Braves reunite with veteran reliever Johnson
ATLANTA -- The Braves are bringing Jim Johnson back to Atlanta with the hope that he will once again benefit from the opportunity to work with pitching coach Roger McDowell.
Johnson and the Braves agreed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal on Monday. This might be the start of an annual tradition for these two parties, which also agreed to a one-year deal on Dec. 3, 2014.
"We are thrilled to bring Jim Johnson back to the Braves," Braves general manager John Coppolella said. "We feel he will once again play an important role in our bullpen."
The Braves are still seeking to add at least one more setup man and left-handed specialist. But with Arodys Vizcaino, Chris Withrow and Johnson, they feel they already have some back-end bullpen depth. The depth will be strengthened if Jason Grilli (Achilles), Shae Simmons (elbow) and non-roster invitee David Carpenter (shoulder) make successful returns next season.
When Johnson signed with the Braves last year, he was looking to bounce back from a tough 2014 season, during which he had produced 7.09 ERA over 54 appearances with the A's and Tigers. The tall right-hander had produced consecutive 50-save seasons with the Orioles in 2012 and '13.
But after being traded to the A's, Johnson never seemed to find the same form he has shown while pitching for the Orioles and the Braves.
Johnson converted nine of 13 save opportunities and produced a 2.25 ERA in the 49 appearances he made for the Braves in 2015. He surrendered a .256 batting average and .311 on-base percentage while generating a 62.2 percent ground-ball rate during his time in Atlanta.
When the Braves signed Johnson last year, they believed he would benefit from the chance to work with McDowell, who had also relied heavily on a sinker during his days as a reliever.
Johnson provided some encouragement with the extended success he had after allowing a run during three consecutive appearances in April. During the 41 appearances he made for the Braves after April 23, he produced a 1.58 ERA.
Unfortunately for Johnson, the promise he created during the first four months of the 2015 season evaporated after the Braves traded him to the Dodgers on July 30. Los Angeles viewed the veteran reliever as the solution to their eighth-inning woes.
But it didn't take long for Johnson to once again struggle in a different environment.
Johnson posted a 10.13 ERA over 23 appearances for the Dodgers and was sent home before Los Angeles began competing in the postseason. Opponents hit .381 with a .442 on-base percentage against him while pitching for L.A.
Johnson's ERA with the Dodgers was significantly damaged by the eight earned runs he allowed in just two-thirds of an inning against the Pirates on Aug. 9. But he still produced a 5.40 ERA in the 19 appearances that followed that forgettable outing in Pittsburgh. He allowed at least two hits in five of his final eight appearances.
"We watched video and we saw a lot of bad luck," Coppolella said. "I think he's somebody you can count on when he's in the right environment."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Even though Johnson effectively handled the ninth inning in Atlanta, the right-hander is unlikely to resume his role as the team's closer. The hard-throwing Vizcaino posted a 1.60 ERA last season for the Braves, and he excelled down the stretch as a stopper, so he has a strong chance to continue earning saves next season. In all likelihood, Johnson will see his fantasy value restricted to NL-only leagues, where he could be a wise handcuff for Vizcaino owners.