What Could Have Been: The Josh Johnson Story

Josh Johnson

How did it come to this?

Once one of the game’s best young pitching prospects when he broke into the major leagues at age 21, Josh Johnson turned his first full season with the Marlins into a 12-7 record, 3.10 ERA, and a 4th place finish in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2006.

At the time, he looked like it wouldn’t be long before he was considered one of the game’s elite starting pitchers. Demanding attention at 6’7” 245 pounds, scouts drooled over his size and the way his easy delivery lit up radar guns.

Although his scouting report read “strong makeup and mound presence” in 2006, even at a young age it cited his weaknesses.

Chronic shoulder tendonitis.

Struggles to stay on the mound.

Durability issues.

We didn’t know it then, but that scouting report foreshadowed what has been a frustrating career for the big right-hander from Oklahoma. Since the start of the 2006–a span of over eight years–Johnson has averaged 123.5 innings, 20 starts, and one trip to the disabled list per season.

To put that in perspective, Diamondbacks’ starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo has averaged 211 innings and 33 starts per season over that same timeframe.

When he’s stayed on the mound, he’s been borderline dominant. From 2009-2010, Johnson showed his true potential, making two all-star teams, pitching over 200 innings in 2009 (the only time he’s accomplished that in his eight year career), and leading the NL in ERA (2.30) in 2010.

But because his arm is about as reliable as a used condom, Johnson never really stood a chance, and never had an opportunity to see what he was really capable of.

Just past his 30th birthday, Johnson is a walking WebMD model of the right arm. He’s had shoulder tendonitis, an irritated ulnar nerve, triceps inflammation, a forearm strain, a torn ulnar collateral ligament (which required surgery), bone spurs in his elbow (which required surgery), and a strained flexor muscle.

Johnson–who signed a one year/$8 million deal with the Padres this offseason–is set to see Dr. James Andrews yet again, with the concern that he’ll require a 2nd Tommy John surgery after struggling through forearm and elbow issues at the tail-end of last season and this spring.

What was once a promising career is now trending towards another story of what could have been. There’s only so much the arm can take.

And that’s a scary thing for Johnson’s future.

Follow OPSN Lead Writer Shawn Ferris on Twitter @RealShawnFerris for more MLB news, updates, and analysis.

VIDEO: Choo, Cano Both Homer for the First Time for Texas, Seattle

Shin-Soo Choo of the Texas Rangers and Robinson Cano of the Seattle Mariners both hit their first home runs of the season for their new teams Thursday afternoon when the two teams faced off against each other. Shin-Soo Choo, who spent most of his 10-year career with the Cleveland Indians but also spent time the Cincinnati Reds as well as the Mariners, hit a solo shot off of the M’s pitcher Erasmo Ramirez in the bottom of the second.

Similarly Cano, who spent the first nine years of his 10-year career with the New York Yankees, went deep for three runs in the next half inning off Rangers’ pitcher Tanner Scheppers. The Rangers went on to defeat the Mariners by a score of 8-6.

For more MLB news and updates follow OPSN’s  Jen Rainwater @OakAsSocksGrl.

Impressive Braves rotation will only get better

The Atlanta Braves were kicked in the stomach multiple times during Spring Training with the sudden loss of Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy for the season to Tommy John elbow surgeries. It left the organization in a rough state both on the field and mentally.

The expectations for the Braves going into the season were high, but immediately dampened by Medlen and Beachy’s injuries. Those circumstances made the Braves re-evaluate their organization and thus decided to sign Ervin Santana to a one-year, $14.1 million contract in mid-March. Santana missed the first 10 days of the season as he needed additional time to get himself ready for competitive play as he signed late. But he has been unbelievable in his first two outings. He owns a 0.64 ERA, a 1.98 FIP and has 17 punch outs. Atlanta realizes how lucky they are to have snagged him up last minute.

“We were lucky,” said manager Fredi Gonzalez. “We were lucky that he was still out there because I don’t know what we would have done. And then for [general manager Frank Wren] and president [John Schuerholtz] and our chairman Terry McGuirk to go out and said. ‘Go get him’ — it wasn’t like it was a million dollars. So for them to say, “We need him. Go get him,’ really lifted our spirits up.”

