By Olivia Witherite
Much to the disarray of Orioles fans, Kevin Gregg will not be returning to the closer role this season. (This is sarcasm. I thought I’d just point that out in case you didn’t know. I use it frequently.)
Back to the topic, the talk is that Jim Johnson will stay in the bullpen this season. Looking at the Orioles active roster, the likely place for Johnson is the closer role. In 2011, he went 9-14 in save opportunities (64%.)
At least on paper, Johnson will most likely move to be the ninth-inning guy. Although there are a few other one-inning relievers on the team, a few of the current relievers should be traded as the roster calls for pitchers who can relieve a starter and pitch multiple innings. As we saw last year, the Orioles were in dire need of inning-eaters as fans saw starting pitchers hand the ball over to the skipper after just a few short innings of ineffective pitching.
But ultimately, the Orioles also need a closer. We know, barring some sort of injury or freak accident, that Johnson will be sitting on the bench in April waiting for the call. We know we need someone who is much more trustworthy than who the Orioles sent out in the 2011 season to shut a game down. Key in Johnson.
Here are a few reasons why Johnson is the ideal closer for Baltimore:
1. 2.67 ERA over 91 innings in 2011
Okay, so this ERA isn’t the most impressive, but keep in mind that Johnson was flat-out overworked last season. In the stretch where starters seemed like working past the fifth inning was completely impossible, Johnson often came in day after day and managed to hold the team. As a short-inning reliever, Johnson proved he had endurance as well, pitching three innings twice during the season in his 69 appearances.
2. Ground ball ratio
In 2011, Johnson recorded a 1.59 ground ball to fly ball ratio. As a pitcher, and in particular as a closer, Johnson must keep the ball on the ground in the hitter-friendly Camden Yards.
Johnson recorded 5.7 Ks/9 the 2011 season and 2.76 Ks/BBs. In order to be an effective closer, especially in the American League East, pitchers have to be cautious to allow man on base.
These are just a few reasons why Johnson is a strong candidate for the closer role in 2012. With pitchers and catchers reporting in five short days, we will start to see the plan for Johnson unfold as we count down the days until Opening Day.