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DJ Johnson walked too many batters in 2019

Johnson performed better as the season went on, but his command issues were still very apparent

Welcome to the 2019 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2019. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 25, DJ Johnson: 0.1 rWAR

I will begin by saying I had this article all set to go and then, wouldn’t you know it? DJ Johnson is released to pursue an opportunity to play in Japan the day before this is scheduled for publication.

I had a lot here about how Johnson might be utilized in 2020 and I still think there are good arguments to be made for him over some of the other relievers on the roster. That said, I’m going to go ahead and publish the article as I originally intended:

★ ★ ★

In last year’s Ranking the Rockies post about DJ Johnson, he was referred to as a possible “Cinderella Story.” Based on the path Johnson took to the big leagues and the success he had upon coming up as a 29-year-old rookie in 2018, it was a possibility. However, last year’s article also mentioned previous attempts at reclamation projects for the Colorado Rockies that did not become stars, like Stephen Cardullo. Is Johnson just a flash in the pan who has seen his best performances already pass him by? The answer is: maybe.

Johnson’s 2018 performance was impressive enough to earn him a spot on the major league roster to begin the 2019 season. After allowing six runs in 9 2/3 innings, he was sent back to Triple-A at the end of April.

After a couple additional back-and-forth moves between Colorado and Albuquerque, Johnson ended up getting most of his season’s work in the month of September. And he actually quietly became one of the better bullpen options. In September, Johnson pitched 10 2/3 innings of 1.69 ERA ball, collecting 11 strikeouts along the way.

His most impressive performance came on the final day of the regular season when he pulled off an absolute Houdini act against the Milwaukee Brewers. In the top of the 11th inning, Yency Almonte loaded the bases with no one out. Johnson came in. After a baserunning blunder by Ben Gamel resulted in an out at the plate, Johnson struck out the next two batters to escape the jam. Johnson came back out for the 12th and struck out an additional two Brewers in a 1-2-3 frame. It was truly one of the most exciting wins of the season as the Rockies ended up sweeping the Brewers to end a disappointing 2019 campaign on a positive note. And without Johnson’s role, that game could have turned out much differently

In all, Johnson pitched 25 innings in 2019, which is not a substantial sample from which to draw. But he did show promise at times. Will Johnson have a role on the 2020 team? It’s easier to envision if the Rockies find a way to unload the contracts of one or two of the big earners in the ‘pen—Wade Davis, Jake McGee and/or Bryan Shaw. But he still has options, so he can stay in Triple-A until he’s needed.

Ultimately, Johnson has shown he has the ability to miss bats and is also not particularly prone to the long ball, while also getting ground balls at a rate better than league average. Johnson’s Achilles’ heel is his lack of command, as he has walked six batters per nine innings over his time with the Rox. If he’s able to throw strikes more consistently, the Rockies could have one of their better internal bullpen options in Johnson.