A journeyman pitcher with excellent control, Ken Johnson was one of the Braves’ stalwarts in the first years in Atlanta. He went 14-8, 3.30 in the inaugural season, followed by 15-9, 2.74. Those ERAs sound better than they were, because everybody had sub-4 ERAs back then, if not sub-3. Nonetheless, his ERA+ for those years are 110 and 121, so he was clearly among the league’s best starters: probably top ten in the league in ‘67, particularly considering he had to pitch half his games at AFCS. And the wins were real. He also posted a 13-8, 3.21 record in the club’s last year in Milwaukee. He averaged right at 2 BB/9 for the Braves.
1965-1967 were also probably his best years as a pitcher, period. He got hurt in 1968, and was traded midseason in 1969 to the Yankees for greenbacks.
Ken’s real claim to baseball immortality was pitching a no-hitter, for the Astros (then the Colt .45s) and losing 1-0 on two errors in the ninth, one of them his.
Does he belong in the Elect 44? I would say he squeaks in. He was an absolutely dependable top of the rotation guy for the Braves’ early years. I would definitely give him the nod over Ron Reed, and pretty dead even with Leibrandt, and a little below guys like Mahler, Jarvis, and Mercker: Johnson was as good or better, but for a shorter period, than those three. I don’t know if his injury in 1968 disqualified him under Mac’s three-full-season rule, but he threw 135 innings that year, with 13 decisions, so that’s good enough for me.
Extra commentary by Mac: The reason is simply that I ran my stat lists from 1966-2005, and without his 1965 2/3 season with Milwaukee Johnson doesn’t have enough innings or starts to stand out. For example, from 1965-2005 he is 13th in wins; from 1966-2005 he is tied for 20th with Mike Hampton. I don’t know that I would have listed him, but without it he fell well behind Jarvis, etc.
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