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"Yank My Johnson!" And Other Deep Thoughts

Thearon W. Henderson

If you want knee-jerk reactions, that's down the hall two doors on your left. Here at the Knee Company, also known as "Knee Co," we try to separate our knees from our jerks. So my suggestion to put Jim Johnson in a role other than that of the closer is only a repeat of sentiments I expressed in the off-season.

Here's the thing about Johnson. First of all, he's a very good pitcher. If you don't think so, because you have watched the first 8 games of the season, let me remind you of Jarrod Parker. At the start of 2013, Parker was so ineffective that many fans were clamoring for him to be sent to AAA. Parker stumbled through April with a 1-4 record and 7.36 ERA, allowing a whopping 43 hits (and 16 BBs) in 29.1 IP. Then he righted the ship and went a couple months without a loss en route to a solid campaign.

Johnson's struggles right now are just that: struggles. He'll have dominant stretches again because, like Parker, he's a good pitcher. That being said, it's a bit of an overstatement to say he's "proven to be an excellent closer". Last year he saved 50 games, sure, but that was a function of quantity over quality. He converted only 85% of his saves, which is not excellent.

Johnson's problem, as oft noted, is that he doesn't strike out a ton of batters leaving him vulnerable to luck and defense even when he's firing on all cylinders. A bigger problem, to me, is that Johnson has always had the tendency to either be very good -- or if he's not on, to be really bad. This may be seen, partly, in the fact that Johnson was charged with 8 losses in 2013. He saved a lot of games and when he didn't he often could not stop the bleeding.

For this reason, he's a bad choice to be the last guy out of the pen. As a 7th inning guy, he could be utilized to come in to clean up other pitchers' messes by throwing the all-important rally-killing DP ball and if he started an inning, there would be room for Melvin to gracefully punt by going to Fernando Abad against a LH -- and still have Luke Gregerson and Sean Doolittle available.

The way it's set up now, by the time Johnson starts the 9th inning Gregerson and Doolittle have already pitched and it's "feast or famine" at a very bad time for a feast-or-famine appearance. I would like to see Johnson stay in high leverage duty, but do so as one of the team's set-up men rather than as the closer.

I would also like to see Alberto Callaspo take more of a hold on the lefty-DH role. Callaspo's weaker side is the left side, and he does not give you anything like the power you would ideally like to get from your DH, but from either side of the plate Callaspo gives you a quality at bat and I think the A's lineup is better with him in it.

I would also like to see Derek Norris claim the regular catching job 4-5 days/week, with plenty of starts against RHPs. Norris was truly pitiful against RHP in 2013, but those of us who assessed it as statistical noise are being vindicated by his fast start -- including today's game-winning HR off of a RHP -- on the heels of a spring training in which Norris had no trouble hitting RHPs.

This would, of course, compromise John Jaso's playing time. Jaso could still start 1-2 days/week at catcher (against RHPs) and 1-2 days/week at DH (against RHPs). I think this balance would work better than what we have seen through 8 games, which has been less of Norris and Callaspo, more of Jaso. I like Jaso, don't get me wrong, but not behind the plate and not at the expense of Norris' glove and Callaspo's bat.

Those are my two cents, for which you have grossly overpaid. Your thoughts?