Jim Johnson and the Ghost of Closers Past

BALTIMORE, MD - AUGUST 24: Jim Johnson #43 of the Baltimore Orioles celebrates with Matt Wieters #32 after a 6-4 victory against the Toronto Blue Jays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 24, 2012.

Jim Johnson is now squarely placed second on the list for the Orioles all time single season saves record with 41, a number that also presently leads the majors. Whether or not you fancy the save rule (and I believe we all know a certain character that eschews said rule in favor of the win rule), it's a milestone that sort of brings to mind how wacky and improbable this season has been. What follows is a brief look at some of the best seasons by Orioles closers measured by rWAR.

Tippy Martinez. Perhaps owing to the evolution of the closer role, perhaps owing to the bullpen management style of Earl Weaver, Tippy was really more of a role player in a committee with other members such as Don Stanhouse, Tim Stoddard and Sammy Stewart. With the reign of Joe Altobelli, however, came the lion's share of save opportunities for Martinez. His 1983 season is the one in which he earned the most saves by far (21) in his career and pitched the most innings of his career (103.1) at the age of 33. The 1983 season was the only one in which he was credited with more than 17 saves and was the last time he had an ERA under 3.00. Tippy Martinez is credited with being worth 3.2 rWAR for 1983 and is second on the Orioles career saves list with 105.

Gregg Olson. The Orioles pen was essentially rudderless following the decline and fall of Tippy until the greatest closer in Orioles history, Gregg Olson, was drafted. Olson never put up eye popping numbers, but his 1989 ranks as another of the truly great seasons from a closer in Orioles history. On his way to an unanimous Rookie of the Year vote, Olson struck out 90 batters in 85 innings, notched 27 saves and posted an ERA+ of 224. Olson's 3.1 rWAR for the Why Not O's of 1989 ranks near the top among Orioles closers. Though Olson owns the Orioles career saves record, he never had a single season as great as his rookie year.

Randy Myers. Myers was one of the more inspired signings of the brief Pat Gillick era. The Orioles had struggled to find stability at the back of the pen in the post-Olson era turning to a past his prime Lee Smith and the awful, indestructible Doug Jones. While 1996 saw Myers post a 1.1 HR/9 and BB/9 approaching 4.5 for the second consecutive season, his 11.4 K/9 was a career best. In 1997, Myers would set the Orioles single season save record with 45. While his strikeout numbers that year were underwhelming, Myers allowed only two home runs in nearly 60 innings and paired a 1.51 ERA with a 1.15 WHIP. Myers 1997 rWAR? 3.0.

Overall, the best single relief season by an Oriole I've been able to find in terms of rWAR is B.J. Ryan's 2004 in which he posted a 3.3 (87 IP, 122 K, 4 HR, 1.13 WHIP, 200 ERA+). Also, Dick Hall was credited with 6 saves in 1962, made 6 starts and pitched in 43 games earning a 3.1 rWAR.

How does Jim Johnson stack up to these legends of Birdland? Johnson's K/9 of 5.53 exceeds his career low, but has declined every year since 2009. He has allowed three home runs in 55.1 innings and his ERA is 2.93 (with FIP and xFIP of 3.39/3.59). Johnson's WHIP currently checks in at .99 and his GB rate is a career best 64.9%. His rWAR is 1.5, while his fWAR is 1.0.

With 5 saves and 32 games to go until the end of the regular season, the single season record seems within reach for Johnson. Johnson's save numbers by month this year are 7, 9, 7, 8 (he has 10 in August). Perhaps it is instructive when considering the value of the save to note that Johnson earned 8 saves in a month in which he allowed 13 earned runs while pitching to the tune of an 11.70 ERA and a 2.40 WHIP.

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