid control over the past two seasons (strike rate // walk rate):
- 2016 – 11.38 // 3.12
- 2017 – 10.68 // 3.43
That’s nice and all, but if he can’t close the door the team could decide that he’s better left in a setup role.
Given the experience of Johnson, and the lack of experience for Parker, at this point we’d guess the Angels opened ’18 with a bullpen depth chart looking like this:
- Jim Johnson
- Blake Parker
- Cam Bedrosian
Even if that happened there will be turnover and Parker should get an opportunity at some point. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if he won the job this spring, even if Johnson were to be considered the favorite (which he may not be). At the end of the day we’d be targeting both Johnson and Parker as a potential source of cheap saves.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, Baseball Reference
Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Projections: