As we head down the stretch, the name at the top of the pitcher WAR leaderboard might be surprising, but it shouldn’t be shocking. The title reveals that the leader in pitcher WAR at this point, nearly 85% of the way through the season, is Florida Marlins ace Josh Johnson – not Roy Halladay, nor Ubaldo Jimenez, not Cliff Lee, not Felix Hernandez, and not CC Sabathia. Johnson is establishing himself as possibly the best pitcher in the game, coming off a 5.5 WAR, 209 IP, 3.23 ERA, 3.06 FIP 2009 season and posting even more remarkable numbers in 2010. In 183 innings this season, Johnson has a 2.30 ERA and a 2.44 FIP – good for 6.3 WAR to date.
By no means is the race over. Halladay, Francisco Liriano, Lee, and Hernandez are all within 0.4 WAR of Johnson and could certainly catch him over the course of a few more starts. That said, it certainly doesn’t feel like Josh Johnson’s season has received the play that it deserves, whether it be in this space or across the country. Everybody already knows about Roy Halladay. Cliff Lee’s K/BB numbers are prepared to shatter records. Ubaldo Jimenez’s season began with the ludicrous ERA and the possibility of a 25 win season. Francisco Liriano gets the huge NERD scores for an ERA which remains nearly a run above his FIP due to an inexplicable .344 BABIP. Perhaps it’s because I live in the Midwest and therefore see little of Johnson on TV, but it feels that the attention given to Johnson’s season pales in comparison to those of these pitchers, not to mention guys like Clay Buchholz and CC Sabathia who have sparkly traditional numbers on playoff teams.
There’s no reason whatsoever not to like Josh Johnson’s season. He has a respectable 11-6 record with a 2.30 ERA. He has struck out 186 batters in 183 innings while walking only 48 and allowing only 7 homers. He has kept 46% of balls in play on the ground. His swinging strike rate of 11.8% rivals those of top relief pitchers. He hits the zone more than the average pitcher, and gets the first strike nearly 65% of the time. Basically, Johnson does everything that you can ask out of a pitcher, and for that reason Johnson has been the best pitcher in baseball according to our WAR, and I find it difficult to argue with that conclusion.
Between 2009 and 2010, Josh Johnson has now posted 11.8 wins above replacement. Projecting pitchers can be dangerous, but Johnson has a powerful fastball, fantastic secondary stuff, an ability to strike batters out, and solid control of the strike zone. Only a select few pitchers in the game can challenge the arsenal of picthes and skills that Johnson brings to the mound every single time out. That’s why Josh Johnson leads the league in WAR coming down the stretch of the season, and that’s why Josh Johnson just might be the single best pitcher in baseball.
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