Despite Little Recognition, Josh Johnson Is the Best Pitcher in the NL

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Despite Little Recognition, Josh Johnson Is the Best Pitcher in the NL The best way to say it is straight and to the point, the same way the guy goes about his business and controls the game.

Josh Johnson is the best pitcher in the National League and will win the Cy Young Award this year.

Or, at least, he should.

In the “Year of the Pitcher,” the number of spectacular arms still throwing strong is double what it normally is at the start of August. In the NL alone, from young guns like the Padres’ Mat Latos and Cardinals’ Jaime Garcia to ageless vets Roy Halladay and Tim Hudson, plenty of pitchers are getting press.

That is, except for the one who really should be.

Josh Johnson has been a model of consistency through his 22 starts, and when a guy is consistently keeping his ERA below 2 (1.96 ERA through Aug. 6), that’s darn impressive. What else is impressive is the rest of Johnson’s stat line: 1.03 WHIP, 151 strikeouts to 36 walks, .216 opponents’ batting average and a baffling 19 consecutive quality starts, a streak that was just snapped in his most recent start on Aug. 1.

What doesn’t impress the casual fan, though, is his 10-4 record. But the erratic and often inept Marlins offense and raw bullpen can be blamed for that. Of his eight no decisions, seven were quality starts, and Johnson was also slapped with a loss after a seven-inning, no-earned-runs performance — because Halladay threw a perfect game.

Two months before Game No. 162 will go into the books, Johnson should be atop the Cy Young discussion, yet names such as Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Wainwright and Tim Lincecum take precedence. Here’s why those three don’t deserve the award as much as the Marlins’ 6-foot-7, 250-pound ace.

No one can deny that Ubaldo Jimenez was utterly unhittable in the first two and a half months of the season. On May 31, his ERA was an absurd 0.78. He was, without question, the best pitcher in the majors; but the question remained whether he could keep it up.

He couldn’t.

That’s not to say he has returned to his good-but-not-great form of seasons past. But that is to say that his 17-2 record is deceptive. The Rockies righty owns a respectable 2.61 ERA and 1.11 WHIP to pair with a very strong .201 opponents’ batting average. He’s also posted 17 quality starts, including 14 to open the season.

Over his last eight starts, however, Jimenez has appeared quite mortal. In 47 innings, he allowed 30 earned runs, good for a 5.74 ERA. Also since that May 31 cut-off, Jimenez has not recorded a scoreless start after rattling off six shutouts in his first 11 starts. While he must cope with the unfair reality that Coors Field is a hitter’s park, Jimenez needs to catch fire once again to show his Cy Young bid didn’t end in mid-June.

Then there’s the man who is an extremely close second to Johnson, Adam Wainwright. His 16-6 record in 24 starts fits the profile, unlike Jimenez, as the Cardinals ace holds a 2.07 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and .213 opponents’ batting average — numbers that are nearly identical to Johnson’s. Wainwright holds a sliver of an edge in quality starts (20) and shutouts (eight), but Johnson counters with a better K/BB ratio (4.19 to 3.66).

They are tiny, tiny differences in numbers that shouldn’t mean much, but they often do. The extra bump up the Cy Young list comes when comparing the Marlins’ and Cardinals’ staff.

St. Louis has turned into a pitching factory, churning out staff aces for the last handful of years. Wainwright remains virtually tied in Busch Stadium with fellow ace Chris Carpenter (2.91 ERA) for the honor of best pitcher, and can also call rookie sensation Jaime Garcia (2.53 ERA) a teammate. In Florida, Josh Johnson is it. Anibal Sanchez is having a decent year (8-7, 3.50 ERA), but the next best arm on staff is Ricky Nolasco (4.57 ERA). If Wainwright misses a few starts, the Cardinals likely survive; without Johnson, the Marlins crumble.

Lastly, the incessant chatter about last year’s NL Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum, is wholly unwarranted. He doesn’t have the stuff he did in 2009, yet no one seems to want to accept it. The Freak’s line is mostly pedestrian: 11-5, 3.15 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 58 walks and a .240 opponents’ batting average. His 159 strikeouts are always impressive, as are his 17 quality starts, but one could argue his three staffmates — Barry Zito, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez — have been just as good, if not better.

Johnson is one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and holds an incredible sub-2.00 ERA. If Ubaldo or Lincecum had that distinction, sports fans wouldn’t hear the end of it. But because the Marlins are the only team out of the four aforementioned not in the playoff hunt, Johnson has become an egregious afterthought.

The Cardinals, Giants and Rockies all have legitimate playoff aspirations and will fight for a spot until the last week. And while the Marlins slowly become obsolete, Josh Johnson will quietly go to work, almost guaranteeing a dominant pitching performance every fifth day.

The public may not hear enough about him, but by season’s end, it should. Josh Johnson deserves the NL Cy Young.

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