Santana’s dominance is a blessing for the Braves so far this season with a pitching rotation marked with many questions and black eyes. Not only did the injuries play into those questions, but Tim Hudson departed for the San Francisco Giants in free-agency. The Braves entered into the campaign with a very young rotation.

The impressive performance from Julio Teheran in Wednesday’s 1-0 shut out against the Philadelphia Phillies shows they have a special talent in the 23-year-old. He pitched a complete game shutout and out pitched Cliff Lee. Teheran owns a 2-1 record with a 1.93 ERA  and 13 strikeouts in four starts this season.

Aaron Harang has filled a void in the rotation admirably so far this season as well. The veteran right-hander was released by the Cleveland Indians at the conclusion of Spring Training and the Braves picked him up after they cut ties with Freddy Garcia. Harang owns an unfathomable 0.96 ERA and a 2.20 FIP in three starts this season. He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his first start of 2014 against the Milwaukee Brewers. Harang was also impressive against the Washington Nationals on April 13 as he went six innings of one run ball to earn his second win of the season.

At this point, the status of Harang in the Braves rotation for the duration of the season is unknown. Even with his impressive numbers there are two guys who have their eyes set on a rotation spot when they return from their respective issues. Mike Minor, who underwent a urinary tract procedure during the off-season and then developed shoulder soreness, is set to return near the end of the month. Gavin Floyd is in line for a return in the next week or so as well after recovering and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.

With Alex Wood a mainstay along with Teheran, Santana and Minor, it will be interesting to see who will be the odd man out when it’s all said and done.

While David Hale has pitched well in his first two starts, don’t expect him to win a spot outright moving forward. He could be utilized as an extra arm in the bullpen or optioned to the minors to make room for either Minor or Floyd. However if both Minor and Floyd are destined for the rotation, then Harang might be on the outside looking in as unfair as that sounds. Minor is certainly going to be in the rotation it’s a matter of Floyd’s status and how that affects Harang.

Either way, Minor will return to a Braves rotation that is second in the National League with a 2.52 ERA. Only the Milwaukee Brewers (2.17 ERA) are better coming into Thursday’s action. Minor was the best pitcher for the Braves in the postseason last year as he recorded the team’s only victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Division Series. He enjoyed a breakout 2013 campaign with a career-high 13 wins and a career best 3.21 ERA.

Atlanta’s rotation is clearly off to a fantastic start, despite the questions during the spring. The scary thing is that it’s only going to get better.

Follow Outside Pitch Sports Network’s Andrew Vigliotti on Twitter for more MLB updates @Andrew_Vig

Anthony Recker Could See More Playing Time for the Mets

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Mets backup catcher Anthony Recker has been swinging a hot bat that’s beginning to catch the attention of manager Terry Collins.

The Mets are playing pretty good lately,  coming off an impressive 6-3 road trip that featured a sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Recker contributed a home run and a double in their 5-2 win over the Diamondbacks on Wednesday, it raised his average to .286 for the season. He’s homered in two of his three starts this season and seems to have a knack for clutch hitting.

According to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York, Recker’s play hasn’t gone unnoticed by Collins.

“I’m certainly going to consider getting Reck in there a little bit more,” Collins said.

Meanwhile, this could be a head’s up to starting catcher Travis d’Arnaud and his .154 batting average — Hey Travis, you might wanna start getting some hits or else.

The Mets have been all-in with the 25-year-old D’Arnaud, the centerpiece in the trade with Toronto for R.A. Dickey. He’s going to have to pick it up on offense or start looking over his shoulder more often.

It remains to be seen if Recker can continue to impress, however for now he’s doing enough to present a good case for increased playing time.

