By Matt Vensel
11:00 AM EDT, June 27, 2013
Jim Johnson walked off the mound at Camden Yards on Wednesday night, having just given up the one-run lead the Orioles had secured in the previous inning. A spattering of boos drizzled down upon him from above.
It was not what soggy and groggy fans wanted to see after sitting through an hour-long pregame rain delay.
I understand their frustration. I get that the paid ticket-holders have every right to boo whomever they feel like booing. But doesn’t Johnson, who leads the major leagues with 27 saves, deserve better than this?
Last season, Johnson was the most reliable closer in all of baseball. He didn’t overwhelm hitters but usually found a way to get it done. He converted 51 of his 54 save opportunities -- a ridiculous save percentage of 94.4 percent -- and had more saves than any Orioles closer had ever had in a single season.
Johnson was the biggest reason why the Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games last season, the best record in MLB history.
This April, he picked up where he left off. He converted his first 14 save opportunities, compiling a 0.95 ERA in the process.
Then came that ugly stretch in mid-May, the one that apparently had still left a bad taste in the mouths of some vocal O’s fans.
Johnson blew three straight save opportunities. And after he earned the win in his next appearance and secured a save in the one after that, he blew his fourth save of the season in the following appearance. The boos were definitely justifiable then, whether they were live and loud at the ballpark or echoing off television sets of Baltimore homes.
But Johnson had righted the ship since then, converting 12 straight save opportunities before the Cleveland Indians rocked his boat on Wednesday night in that frustrating late-inning loss. Johnson walked the first batter he faced and allowed a double to the next. The Indians were able to tie the game then take the lead on back-to-back RBI groundouts.
Now, Johnson is tied for the MLB lead with five blown saves. But then again, he has been in more save situations than any other reliever and has five more save opportunities than the next guys on the list. His 84.4 save percentage is 10 percent lower than his All-Star 2012 season, but it is the middle of the pack among qualifying closers and still well above the league average of 67 percent.
Even though some have long questioned his effectiveness as a closer, Johnson has been one of the best in baseball since manager Buck Showalter moved him into the role late in the 2011 season. Since September of that season, Johnson has converted 85 of 93 save opportunities -- a still pretty ridiculous save percentage of 91.4 percent in a large sample size.
After blowing four of five save opportunities in that stretch last month, he appeared to have turned his season around before Wednesday night. Maybe that loss was just one slip-up for Johnson, something that happens to the best of them. Or maybe it is the start of another rough stretch.
Hasn’t Johnson delivered enough over the past two years for fans to refrain from booing until we know for sure?
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