June 21, 2009 at 7:12 pm by Capitol Avenue Club under Atlanta Braves, Player Analysis, Slow Starts, Statistical Analysis
Kelly Johnson has produced a rather underwhelming 2009. He is currently hitting .224/.290/.374, all career lows. He is constantly accused of being a “streaky” hitter, one that will get hot for a few weeks and post MVP type numbers then fall into a slump for a few weeks where the production is simply not present. This season, we’re seeing more of the latter. This is especially disappointing considering the Braves are really counting on Kelly to produce. And unlike another member of the Braves that isn’t producing, Kelly hasn’t shown much reason to believe that he is incapable of producing. In fact, he showed quite the opposite in September of 2008 when he went on a tear hitting .398/.429/.643 with 9 doubles, 3 triples, and 3 homers. He scored 19 runs, drove in 19 runs, and posted an OPS+ of 167. A monster month. But that has hardly carried over.
Prior to that month he hit .263/.332/.403 on the season. Which isn’t terrible, but not the kind of production the Braves were seeking. Especially since he doesn’t play lights-out defense. A note about his defense, though. He hasn’t been a below average defender by any metric this season. According to +/- he’s 3 plays above average having saved 2 runs in the field, ranking him 11th among 2B. According to UZR he’s also an above average defender. Yes, he makes some gross errors at times, but he’s an above-average defender, so we live with it, especially when he’s hitting.
But he isn’t hitting. In fact, he’s hitting below replacement level. His VORP is currently -3.1. The only position players that have posted a more offensive VORP for the Braves are rookie Jordan Schafer, rookie utility player Diory Hernandez, journeyman pinch-hitting specialist Greg Norton, and (by a fairly wide margin clear of everyone else) Jeff Francoeur. Runs Created tells the same story. And you don’t even need statistics to explain the fact Kelly Johnson is sucking. This level of suckage is fairly un-heard of, but you do need statistics to explain the fact that he’s not actually bad, just unlucky.
Well, first of all, he’s still making solid contact with the ball, which is most important. His Line Drive % is still 16, right in line with his career average of 17. Sometimes you hit the ball hard but it’s right at someone. His strikeouts are actually down this year, so he’s putting the ball in play more frequently than he has in the past. His walks, however, are also down. For this I blame Terry Pendleton who attempted to change his approach so that, and I quote, “he’ll quit looking at so many called 3rd strikes”. What this means is Kelly has become more aggressive in general and especially with 2-strikes and this has caused his BB% to decline. And people wonder why other people want Terry Pendleton fired.
What is shocking about Kelly’s 2009 is his BABIP. It’s low. Off the charts low. From 2005-2008, his BABIP was .326. This season? .247. Once a ball is put in play a hitter has no control over where it goes. Sometimes you hit a ball hard but it’s right at someone. That sucks. You have to go sit down. Kelly has done this a lot lately. And if history tells us anything, it is that things regress towards the mean. And the mean isn’t at .247.
I am here to tell you that Kelly Johnson will get better. The balls he puts in play will fall for hits more often. They will. He’s a talented player, a former first round draft pick and has a fairly impressive track record at the MLB level. He’ll quit getting so un-lucky, his BABIP will regress towards the mean, and his other stats: batting average, OBP, SlG %, will rise accordingly. It will happen.
It’s hard to be patient, especially with a player who irritates as much as KJ does with his costly errors (a game against the Phillies comes to mind). But if you are patient, good things will come. And trading him now while his value is low and he’s due to preform better? Well that’s a silly idea. Unless the club trading for him is willing to grossly overpay. The best thing to do is just ride this out. Because he’s not a bad player, just getting terribly unlucky.
Francoeur, on the other hand…