For more MLB news and updates follow OPSN’s Anthony Rushing on Twitter@AnthonyRushing_

 

Former NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady Makes His Baseball Debut

Credit: Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle

Credit: Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle

On Wednesday, seven-time NBA All-Star Tracy McGrady made his baseball debut as a pitcher for the Sugar Land Skeeters. McGrady, 34, was the starting pitcher for the Skeeters as they took on Alvin Community College in a scrimmage on Wednesday. He pitched just one inning, threw 15 pitches (9 strikes) and gave up one run on three hits. The Skeeters went on to win the game by a score of 10-1.

The Skeeters, an independent baseball team in the Atlantic League, are currently in the process of trimming their roster for Opening Day. They currently have 34 players in camp and they must cut that number down to 27 before their April 24th season-opener against the Lancaster Barnstormers. With that being said, McGrady has a week to prove that he is worthy of one of the 27 roster spots. It’ll definitely be intriguing to see if he can pan out with the team.

Make sure you follow Outside Pitch Sports Network’s Anton Joe on Twitter @AntonJoeMLB for all the latest news and updates from around baseball.

The Atlanta Braves One-Two Punch

(USATSI)

(USATSI)

Who is the one-two punch? I suppose a case could be made for brothers Justin and B.J., with brother Justin Upton batting right behind his other half, B.J. Upton, however, that duo is not nearly as dynamic as Freeman-Simba. Making their way through the Atlanta Braves’ minor league organization, 6-foot-5-inche Freddie Freeman was drafted in the second round of the 2007 amateur draft, where 6-foot-2-inch Andrelton Simmons was obtained in the 2010 amateur draft, in the second round. Although the two debuted just a couple years apart from one another, they have developed a deadly duo in Atlanta.

While it is tough to put a hefty first baseman in comparison with an acrobatic shortstop, Freeman and Simmons are typically making eye-popping plays, befuddling hitters and base-runners, and backing their aces up defensively. Concluding a significant 2013 season, which would mark the beginning of a new era for the Braves, both infielders were given extension contracts through 2020. The Atlanta Braves’ general manager, John Schuerholz, was smart enough to realize the affect that both Freeman and Simmons had on Atlanta’s roster, in the field, as well as in the batters box, and decided to lock both up to long-term deals.

Of course Freeman bats several spots higher than Simmons, but regardless, their offensive production is not to be overlooked. Freeman, the five year veteran, ranked fifth in National League Most Valuable Player voting, but appeared in his first All-Star game. In Freeman’s most remarkable season, 2013, he posted a .319 batting average, .396 on base percentage, .501 slugging average, .987 OPS. He improved in nearly every category in his stat line from the 2012 season to the 2013 season, by .40 points. There was not much of a difference in home run quartile, as he constantly hit over 20 homers in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Freeman also drove in 109 runs, 13 more than his previous season, while walking 66 times on 121 strikeouts. Freeman also perhaps instilled a fear into opposing pitchers, being intentionally walked 10 times in the 2013 season. Freddie Freeman also came in first place in the…..well, hug category.

The 24-year-old is off to a hot start beginning the 2014 season. Although the Braves are 13 games into the young season, Freeman has launched four home runs along with four doubles, reached base 19 times on base hits, as he drove in ten runs.

As for Andrelton Simmons, his first taste of Major League Baseball came in June of 2012, but 2013 consisted of a full season and a starting position for him. Simmons participated in 157 games, in which he started as short-stop in all 157 games. Simmons doubled 27 times while hitting for a triple six times. Andrelton managed to send 17 balls out of the park, as he posted a stat line of .248/.296/.396/.692. Also driving in 59 runs deep in the line-up, Simmons, better known as “Simba,” struck out only 15 more times than he walked (40 BB/55 K). Better yet, Simmons has a high oWAR of 3.6, which is above average for young short-stops around the league.

Although the two put up such numbers on offense, the duo of Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons is more of a defensive combination. One of the best defensive first basemen in the game, Freeman has been showcasing his flexibility stretching for baseballs and diving for line drives and grounders. Freeman posted a .993 fielding percentage over the coarse of five years, on 29 career errors.

