Can Josh Johnson Be 2014's Ervin Santana?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Or was Ervin Santana 2013's version of a a younger Josh Johnson?

Josh Johnson was awful in 2013.  He made just 16 starts, spending two stints on the disabled list and starter his off-season by having arthroscopic surgery on his elbow to remove 'loose bodies' and a bone spur.

When actually pitching, Johnson gave up a full home run more per nine innings than in any other season in his career.  Eighteen percent of flyballs off Johnson left the park after having never been higher than 9% in any previous season.   His walk rate continued to creep upward, reaching 3.32 per innings:  the highest since 2007. Not surprisingly, Johnson allowed more hits per nine innings than ever before.

Let's face it, Josh Johnson was not very good in 2013 and not very healthy.   Health has always been an issue, as only once in his career has Johnson not missed a start - although to be fair, he started 31 games in another season and 28 in a third.

On the plus side, when healthy, Josh Johnson can be really good.   In 2013, his velocity was still solid and Johnson still struck out a batter per inning.  He suffered from some bad luck as well, being tagged for a .356 BABIP mark.   His FIP was 4.62, xFIP was 3.58 and SIERA had him at 3.73.

It seems reasonable to expect Johnson to be viewed with a good deal of skepticism by many team - given his injury history and it also seems logical that Johnson would entertain a one year deal to rebuild his market value.  What better place than a team that plays in a home run neutralizing ballpark and has a good defense?

Now, perhaps I (and others) have misread the market and teams will look at the still present velocity and the ability to miss bats and offer Johnson multiple years and decent - maybe big - dollars.   They certainly might look at Johnson as the kind of pitcher who could pull an Ervin Santana.

However, if the market for Johnson really is a one year deal with incentives in an effort to rebuild his value and hit the free agent market again in 2014, then I would advocate the Royals be in big and early on this soon to be 30 year old hurler.  In a 'go for it' year, a one year deal for Johnson makes sense and seems like a reasonable gamble.  It fits the financial constraints, real or imagined, under which David Glass runs his organization.

Kansas City is not a looming juggernaut.  While they won 86 games in 2013, the Royals will still need some lightning in a bottle to be a real contender in 2014.  A guy like Johnson can bring that lightning...or he might make 11 bad starts, 2 good ones and spend most of the summer on the disabled list.

Still, on a one year deal at, say, $7 million with some incentives for innings pitched, I say that is a gamble worth taking for the Royals.

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