Pittsburgh Pirates Free Agent Target: Reliever Pierce Johnson

Veteran righty Pierce Johnson could be a free agent target for the Pirates
Oct 9, 2023; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Pierce Johnson (38) pitches
Oct 9, 2023; Cumberland, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Pierce Johnson (38) pitches / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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Veteran righty Pierce Johnson could fill a void in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen and become a target for the team in free agency

Looking ahead to the offseason, the Pittsburgh Pirates have multiple needs to address. One of these needs is to add a veteran reliever who is capable of helping in high-leverage situations. Righty Pierce Johnson could fit this bill.

The overall numbers on the 2023 season for Johnson were not great. In 62.2 innings pitched he posted a 4.02 ERA, 3.89 FIP, 10.8% walk rate, 32.5% strikeout rate, and a home run rate of 1.44 HR/9. However, it was a tale of two seasons for Johnson.

For the first four months of the season Johnson struggled mightily. Pitching for the Colorado Rockies, Johnson posted a 6.00 ERA and a 4.54 FIP in 39 innings pitched. While he walked 13.3% of batters faced, he still struck out a very healthy 30.9% of opposing batters.

Additionally, Pierce was burnt by an unsustainably high batting average on balls in play (BAbip) during his time with the Rockies. Johnson's BAbip with the Rockies was .408, which contributed to him allowing 7 home runs (1.62 HR/9).

In late July, Johnson was traded to the Braves. Following this trade, Johnson was a completely different pitcher. Johnson logged 23.2 innings pitched with the Braves, posting a 0.76 ERA and a 2.83 FIP.

Johnson walked just 5.6% of batters faced with Atlanta while his strikeout rate jumped to 36.0%. Additionally, he allowed just 3 home runs (1.14 HR/9). A big driving force behind Johnson's improvements with Atlanta was that is BAbip dropped to much more sustainable .265.

With the Braves, Johnson also did a better jon limiting quality contact. Opposing batters had an average exit velocity 91.4 MPH off of Johnson when he was with the Rockies, that dropped to 89.4 MPH with the Braves. His hard-hit rate dropped from 41.9% to 34.6%, while his line drive rate dropped from 31.7% to 19.2%.

Johnson found something with the Braves to tap into his stuff. He pitched better with the Rockies than the results indicated, and, to the credit of both Johnson and the Braves, he was able to figure things out post-trade.

This strong finish to the season could make Johnson a hot commodity on the free agent market. Johnson could fill the Pirate need for another reliable high-leverage arm in the bullpen to go with David Bednar, Carmen Mlodzinski, and Colin Holderman.

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