Sunday, August 04, 2013

The Braves' hidden star

A guy named Chris is really tearing the cover off the baseball after being traded from a team in Texas to a contender. If you wrote that sentence and showed it to most fans, they would immediately think of the Chris named Davis. But there is another one that is doing very good things for the Atlanta Braves and this one is named Chris Johnson.

Chris Johnson is currently leading the National League in batting. Surprised? Yes, me too. He is currently batting .344 with an on-base percentage of .385. His wOBA of .371 is eighteenth among all Major League regulars and just behind his teammate, Freddie Freeman, who is also having a very good season and is getting more ink about it than Johnson.

Those two corner infielders have become the cornerstones of the Braves' offense and there is no way anyone would have seen that coming. Both have on-base percentages over .380. While neither is very good on defense and on the base paths, they sure have been good at the plate.

Is this year's success of Chris Johnson a fluke? Is it an outlier? It could be. For a big guy and a corner infielder, you would like to see more power. His .479 slugging percentage is more based on his high hit totals and doubles (24) and not on his power (7 homers).

But what stands out about Johnson's great season is his BABIP. His current BABIP sits at .427. Holy smokes, that is high. But then again, his career BABIP is .365, so it is not like he has never been good at hitting balls where the fielders are not. The key to his high BABIP is his line drive percentage.

And from Johnson's career, the line drive percentage has always been high. His career 25.1% line drive percentage is up there with guys like Votto and Mauer. The difference between those guys and Johnson was that they did not strike out often so more balls in play led to more consistent production.

But Johnson has cut down on his strikeouts. His current rate of 20.9% is three percentage points lower than his career average. Combine that with his amazing 29.1% line drive percentage this season and you have more balls in play that are hit on a line and the batting average and the BABIP reflect the change. That line drive percentage is second in baseball to only Loney of the Rays. A higher line drive percentage than Votto and Mauer? Wow.

Chris Johnson is not without some negative offensive statistics. His walk rate is not good at 6.1% and is only one percentage point above his lifetime walk rate. He has a little better plate discipline than his earlier years with the Astros, but not by much. He still swings at 37 to 38 percent of pitches out of the zone (depending on the source you use). That is a free swinger by definition.

His swing and miss rate is in the double-digits, never a great thing. But we are quibbling here. The fact is that Chris Johnson is having a very, very good season. He has more than replaced Chipper over there at third and his defense there--not great--is about par to what Chipper was in his later years.

Chris Johnson has been quietly effective at the plate all season. He has not had a negative month at the plate. He is ringing line drives. Would you like to see more homers, less strikeouts and more plate discipline? Yes. But the bottom line is  that Chris Johnson, along with Freeman, has become a key component of the Braves offense and one that will ride straight into the playoffs.

8 comments:

baseball watcher said...

Freeman plays a great first base. Do you even watch baseball?

baseball watcher said...

Freeman plays a great first base. Do you even watch baseball?

Anonymous said...

Article says Chris Johnson from a team in Texas. I thought the Braves got him in the Justin Upton from the Arizona Diamondbacks trade that sent Martin Prado to arizona!!

Anonymous said...

Article says Chris Johnson from a Texas team. I thought he came to the Braves along with Justin Upton from the Arizona diamondbacks in the Martin Prado trade!!Or have they moved Arizona to Texas now!!

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

Watcher: Fangraphs has him with a -14.6 UZR over the past three years. Baseball-reference has him at a minus dWAR for all of the last three seasons. Want me to repeat that twice?

Anon: He was drafted by the Astros and played for them to start his career. But you are technically correct and the first paragraph is misleading.

Good thing I wrote something to praise Braves players. Imagine if I wrote a negative piece...

Anonymous said...

Freddie Freeman is awesome at saving potential errors from low or off line throws to first base. Perhaps the best I have ever seen. The stats simple don't do him justice in this area. He is however, a slow base runner.

Brian Cook said...

Freeman not good on defense??!! Appointment with Optometrist please...

James Dooley said...

You obviously do not watch baseball. Freeman is the best defensive first baseman in the National league, maybe both leagues.