After a few solids seasons as a relief pitcher in San Diego, the Colorado Rockies decided to pick Pierce Johnson up on a one-year deal. Despite being expected to overtake a key role in the Rockies’ bullpen, the first half of the year did not go well for the right-handed reliever, and that’s putting it lightly.
In 39 innings, Johnson pitched to the tune of a poor 6.00 ERA, 4.54 FIP, and 1.85 WHIP. Johnson had walked 13.3% of opponents faced and a 1.62 HR/9 rate are two of the reasons why he struggled so badly. Of the few positives, his 30.9% strikeout rate was well above the league average.
Now granted, a .408 batting average on balls in play did not do Johnson any favors. But when you’re dishing out walks to over 13% of the batters you face while allowing over 1.5 home runs per nine innings, the numbers aren’t going to be pretty regardless. In spite of his poor numbers, the Rockies were able to off-load him to the Atlanta Braves.
This is where Johnson started to turn things around. Johnson had an astounding rebound with the Braves down the line. In his final 22.2 innings of the year, Johnson owned a 0.79 ERA, 3.08 FIP, and 0.93 WHIP. Johnson’s strikeout rate increased to 33.7%, while his HR/9 dipped to 1.19. But the real improvement was his walk rate. Johnson all of a sudden became allergic to walks, only posting a 5.8% BB% for Atlanta. Johnson became so effective for Atlanta that they regularly gave him appearances in the 7th and 8th innings.
While the right-handed reliever did great for the Braves, is any of it sustainable? Well possibly so. Johnson had a sub-2.00 xFIP and SIERA for the Braves. Johnson’s .265 batting average on balls in play is a tad low for him, but his ground ball rate shot up above 50% for the Braves. Johnson had just a 3.8% barrel rate. Sure, he might not be a sub-1.00 ERA pitcher, but very few are, and Johnson still could continue to pitch well into 2024.