The Giants have signed Randy Johnson to a 1-year, $8M contract. What a nice surprise to find waiting for me and other Giants fans after coming back from the holiday weekend. In 2008, the 44-year-old Johnson (he’ll be 45-years-old in ’09) showed the world that he had plenty of gas left in the tank. Last season Johnson threw a total of 184 innings and struck out 173 hitters. He had a FIP of 3.76, a tRA of 3.32, and an ERA+ of 117. Pretty amazing stuff from a 44-year-old pitcher, but Hall-of-Fame pitchers tend to be pretty amazing.
Just this morning I’ve been listening to a little sports radio and some commentators have touched on the Johnson deal. Most of them seem to be amazed that the Giants would acquire such a pitcher. After all, Johnson will be 45-years-old next season and the Giants goal of the last 1.5 seasons has been to “get younger”. It’s true that Johnson won’t help lower the overall team age but the bottom line is that he can still pitch. Even at 45-years-old he can still pitch. Marcel has him projected to throw around 160 innings with a 4.12 FIP. CHONE is a little more pessimistic and has Johnson around a 4.65 FIP. ZiPS has him around a 4.02 FIP. Moving out of Arizona should help Johnson’s numbers some. So, we’ve got about three projection systems that have Johnson as a 4.02-4.65 FIP pitcher.
If we go conservatively and project Johnson as a 4.30 FIP pitcher that can throw 160 innings for the Giants next season, he’ll be worth a little more than +2 wins above replacement. With the going rate for free agents at about $5M per win, he should be worth around $10M in a one year deal. The Giants paid $8M for Johnson with some additional incentives which I don’t think have been released yet. All-in-all, a solid deal for the Giants. Going back to the likely sports media back-talk, the Giants made a prudent move with Johnson. He’s shown that he’ll most likely be an above-average pitcher in 2009 and the deal is good in both years and money. It’s impossible to get burned on a one year deal and in the process, the Giants upgraded their rotation for fair market value with a short-term commitment. What’s not to like?
Hopefully when I get my PFX database sorted out I’ll be able to do a profile of Johnson’s ’08 season. The database is taking longer than I expected to get together and I was away from my computer for most of last week with the holiday vacation. I’m thinking in another week or two I should have something close to a functional database. Anyways, I’ve got a brief couple of velocity plots to share on RJ.
According to BIS data, Johnson’s average fastball velocity last season was 90.8mph which was down from the average of 92mph from 2005-2007. Still, with the decrease in velocity Johnson was tough to make contact against. His K% of 22.44 was 15th among all starters in baseball. Johnson also throws strikes. His BB% of 5.66 is above average for a starter. So, despite some lost oomph on his heater, Johnson still pitched quite well. According to BIS, he was mainly a two-pitch pitcher. He threw his fastball predominately — 51.4% of all his pitches were fastballs — with his slider — 35.2% of pitches — being his #2 pitch. BIS has him throwing the split-fingered fastball but I’ve read some disagreement that he no longer throws the pitch. It could be something like a 2-seamer, I haven’t seen the data yet so I’m taking a guess.
Let’s take a look at RJ’s velo over the course of the season. The first plot is all of his 30 starts plotted by velocity. The second plot is just his starts in Arizona. Hopefully by sticking with one park we can remove any of the noise/variance from his road starts.
Overall, the velocity plot looks pretty close to the BIS data. The majority of Johnson’s fastballs were in the lower 90′s. PFX has him touching 95+ a few times in the season which is pretty cool for a 44-year-old pitcher. It looks like he had a slight dip in velocity to close out the year but he was pretty consistent. It would probably be in the best interests of the Giants if they didn’t over use Johnson during the season. The Diamonbacks tended to keep Johnson around a 90-100 pitch limit in his starts. The most pitches he threw in any start last season was 111 pitches. Hopefully Bruce Bochy won’t give him the Matt Cain / Tim Lincecum treatment and turn his arm to dust. The Giants have made some curios pitching management decisions over the last couple of seasons but I don’t anticipate they’ll misuse Johnson.
If you examine the home games only velo-plot, things even out a little more. In terms of miles-per-hour Johnson works in a 10mph window. His fastball clocks around 90mph and the slider will fall in the low-to-mid 80′s range. I expect Johnson’s wipeout slider is still a very good pitch for him and when I get my data together, it’ll be the first thing I’ll be looking at. Stay tuned for that.
Writing about the Giants moves this offseason has me sounding like a broken record. The Johnson deal is no different from the Affeldt-Howry-Rentria deals. It’s a short-term commitment at a very reasonable price. Bringing in Johnson will help round out the rotation and will nix any reason to rely on Noah Lowry making significant contributions to the staff. If time catches up to Johnson, the Giants will probably watch him limp across the finish line to 300 wins — and make some nice ticket sales at the same time — and be done with him after 2009. If he remains an above average pitcher, he’ll help boost sales — memorabilia, tickets, etc. — and give the team a better chance to win.
I also don’t think this means that the Giants will automatically trade Sanchez, but they might be a tad more receptive to offers for him. I remain a huge fan of Sanchez and I hope they give him another season in the rotation to try and put it together. His underlying numbers from last season are pretty damned good.
On paper, the rotation should look something like:
1. Tim Lincecum
2. Randy Johnson
3. Matt Cain
4. Jonathan Sanchez
5. Barry Zito
Hello, $18.5M 5th starter.
Comment Starter: There isn’t much to dislike about this deal so I’ll ask something different. Where does Zito go in the rotation now? Surely he hasn’t given the Giants many reasons to start him in front of Lincecum-Cain-Johnson-Sanchez. Where do you stick him?