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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

 

Nice Johnson

[updated 11/24, 10:44 a.m. EST] The Hot Stove finally heated up, instigated by the Marlins and their desperate need to dump salary – a ritual that seems to happen after every odd numbered season (2003, 2005…). Cardinals fans continue to wait, and can probably keep waiting for at least another few weeks. The next event of consequence for teams is the Winter Meetings taking place in Florida from December 5-8. In addition to dragging their feet on the Nationals’ ownership situation and privately laughing about ownership completely dodging a bullet on the steroids question, participants will have a pretty full agenda. On the last day, December 8, one of the most confusing time honored player acquisition events, the Rule 5 Draft, occurs. The event itself carries little excitement, and typically, few diamonds in the rough come out of it, with Roberto Clemente being the lone exception. Cards fans recognize the Rule 5 Draft as the place where the team got Hector Luna. In fact, I maintain that the draft’s rules hurt Luna’s development by forcing the Cards to keep him on their major league roster throughout 2004 when he would have benefited more by developing for a full season in AAA. Of course, with the opportunity to send him there in 2005, the Cards passed as well, assigning him a career as a permanent reserve infielder. Oh well. (You think the Luna rant’s a rant, ask me about Arrested Development being canceled.) Last season the team was touched by the Rule 5 Draft again when the A’s were forced to return LHP Tyler Johnson after deciding not to promote him to their own active roster, or trading him to another team that would, out of spring training. It was a fine fate for Johnson and a fortunate turn of events for the Cardinals. Johnson spent the season in AAA Memphis, until the big league team bought out his contract in early September, putting him on the active roster. The Cardinals have again added him to their 40 man, and there is reason to believe that he is part of the team’s plans for 2006. Johnson’s seasonal age in 2006 will be 25. Let’s look at his stats. I did not include his 2005 stats with the big club due to the microscopic sample size. As you can see from his minor league stats, Johnson has never had a problem striking guys out; he had the best K/9 ratio of all Memphis hurlers at 11.75. His K/BB ratio improved last year in Memphis, the highest it’s been since his 2002 season in Peoria. Clearly, the kid is ready to play for on the big league stage. Building on the kid’s already solid command, Pitching Coach Dave Duncan should be able to work with him to get his walks and H/IP numbers down a bit. Last summer, he also nailed down 7 saves in 9 opportunities for Memphis, and had a 1.31 ground ball/fly ball ratio. Johnson’s pitches consist of a lower 90s fastball, with good movement, that he uses to set up a wicked curveball that serves as his out pitch. He also has a slider and a mediocre changeup, which hopefully could improve with time, work, and Duncan’s tutelage. I scanning reviews for Johnson’s performance, I came across someone from the Oakland front office stating that Johnson had “excellent off-speed stuff.” Johnson could fit in nicely next year as a LOOGY for the Cardinals, and you can be sure that LaRussa, LOOGY lover extraordinaire, will use him in that role. Given the young lefty’s decent command and his arsenal of pitches, he fits that role nicely. However, Johnson could easily become a strong one or two inning lefty set up guy. An inexpensive, quality lefty for the pen, of course he will take some lumps as a rookie, but still, Johnson’s presence gives us one less thing to worry about as management scrambles to put together a lineup for 2006. Compare and contrast I wanted to look at a couple other lefties for the sake of comparison. Coming off a career best season in San Francisco, the Cubs signed FA Scott Eyre to bolster the left side of their bullpen. After getting his ADHD under control, Eyre pitched 53.2 innings in 2004, posting a 4.10 ERA, allowing 43 hits and 49/27 K/BB (1.82 ratio); his 2004 k/9 was 8.37. In 2005, Eyre allowed 48 hits through 68.1 innings with a 2.63 ERA, 65/26 K/BB (2.50), and an 8.59 k/9 ratio. Ray King went from hero to zero for the Cards from 2004 to 2005, solidifying his pariah status with a trade demand hours after the season ended. In 2004, when he was the toast of Cards fans and indispensible to the team, he tossed 62 innings with a 2.61 ERA, giving up 43 hits, 40/26 K/BB (1.67), and a 5.81 ERA. Ray's 2005 saw him post a 3.38 ERA through 40 innings, 46 hits against, 23/16 K/BB (1.44), and a 5.18 k/9. Indicating what he is capable of, Johnson's 2005 stats in Memphis are indeed a positive sign, and highlight what he is capable of in the lefty reliever role. Repeating my earlier conclusion, there's no reason to think Johnson cannot fill an important team need out of the pen, at a nice price, for the Cardinals in 2006 and for a few seasons to come.
Comments:
I'm excited about this guy too. If Ty has a good spring training, you wonder what the Cardinals might do w/Ray. I'm sure his whining is still ringing in their ears. Last year going into the season we traded Myers, the LOOGY king for 2 minor leaguers because we already had King and Flores. I'm sure if we had a crystal ball it would've been King we traded.

Now at least the Cardinals have hindsight, and if Ty flourishes (and he sure has the potential to with that high K/9 rate) I could see Ray jettisoned somewhere for PTBNL sometime in April or May.

I still can't believe we protected guys like Reid Gorecki over TJ who's been nothing but a K machine since he's been around.
 
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