Andrelton Simmons, on the other hand, took home a Gold Glove award in the 2013 season, putting out 240 players, assisting 499 plays and turned 94 double-plays while committing only 14 errors. Simmons posted a .983 fielding percentage in the 2013 season, however, he had a RF/G (Range Factor per Game) of 6.4, and a dWAR of 5.4.

Joe Giglio of BleacherReport.com stated that “Furthermore, the power Simmons has shown in 206 games in the majors puts him in select company among other standout defenders at the position.”

Dating back throughout the annals of baseball history, only six shortstops have had individual seasons of 15-plus home runs and a 3.5 dWAR rating. The ability to hit for power at shortstop is uncommon, but the ability to hit for power and play game-changing defense is very seldom.

The six shortstops to achieve those campaigns: Simmons, Ron Hansen, Troy Tulowitzki, Alex Gonzalez, Cal Ripken Jr. and Ernie Banks.

Of that group, Ripken, Tulowitzki and Banks are the standard. Hansen and Gonzalez, while not poor players during their respective careers, represent the career arc for Simmons if his on-base percentage and offensive game don’t evolve.

Due to outstanding defense and emerging power, Simmons is a good investment for Atlanta. Yet it’s his upside, specifically the offense displayed during the second half of the 2013 season, that should have Braves fans ecstatic over the potential of this contract.

After posting a replacement-level OPS (.630) in the first half of the season, Simmons’ bat emerged down the stretch for Atlanta. From the moment the Braves arrived back after the 2013 All-Star Break, Simmons posted an OPS of .789, helping the team run away with the NL East.

If that OPS is a precursor of things to come, the Braves are on the cusp of having the best all-around shortstop in baseball. Last season, only three everyday shortstops posted OPS marks higher than .789 over the full season: Tulowitzki, Jhonny Peralta and Jed Lowrie.”

There is no question that the NL East, as well as the rest of the Major Leagues, is going to see new faces in new places as years go by, but one couple that will be developing and becoming better over the years is the Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons.

Follow Outside Pitch Sports Network contributor Brock Landes on Twitter for more MLB updates @Brock_Evan28

 

Are The Mariners Showcasing Nick Franklin For A Potential Trade?

It looks like Nick Franklin didn’t have to deal with AAA postgame spreads for that long after all.

The #47 ranked prospect by MLB.com heading into last season, Franklin turned a strong start in AAA into a promotion–and while he smacked 12 home runs in 102 games–it went along with a disappointing .225/.303/.382 slash line.

Obviously in need of more offense and looking to make a splash this offseason, the Mariners signed star 2nd baseman Robinson Cano to a mega contract, forcing Franklin into a Spring Training battle for the starting shortstop position in Seattle with Brad Miller, a battle Franklin ultimately lost.

Forced to AAA Tacoma again to start the 2014 season, Franklin–instead of sulking–has flourished in the Pacific Coast League, batting a robust .395 with four home runs and 13 RBI through the team’s first 11 games. With the recent hamstring injury to Logan Morrison that will likely force him to the DL, the Mariners rewarded Franklin with a promotion.

Or.

Did the Mariners reward themselves?

Soon to be Tiger?

 

Franklin–who has spent the entirety of his career as a middle infielder–is athletic enough at age 23 to play all three OF positions, and combine that with his ability to play both middle infield spots, it gives the Mariners a lot of selling points to interested teams. The club would be in dire need for starting pitching should Taijuan Walker continue to struggle to fight back from a shoulder injury with James Paxton already on the DL with a lat strain.

Reportedly, the Mets and Tigers continue to show interest in the switch-hitting Franklin, but aren’t willing to pony up to the Mariners’ asking price. However, by the Mariners putting Franklin in the outfield mix and giving him a chance to showcase his ability out there as well, not only will that multiply the amount of potential suitors for Franklin, it could cause a bidding war between the Mets and Tigers as well.

Well played Seattle, well played.

Follow OPSN Lead Writer Shawn Ferris on Twitter @RealShawnFerris for more MLB news, updates, and analysis.

