Some fans might think that the Orioles are headed towards their 14th consecutive losing season and there’s no chance to reverse their fortunes, but there are a couple of bright spots worth noting; I am alluding to set up man Jim Johnson and relief pitcher Koji Uehara.
I’m sure most sports fans have not even noticed their work out of the Orioles’ bullpen because of the dark shadow cast by the rest of the relievers. Although the Birds’ relievers have struggled this season, these two late-inning hurlers have exceeded expectations.
I would not be surprised in the slightest if both Koji and Johnson are on the trading block at the end of the month because of how effective they have been over the last couple of seasons for the Birds out of the pen.
But, have these hurlers been overlooked due to another losing season in the making for the Orioles? I don’t think many people are familiar with these two athletes because they don’t get the type of media coverage that a Mariano Riveria receives and people just side-step their stats.
Johnson has been one of the most reliable relievers for the Orioles – not only this season but over the past three years. He’s served as their closer, as well as a regular bullpen reliever and now he’s found a home as Kevin Gregg’s set-up man.
While in the minors, Johnson made 127 starts. When he was called up to the majors for good in 2006, the Birds were in need of bullpen help and he’s been there ever since; he’s only made one start for the Birds in his career.
Johnson sports a 5-3 record with a 2.64 ERA in 58 innings of work this summer and he’s only appeared in 43 games for the struggling Baltimore club. He averages 1.35 innings per outing, which is equivalent to about an inning and a third each appearance.
Most relievers nowadays are only on the mound for an inning at most - and sometimes only a batter or two. Johnson has the ability to pitch more than one inning and be effective while out there as opponents are only hitting .256 off the right-hander.
This season, Johnson has tossed two innings on 12 occasions for the Orioles and he’s only pitched less than one inning in a game two times on the year (allowing one earned run over those two outings).
In April, Johnson tossed 11.2 innings in 10 appearances, allowed only 10 base hits, 2 HR and only five earned runs in the first month of the season. He allowed one of the two bombs in the first game of the season and finished the month with a 3.86 ERA.
As the weather heated up, so did Johnson. Over 14 May appearances, he surrendered five earned runs and one HR as he saw his ERA drop from 3.86 to 3.07 (2.55 ERA in the month). May 1st in Chicago was the last time Johnson allowed a homerun.
When the calendar pages turned to June, Johnson really found his release point and dominated opponents. In 12 June outings, he allowed only two earned runs, which equates to a 1.00 ERA in the month and his overall ERA fell from 3.07 to a season low 2.28.
July has been a bit more difficult for Johnson as he’s already allowed five earned runs in the month in 7 appearances out of the pen, but has yet to allow a homerun. His July ERA is 4.22 as it’s jumped from 2.28 to his current 2.64.
Johnson has never surrendered more than two earned runs in a single outing this season and he’s only allowed two earned on four occasions for the Birds. In 30 of his 43 appearances, Johnson did not surrender a single run.
He pitches much better at Camden Yards, which is surprising because Oriole Park is definitely a hitter-friendly ballpark. Johnson’s ERA at home this season in 24 games is a miniscule 1.75, while on the road, it jumps to over four (4.09).
Not only does the ERA jump between home and away games, but so does the OBA. At home, opponents only hit .211 off Johnson; on the road, it skyrockets to over three (.319).
One of Johnson’s more impressive statistics this season has been his ability to work in high-pressure late inning games. In 31.1 innings in late pressure situations, he sports a 2.11 ERA and has only allowed seven earned runs and 30 hits while opponents are hitting .250.
Jonson is on pace for 73 appearances this season and almost 100 innings (99 to be exact), which would both be career-highs. His previous career-high in outings was 64 when he tossed a career-high 70 innings in 2009.
If you thought Johnson’s numbers were impressive, Uehara’s numbers are even more staggering.
Uehara sports a 1-1 record with a minimal 1.84 ERA in 40 appearances out of the pen for the Birds this season. He’s tossed 44 innings in relief and allowed only 23 hits and nine earned runs for the faltering Orioles.
An even more imposing statistic for Uehara is his strike out to walk ratio, which currently sits at 7.25. He’s struck out 58 batters in those 44 innings and his K/9 ratio is 11.9. So, Koji strikes out about 12 batters every nine innings of work.
His ERA has dropped gradually each month from the highest at 2.79 (most relievers would die for a monthly ERA of 2.79) in April to 2.77 in the month of May to 1.35 throughout June. This month, his ERA is at zero as he’s tossed eight scoreless innings.
As for earned runs, the most he’s allowed in a single month was four in May. Over the first month of the season, he surrendered three earned and in June, he only gave up two in the entire month. Uehara did not allow his first earned run until his sixth appearance this season on April 20thagainst Minnesota.
Uehara has only given up six gopher balls throughout the entire season. Most pitchers allow six homeruns in a month and a half, or some, like starter Jeremy Guthrie, surrender six in less than a month.
Uehara, like Johnson, feels more comfortable on the mound at Oriole Park as his ERA is 1.73 in 23 appearances over 26 innings of work, but he’s actually allowed more runs at home (five) than on the road (four). On the road, his ERA is higher at 2.00 over 17 games and 18 innings of work.
Unlike Johnson, Uehara is more of a one inning reliever, although he does have the ability to rack up two inning appearances. He’s tossed two innings in four games this season and he’s only lasted less than one inning on two occasions.
The most impressive stat for Uehara this season has to be his WHIP, which currently is 0.70. That’s right; it’s well below one, which usually is considered very strong. For those not familiar with WHIP, it’s basically how many hits and walks allowed divided by innings pitched.
This season, the American League average is 1.45 and the MLB average is 1.41. Uehara leads all of baseball with his 0.70 WHIP while only 18 pitchers, both starters and relievers, sport a sub one WHIP.
Some of you might be thinking that this is Uehara’s one year to shine and he’ll never regain his form after this season like for example Sidney Ponson and the trade that sent him to the San Francisco Giants in 2003.
Last season, in his second season with the Birds, Uehara was 1-2 with a 2.86 ERA in 44 innings pitched, but he only appeared in 43 games due to a hamstring injury that landed him on the disabled list to begin the 2010 season.
Uehara led all American League pitchers in least amount of walks with five, and tied Houston’s Wilton Lopez; he also led the league with a strike out to walk ratio of 11.00 as he compiled 55 strike outs in those 40 innings of work.
So, I think that both Jim Johnson and Koji Uehara have been overlooked and are underrated relievers in the American League. They both possess astounding statistics and have led the Orioles bullpen over the last two seasons. Any team would be lucky to have either one of these hurlers and I really think Uehara will be on the trading block come July 31st.
On Another Note
Buck Showalter announced this afternoon that there is a chance that Johnson will be able to start a few games towards the end of the season. I think this would be a great move for the Orioles because he has experience as a starter and he’s obviously has proved that he can throw strikes and induce ground balls with his nasty sinker.
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About the Author
Written by Alex Van Rees
I am 22 years old and I recently graduated from James Madison University this May with a BA degree and a major in journalism. I live in Reston, VA, about 20 minutes outside of Washington. I am looking for an entry-level position with a sports media company where I can demonstrate my writing, interviewing and technical skills to better the organization.