If I told you that a 33-year old reliever was going to be a key part of the Braves success in 2016, you'd probably laugh. Then you'd ask, "What KIND of success in 2016? Don't you know we're selling off this payroll for peanuts so we can support the Cobb County Braves stadium?" Well, that kind of thinking makes you a jerk, sir, and I won't tolerate it.
I refuse to believe that the Braves are simply hanging up their cleats 2 years before debuting a new stadium and less than 6 months after trading away everything they had for magic beans...I mean pitching in the minors. Yes, I'm as grumpy as you are, but the Jim Johnson signing gives me a bit of hope that the Braves are addressing one of their biggest problems in 2015, and they are doing in a cost-effective manner that fits with the rebuild.
For those of you that don't remember, the beginning of 2015 for the Braves was actually pretty good. The Braves were actually winning games. I know, it's shocking but true. And a big part of the Braves winning games was that the pitching staff wasn't constantly imploding every time we made a call to the bullpen. Who was a big part of that success? Jim Johnson.
Johnson was typically a setup guy in the early part of the year while Jason Grilli was the closer. This at least provided a nice back end for the Braves in the 8th and 9th innings, and that will be the same in 2016 when Grilli returns from injury. If you look at Johnson's appearances in the first half of the season, he pitched in 49 games, and the Braves went 34-15 in games he pitched. Obviously, there are other factors in play, but it's important to note that Johnson had 20 Holds and 9 saves in those appearances. He was a very key player in the Braves bullpen that held on to key leads.
The most important part of your bullpen is your 8th and 9th inning guys, since you would hope that a starter can get you 6 innings, and you have a slew of guys to provide a 7th inning bridge. But nailing down that 8th inning setup man and 9th inning closer can really give your team the piece of mind they need with a lead, and it puts a bug in your opponents ear that they HAVE to score before the 8th or the game is over.
Jim Johnson only costs the Braves $2.5M in 2016, and Jason Grilli will only cost $3.5M. For $6M you may have shored up a huge problem for the Braves in the later half of the year. How bad was it? In the second half of the season after Jim was traded and Grilli went down with injury a few days later, the Braves bullpen had an ERA of 5.03. That's terrible in the same way that getting stung to death by bees while getting eaten by a shark is terrible. It's dead last terrible.
But Grilli and Johnson together in the first half? They had a 2.94 and 2.25 set of ERA's respectively. If they can get remotely close to that in 2016 and you provide a decent 7th inning bridge? The Braves bullpen could be back in business. Now we just have to score some runs.