Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com: (July 14, 2018 – Source: Getty Images North America)
The Boston Red Sox just had one exciting weekend, sweeping the New York Yankees in a four-game set. They are now 9 and 1/2 games ahead of New York in the American League East with a 92.6 percent chance of winning the division, per Fangraphs.
Steve Pearce hit four homers in the series, including three on Thursday. Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi both pitched gems in game two and three. To top it off, the Sox mounted an improbable comeback in the bottom 9th to tie the game and eventually win it in extras in the last game of the series.
There were lots of positive and interesting storylines to follow from Boston’s side. With that said, there was something very odd that happened in the first game of the series that needs to be addressed. Brian Johnson recorded 11 strikeouts in 5 innings against the Yankees.
If this were Chris Sale, we would be beating a dead horse. He racks up double digits strikeout games like the Red Sox do wins. Johnson, on the other hand, does not do this.
In fact, he has made seven starts this season and the most he has struck out in a game has been five.
He doubled his strikeout total and then some against the toughest opposing lineup in the MLB. To be fair, the Yankees have the 8th-highest team K% (strikeout percentage) in baseball at 23.0 percent. They were a slightly easier team to garner punchouts against but that should not have caused Johnson to experience such a huge blip.
For his career, the southpaw’s previous game high in strikeouts was eight. This came against the Seattle Mariners in May 2017 yet he did so in nine innings. In that game, his K/9 was 8.00, which is less than a batter per inning and aligned with his career norm. Meanwhile, on Thursday night his K/9 was a staggering 19.80, which is over two batters an inning.
Even weirder was the fact he did not induce all that many swing and misses in his 11-strikeout game. His SwStr% (swinging strike percentage) was a respectable 12.5 percent. This is an above-average number for the 27 year old but is the fifth-best SwStr% he has accumulated in an appearance this season and the second best in a 2018 start.
Further, it is not even like Johnson had a great start. He allowed 5 runs (4 earned) and three homers in his five-inning affair. For comparison, he had only allowed 4 earned runs over his last four starts combined.
So, how did the man with a fastball that averages 88.5 mph manage to attain 11 strikeouts in 5 innings?
It was a mixture of getting swings and misses at the right time and catching Yankees hitters off guard. Six of his 11 strikeouts were off a swing and miss while the other five were called strike three. He also did not favor one pitch to yield all of his strikeouts. Well, actually, he did not even favor two pitches to get the majority of his punchies.
Four of his strikeouts came off his four-seam fastball, four others came off his slider and the final three were off his curveball. For a guy who throws each of those pitches close to 20 percent of the time, it is not very surprising he had the healthy mix of put-away pitches.
Johnson had to throw 104 pitches in this contest, which is his season high by a considerable margin. His previous high was 84 pitches and he did so twice this year.
Then, there is this Tweet which seems a little arbitrary but is still sort of interesting.
Brian Johnson of the @RedSox is done after 5 innings, but they were quite eventful.
Johnson is the first pitcher in the live-ball era to tally 11+ strikeouts and allow 3+ homers in an outing of no more than 5 innings.#DirtyWater
— Stats By STATS (@StatsBySTATS) August 3, 2018
Truthfully, it seems like we may have witnessed Brian Johnson’s single-game high in the strikeout department. It would be pretty extraordinary to see him sit down this many people by way of the “K” again. In a lot of ways, he did not have his best start but in one way he did.
With Sale still on the mend, Johnson will be saved from going back to the bullpen and will start against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday. In other words, he will have the opportunity to go for 12 strikeouts. Now that would be pretty remarkable but, as we witnessed last night, remarkable things can happen.