Top Prospect George Springer to Join Astros

The highly touted and prized prospect George Springer says that he is going to be joining the Houston Astros for his first stint in the big leagues on Wednesday. The club has not officially announced his promotion from Triple-A Oklahoma City, but according to the 24-year-old he’s headed to Houston. Of course that means that someone will have to switch places with him, and the Houston Chronicle reports that it will be outfielder Robbie Grossman who will be sent down. The paper also reported that pitcher Lucas Harrell will be designated for assignment.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Bob Levey/Getty Images

Springer hit .297 in 73 games with Double-A Corpus Christie last season before joining Oklahoma City, where he hit .319 during the remainder of the season. He had 37 home runs, 108 RBI and 45 stolen bases between the two teams in 2013 and is already off to a great start in Triple-A in 2014. Springer is currently hitting .308 with three homers and eight RBI.

Springer, who was drafted 11th out of UConn in the amateur draft in 2011 by Houston, told the Associated Press that Oklahoma City manager, Tom Lawless, gave him the news after Tuesday night’s game. He said he was speechless and so were his parents, the first people he called after learning the big news. When talking to the press Springer could barley contain his excitement saying,

“It’s just an indescribable feeling. I’m speechless right now. I’m really excited that my hard work has paid off and I’m finally getting to fulfill my dream of playing in the big leagues. I’m looking forward to playing for the Astros.”

Springer is just another great addition to a young team who, while still struggling, is predicted to grow into something great.

For more MLB news and updates follow OPSN’s  Jen Rainwater @OakAsSocksGrl.

Player Analysis: What’s Wrong With Daniel Nava?

An unbelievable story and magical 2013 season, words can not describe the journey Daniel Nava has taken to get to the MLB, and how far he has come since the Boston Red Sox took a chance on the 31-year-old outfielder and first baseman, signing him for just one dollar back in 2008. Last year, Nava was a very special player and made sure to show the Red Sox and the MLB as a whole that he isn’t going anywhere for a long time, posting a .303/.385/.445 triple-slashline, and offensively, solidifying himself as one of the better left fielders in the game today. Overall, it was a season that was almost too good to be true, and left many saying that at least some regression was bound to happen during the 2014 season.

Well, as seen many times before, hindsight is 20/20 and it is obvious now that Nava has regressed, and at least statistically, is not the same player he was at his peak last season, posting an abysmal .152/.235/.304 slash-line so far this season. What might be the reason for this rapid regression? The first thing that can be noticed about Nava is his batting average on balls in play. This season, Nava has a mere .147 mark that is well below his career-high .352 BABIP last season, and also well below the league average .290-.310 BABIP. This large drop could be a result of many factors, but a sizable portion of it has to blamed on his infield fly ball percentage, a number that is at an alarming rate of 23.1%, and ranks as the 19th worst among qualified players. Incase you don’t really know much about IFFB%, it is a statistic that measures the percentage of pop-ups a batter hits out of their total number of fly balls. It is generally the worst type of batted ball for batters as they are often easy outs for the defense, and just so you have an idea, the league average for IFFB% is 10%, a number that Nava is pretty far off from at this point in the season.

The other possibility for Nava’s uncharacteristically low BABIP may just be the result of bad luck. This famous quote by Ron Kanehl is a great one and describes the game of baseball as a whole. “Baseball is a lot like life. The line drives are caught; the squibbers go for base hits. It’s an unfair game.” It is indeed an unfair game, and as it can be seen in the past, and was seen last season, with a good example being Cleveland Indians’ right fielder David Murphy, luck plays a large role in baseball. A great way to measure how much luck can affect a hitter’s BABIP is to calculate his xBABIP. xBABIP, originally published at Beyond the Boxscore, is a formula developed to provide an easy way to estimate a batter’s BABIP given his batted ball percentages. With Nava, his xBABIP comes out to a .293 mark, and while this number is still average at best, it does indicate that Nava has had a great deal of bad luck over the course of this season thus far. Eventually it should be expected that some of these hard hit balls will eventually start falling for base hits, but no one really knows for sure, a stretch of bad luck can last for one game or one whole season. Maintaining a good level of confidence is the key in this situation and Manager John Farrell is apparently still looking for Nava to develop this confidence more and more as the season progresses stating,

“He’s had some at-bats where he’s hit into some tough luck. He’s also had some at-bats where he’s maybe tried to do a little bit too much at times, where he’s lifted the ball in the air. We’ve come to know Daniel, he’s more of a line-drive hitter, that’s had occasional ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark. More than anything, it’s getting on a little bit of a roll and gaining the confidence that he hit with all last year.”

