I was happy when the Tigers signed Jim Johnson to a minor league contract on August 6th. Less than a year removed from a 50 save season with the Baltimore Orioles, Johnson flamed out in spectacular fashion with the Oakland Athletics. He lost the closer job in seemingly record time, then flailed away in mop-up duty until the A's released him on August 1st.
The Tigers were betting that they could get the 31 year old sorted out, and who could blame them? Johnson put up back-to-back 50 save seasons with a sub-3.00 ERA for the Orioles. He was an All-Star in 2012 and had a career 3.11 ERA in 400 innings heading into the 2014 season. The potential of acquiring a pitcher like that for a prorated share of the league minimum in August was tempting for obvious reasons.
It didn't happen. Johnson spent 10 days at Triple-A Toledo, where he allowed three runs (two earned) in 4 2/3 innings. The command issues that Johnson displayed in Oakland -- he walked 23 batters in 40 1/3 innings with the A's -- did not reveal themselves in the minor league box scores. He walked just one of the 20 batters he faced in the minor leagues and allowed four hits. This was seemingly good enough for the Tigers, who called him up on August 16th.
Johnson made his Tigers debut the next day against the Seattle Mariners. He started the top of the sixth inning in relief of Robbie Ray, with the Tigers already trailing 4-0. Six batters later, Johnson had allowed two runs (one earned) and the Mariners led 6-0. Johnson was lifted from the game, and Blaine Hardy allowed an RBI single to Kyle Seager for a seventh Mariners run. Johnson was only charged with one earned run, but the stage was set for things to come.
Four of Johnson's next six appearances were scoreless outings, but a couple of meltdowns sullied his stat line. Through the month of August, Johnson gave up nine runs (six earned) in six innings of work. Even more damning was Johnson's abysmal 0.57 strikeout-to-walk ratio and .842 OPS allowed. Somehow, he came out of that mess with a 1-0 record.
September was better, but not by much. Johnson allowed four runs in seven innings for an improved 5.14 ERA. He tallied 10 strikeouts to five walks and held opponents to a .544 OPS. However, most of his innings came in low leverage situations. Five of the nine games he pitched in were losses and he did not factor in a decision. The four Tigers wins that Johnson appeared in were by a combined 26 runs. His leash became so short that he threw one pitch -- and allowed an earned run -- in an outing against the Minnesota Twins on September 26th.
Johnson was left off the Tigers' playoff roster.
There's no way to sugarcoat Johnson's performance with the Tigers into a passing grade. He was bad. He allowed 13 runs (10 earned) in 13 innings with the Tigers. He had 14 strikeouts and 12 walks, but did not allow a home run. His 5.20 xFIP and 4.69 SIERA indicate that he wasn't quite as bad as his 7.09 ERA suggests, but still quite awful. Was it worth a shot? Sure, and the Tigers were smart enough to limit the damage he could do in September. But it didn't work.