Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Chris Johnson: Maybe He's Okay

While I skipped out on blogging - you know, that ten month period - the Braves completed a trade that sent Martin Prado and youngsters to the Diamondbacks for Justin Upton and Chris Johnson.  The former was the target, a guy who legitimately could, and maybe should, be a perennial MVP contender.  The latter was Prado's replacement, and ultimately, the guy tasked with the unenviable job of replacing Chipper Jones at third.  No one likes to replace a legend.  Most prefer to be the second guy after the trails and tribulations of the first guy.

Nevertheless, Johnson took over after two months as the everyday guy after the Braves rightfully sent Juan Francisco packing.  Earlier this year, Johnson even served as Freddie Freeman's replacement when Freeman was DL'd with oblique issues.

Two things are consistent about Johnson.  Notably, the guy can hit.  While with the Astros in 2010, Johnson hit .308/.337/.481 over 362 PA.  Last year, while spending time with both the 'Stros and D'Backs, Johnson hit a robust .281/.326/.459 in 528 PA.  The ability to hit is there, though it's a bit much to expect his .327 current batting average to sustain itself.  While he doesn't have enough AB's to qualify for the hitting title, his .404 BABIP ranks tops among players with 200 or more PA.  He's typically carried a fairly high BABIP, though.  For his career, it's .356 and he eclipsed that mark in 2010 and nearly did last year as well.  In fact, since 2010, only three players have a better BABIP than Johnson.  A .400 BABIP, though, is pretty difficult to maintain over a full season.  Over the last 15 seasons, only Jose Hernandez in 2002 and Manny Ramirez in 2000 have finished the season with a BABIP above .400, though it is considerably more common to at least carry a .390 or better BABIP into the clubhouse after the final game of the season.

Everything tells me that Johnson's numbers will fall.  While he's carrying the best walk and strikeout rates of his career, both are only minimally better than his career numbers.   There's nothing in his batted ball rates to say "Ah ha!  That explains it!"  His first-pitch strike percentage is down about 4%, but that's not that telling either.  He's a product of his BABIP, and while its success is almost definitely not sustainable, there's reason to believe that it won't take a monster dive in the second half so he should finish with a new high there and could finish the season with career numbers.

The other consistent for Johnson was his glove and his inability to use it.  Defensively, he has more than lived up to his billing as one of the worst defenders at third base in the game.  Since 2010, no one has a worse UZR and played 1000 innings at third base than Johnson.  He has the worst Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) at third with -44.  In a way, that says he cost his teams 44 runs by just having him at third base.  As many qualms I had with Chipper's defense, Johnson makes him look damn good.  That's why in 49 game starts at third this season, he has played an entire game 30 times.  When the Braves can, they replace him in the field because he's such a defensive liability.  Formally, the job of being Johnson's defensive replacement fell on Ramiro Pena.  Now, the job is Paul Janish's.  If the Braves go out and acquire bench help, I'd put 20 bucks on the Braves seeking out someone to play defense at third late in games.

But Johnson doesn't lie to you.  He doesn't have a random good UZR one year, show remarkable improvement in plate discipline in a fluke season, or a considerable rise in power ala Brady Anderson.  He is what he's always been.  A good hitter, an awful fielder, and never the guy you are okay with as your long-term option at third.

In 2013, though, he'll do.

He'll do just fine. 

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