Whether Nava is hitting too many infield fly balls or just experiencing the effects of tough luck, he needs to start hitting, and the quicker the better. Nava is seemingly a one-dimensional player, at this point in his career, as he lacks the ability to hit for power or steal bases on a consistent basis, hitting 12 home runs and managing to get caught stealing on both of his two attempts last season. The 31-year-old, switch-hitter also had his fair share of troubles on the defensive side of the ball, posting a -10.8 UZR and -4 defensive runs saved in the outfield last season. This lack of versatility in his game only puts more pressure on Nava to hit well, as he has been tagged as a below replacement level player so far this season, posting a -0.3 WAR.

With Shane Victorino on the verge of coming back from injury, and the emergence of Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr., Nava could soon find himself as the odd man out in the outfield. However, at least until then, Nava will continue to receive regular at-bats and have several opportunities to get back to playing like he did last season. It is important to not give up faith in Nava and to trust that he will succeed yet again because, after all, we are talking about a man who knows how to overcome anything that stands in his way, even when the odds are stacked up against him.

Follow OPSN’s Jeffrey Cogswell @jeffreycogs for MLB News and Beat The Streak Picks

 

Three Elite Starting Pitchers Off To Rough Starts Fantasy Owners Should Be Worried About

1. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals

stras-21

Let’s face it, this isn’t what you had in mind for your fantasy ace. So far, Strasburg’s early season performance is the equivalent of bringing the hottest girl at the bar home and it turns out all she really wanted was to come up for coffee.

Yeah, disappointing.

As of this writing, Strasburg has given up 11 ER and 20 hits in 18.0 innings, including a plethora of well-hit balls rockets right at fielders.

On the surface, it doesn’t look all that bad. Strasburg still has elite swing-and-miss stuff (his 14.2 K/9 this season certainly supports it), but if you look closer, there’s factors worth being concerned about. His velocity is a full MPH slower (94.1) than it was last season (95.2), and his breaking ball has been miserable. In fact, opponents are hitting .357 against the pitch in the early-going after hitting .128 against it in 2014.

Although the rough start doesn’t have me looking to trade Strasburg for pennies on the dollar, it’s more than enough for me to move a guy I had as a top five SP into the 15-20 range going forward.

2. Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

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For Cain, his slow start really isn’t the concerning part. It’s the fact he had a slow season last year.

After posting his worst ERA (4.00) since 2006, and his worst WHIP (1.186) since 2009 in 2014, Cain needed to start strong to still be considered an elite fantasy starting pitcher. So far, he’s been anything but.

Sporting an ERA of 4.00, an 0-2 record, and the highest HR/9 (1.5) of his career, Cain just doesn’t seem to have the same zip on his fastball as he nears his 30th birthday, and his strikeout rate has suffered. Currently nesting at 6.5, Cain doesn’t sit down enough hitters to support the areas he doesn’t excel in anymore, and that’s enough to push him out of many fantasy owners’ good graces.

3. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

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One of the best pitchers in the game from 2010-2012, when he posted three straight top five AL Cy Young Award finishes, Weaver has seen his velocity and stuff diminish over the last two seasons, and his stats have predictably suffered.

Never a big strikeout guy (for example, his 20-5 season in 2012 he posted a 6.8 K/9), Weaver’s value as a fantasy ace was driven by his low WHIP and ERA. Now that those numbers aren’t considered elite, the 31-year-old right-hander might be pushed into pure mediocrity in the near future.

Follow OPSN Lead Writer Shawn Ferris on Twitter @RealShawnFerris for more MLB news, updates, and analysis.

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