What a boring name. Can you get more vanilla than Chris Johnson? I’ll answer for you – no. In 2011 Johnson’s performance matched the term “vanilla.” In fact, he may not have even risen to that level. For the first half of the 2012 season it was more of the same for Johnson, that is until he was dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks after which time he performed like an all-star run producer. So which player is Johnson – a guy you don’t bother even looking at or someone who you can add, cheaply, and find yourself smiling when the 2013 season is completed?
In 2010, Johnson appeared in 94 games for the Astros. If you just look at the numbers you would be giddy if you had Johnson in a dynasty league as his first extended stretch in the big leagues resulted in a .308 average, 11 homers and 52 RBIs, a pace that would equate to 18 homers and 83 RBIs over 150 games. Not bad for a first season, right?
In 2011 Johnson appeared in 107 games for the Astros, and to say he took a step back wouldn’t tell the story. Johnson hit .251, a .057 point drop. Johnson hit seven homers, four fewer than 2010 despite 37 more at-bats. He also drove in 10 fewer runs (42) while also scoring eight fewer times (32). His OPS fell from a solid .818 to a poor .670. If I was a teacher giving out pass/fail marks Johnson’s sophomore campaign was a fail.
In 2012 Johnson was solid with the Astros hitting .279 with eight homers and 41 RBIs in 92 games, but after he was sent to the D’backs his level of production took off. Johnson hit .286, ten points above his career mark, while going deep seven times with 35 RBIs in 44 games. That’s a pace for 24 homers and 119 RBIs folks. So is this guy on the cusp of busting out? The short answer is – no.
Johnson has a huge flaw, and I’m talking one you could drive an 18 wheeler through. The guy just doesn’t have a clue about the strike zone. To draw a parallel, he has less of an idea of the strike zone that I do about astrophysics. Johnson has a 24.7 percent K-rate for his career, a bad number. Unfortunately, that number isn’t as rare as it should be in this day an age, but that doesn’t excuse Johnson. To give you a concrete number, Johnson has averaged 133 Ks per 500 at-bats in his young career. If it was only the strikeouts we could live with it but it’s when you combine that K rate with a lack of walks, oh boy, we’ve got issues. Johnson has walked 63 times… in his career. Ryan Braun walked 63 times last season. Johnson draws a walk every 21 plate appearances. That means he takes a walk about every five games. That’s awful. In a 348 game big league career Johnson has a 0.19 BB/K ratio. That’s not even half of the big league average. Not even half.
Johnson has been able to have success despite a lack of walks and too many strikeouts, partially, because of his .347 career BABIP. Is he one of the rare hitters who can post a mark that high year after year? It’s not impossible to think he could, but let’s say it strains credulity to think that mark won’t come down moving forward. A corollary to that position would be his career 24 percent line drive rate, a tremendous number (league average is 19-20) that does support that BABIP mark. Still, history suggests that both of those numbers are likely to recede. Just take a look at 2011. When Johnson’s BABIP fell to a still strong .317 his batting average dipped to .251.
As for his power, there’s nothing at all to see there. Johnson’s 500 at-bat average would lead to a total of 13.4 homers per season. For a corner infielder that’s a terrible number when that same player has stolen a total of 10 bases in his career. Johnson’s fly ball rate is 33 percent for his career. That’s not even the big league average (36 percent). His 10.9 percent HR/F ratio is about one percent above the big league average. Any advantage he gains there is lost when you look at his low fly ball mark.
Here are the facts.
Johnson strikes out too much.
Johnson never walks.
Johnson’s power is below league average for a third baseman.
Johnson never steals bases.
Johnson is walking a tightrope, without a net, in terms of his ability to help in batting average.
Don’t be fooled into thinking a breakout is immanent with Johnson. It’s not.
By Ray Flowers