Josh Johnson’s fastball is very good. But against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday, it was nearly unhittable -- and this was against the eighth-best fastball hitting team in the majors.
FanGraphs’ pitch type run values had Johnson racking up 1.42 runs for every 100 fastballs thrown (a career-best ratio). And though he wouldn’t throw 100 heaters on Sunday -- only 61 four-seamers -- he was every bit as dominant as that number suggests, and perhaps more.
Johnson’s final line on the day included eight innings, six hits, one earned run on a Carl Crawford home run, zero walks, and nine strikeouts on 117 pitches -- 87 of which were strikes (74 percent). Each of Johnson’s main pitches were whiffed at least 10 percent of the time: 13.3 percent of his 30 sliders; 17.7 percent of his 17 change-ups; and 21.3 percent of his 61 four-seam fastballs. He also threw a handful of two-seam fastballs, but the story of the day was Johnson’s four-seamer which averaged 95 miles per hour and topped out just shy of 98 MPH.
In Johnson’s prior 14 starts, batters were swinging and missing at his four-seam fastballs a little less than 10 percent. Sunday was different: Johnson usually throws the pitch for strikes 65 percent of the time, but on Sunday, more than 80 percent of his four-seamers were a strike of any variety. Johnson pounded the zone with heat and the Rays simply couldn’t do much with the pitch all day, either missing or fouling them off. The most egregious offender was Jason Bartlett, who in one plate appearance facing Johnson managed four swings and whiffed on three of them.
Of course it’s hard to blame Bartlett for such struggles as he was essentially fed to a roaring lion. Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena both missed on four Johnson pitches, but they saw nine and seven pitches apiece. In fact, only two Rays who faced Johnson managed to make contact on every swing -- those being Reid Brignac and John Jaso on a combined 10 swings. That may not seem like a big accomplishment, but on Sunday it was one worthy of enshrinement.
Rays vs. Johnson
They were overmatched, especially on four-seam fastballs.
R.J. Anderson is a writer for FanGraphs.