Last month I posted "One Call Away: 30 Starting Pitchers Who Could Join a Rotation before Long." With today's news that the White Sox have DFA'd veteran LHP John Danks and replaced him with RHP Erik Johnson, exactly half of those 30 pitchers now have made or are scheduled to make at least one start in 2016. While the attrition rate among fringe starters such as Danks remains as high as ever, not all replacements deserve immediate consideration in fantasy circles. Could Johnson be one of them?
Over the weekend I happened to watch Johnson and the Charlotte Knights (White Sox) take on LHP Daniel Norris and the Toledo Mud Hens (Tigers) of the Triple-A International League. Both SPs, of course, have limited MLB experience, but in this game neither one of them performed well. A rehabbing Cameron Maybin deposited Johnson's very first pitch over the left field wall and later hit a rocket of an RBI-double. In the early innings quite a few of Johnson's pitches were hard hit, in particular his fastball, which appeared to top out at 89 MPH. Jack McDowell, former MLB pitcher and the Knights' current color analyst, made repeated comments about how Johnson's mechanics were out-of-whack. To his credit, Johnson settled in, made the necessary adjustments, and did enough (5 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 1 K) to come out with a win, though it did take him 104 pitches to get through those five innings, and he got the win only because Norris (3 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 71 total pitches) was even worse.
The good news is that since the beginning of 2015 Johnson has not had many bad outings. Last season he started the IL All-Star Game, finished the Triple-A campaign with a 2.37 ERA and 136 K in 123.2 IP, and then put together a nice six-game run in September with the big club (3-1, 3.34 ERA, 30 K in 35 IP). The weekend's struggles notwithstanding, his 2016 numbers at Charlotte look similar (1-1, 3.74 ERA, 16 K in 21 IP).
Owners in deep dynasty leagues should be eager to plug Johnson into their lineups. For several years Danks and his lucrative contract have hung like an albatross around the back end of the White Sox rotation. Johnson represents an upgrade with some upside.
In standard, re-draft roto leagues, however, I originally recommended monitoring Johnson upon his arrival, and I hold to that recommendation. Johnson enters the Chicago rotation without much short-term momentum. He comes off an outing in which his fastball velocity and mechanics were not what he would have liked. Keep an eye on him, of course, but there's no need to pick him up right away.