Arizona Raids Non-Tender Market, Adds Kelly Johnson

After a disappointing season with Atlanta, 27 year old 2B Kelly Johnson was non-tendered and hit the market. In a deal made official on Wednesday, Arizona added Johnson for one year and $2.35M, who will become the Diamondbacks starting 2B in 2010, replacing Felipe Lopez, who was traded to Milwaukee before the 2009 trading deadline.

Johnson’s career was off to a great start with Atlanta. In his first three seasons in the majors, Johnson posted wRC+ numbers of 99, 121, and 116, and even despite poor defense at 2B, Johnson compiled 7 WAR in those first 3 seasons.

Johnson fell off a cliff in 2009, however. His defensive numbers rose to average for the first time in his career, but his wRC+ fell to a putrid 86, leading to his first season below 1.0 WAR. With a .224/.303/.389 triple slash line, GM Frank Wren had enough, and the team did not tender a contract to Johnson. Said contract would likely have garnered in the 3-4 million dollar range, given Johnson’s 2009 salary of 2.85M, his second year arbitration status, and his poor 2010 season.

That said, Johnson is a perfect breakout candidate. We saw nothing in his plate discipline or isolated power numbers to suggest that 2009 was anything more than a product of poor luck on balls in play. After 2007 and 2008 years with BABIPs above .330, regression (and more) hit Johnson in the worst way. His BABIP nosedived all the way to .249, leading to the 50 point AVG and OBP drop and 80 point SLG drop that resulted in the worst season of his career.

With this in mind, it is much more likely to see a year with production akin to 2008 – .346 wOBA, 112 wRC+ – than 2009. Especially if Johnson’s UZR numbers are truly an indication of increased defensive skills, Johnson could approach the 3 WAR level, if not surpass it – a number that compares very favorably with Mark DeRosa, who signed with the Giants for leaving the D’Backs with a great asset for not only 2010 but also 2011, Johnson’s third year of arbitration.

What we see here with this move is Arizona taking advantage of the largest pool of talented arbitration eligible players in recent memory that has resulted from the downturn in the economy. Not only do the Diamondbacks pick up a talented player with a high chance of rebound for 2010, they also pick him up at a below-market rate in 2011. We also saw this with the Nationals signing of Matt Capps. One of the major stories from this offseason could be the development of this market. We do know one thing: the Diamondbacks played it perfectly with their addition of Johnson.




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19 Responses to “Arizona Raids Non-Tender Market, Adds Kelly Johnson”

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  1. Sky says:

    Good point about these being multi-year deals. Well, single year deals with options, really.

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  2. MBD says:

    I think it’s worth noting that KJ’s LD% fell from 24.7% in 2008 to 17.9% in 2009; that’s a big drop. His walk rate has also fallen to the single digits the last 2 years after a nice 13% mark in 2007. Here’s hoping the move to AZ and the removal of uncertainty about his position help him out.

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    • heyyoo says:

      Then it should also be worth noting that his LD rate was 18.8% in 2007, when his BABIP was .330

      In both 2007-2008 he had a similar FB rate,(38% and 36%) but his FB rate went up in 2009 to over 43%. I think this, and some bad luck, have more to do with his BABIP than the drop in LD rate.

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      • MBD says:

        It’s likely that his LD% was lower in 2009 *because* his FB% was higher, which means he was taking bad swings. That means the drop in BABIP was partly his fault and not just bad luck. In 2007, he was replacing line drives with ground balls instead of fly balls and consequently got beter results.

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      • heyyoo says:

        MBD,

        Using the xBABIP calculator, Johnson should have still had a .313 BABIP in 2009. His line drive rate was still reasonable, and his FB rate, while higher than usual, was not way out of line.

        Luck was a much greater factor in his .249 BABIP than his drop in LD rate.

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      • MBD says:

        Thanks! I took a look at the tool and was surprised by how little changing the LD% affected his xBABIP. I still don’t like his GB/FB ratio’s downward trend every season, but maybe his luck is due for a change. Happy New Year!

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  3. Edwincnelson says:

    Arizona really needed a LH bat in the lineup if Parra, Young, and Upton are going to get most of the OF ABs so this is a pretty good deal if Johnson can just rebound most of the way to what he was. I never got the feeling that Atlanta was prepared to honestly give him a chance to win the job so maybe a change of scenery will help.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Parra is a LHB. What they need is a LHB that can handle LHPs, now that Tracy is gone. AZ seems to have given up on Whitesell.

      They added Allen who is a high strikeout, medium HR guy, that can’t hit LHPs either … “Ryan Howard Lite”.

      The key to the DBacks is going to Webb coming back healthy and having decent SP’s that will not destroy and run down the bullpen, who is young and learning.

      Isn’t Stephen Drew supposed to have an “MVP type” season any year now?

      At least Tony Clark won;t be playing 1B for them anymore. Geez.

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  4. drew says:

    Great pick up. Value, upside, low risk.

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  5. wrencis says:

    I agree totally. How does Atl justify cutting him loose?

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    • MBD says:

      Prado, his replacement, is better and cheaper; he got paid the league minimum last year. They already have Infante backing up the IF and parts of the OF, and they can only keep so many people. Cutting KJ probably saved them $3M.

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      • TCQ says:

        They already dropped a highly talented pitcher in Jaiver Vazquez to dump salary. Exactly how much money do they have to clear(and subsequently not spend)?

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  6. No Homer says:

    Why not just save a couple million and stick with Ryan Roberts? He’s probably going to be similar offensively, but better defensively.

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  7. Valuearb says:

    Ryan Roberts isn’t remotely as good a hitter as Johnson. Roberts had a good partial season in AZ was likely a fluke. He’s a journeyman who was a mediocre minor league hitter despite being much older than his competition at each level.

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    • No Homer says:

      While he was older than his competition, he was tearing up AAA last year before being brought up (.416 wOBA). He’s always showed a solid eye at the plate, and he carried that into the majors last year, with an 11.6% walk rate, and 18% K rate. He didn’t post an unrepeatable ISO (.138, when his career MiL low was .143), so it’s not like he had fluky power.
      The only possible red flag about last season was his .321 BABIP, but it’s not like there aren’t plenty of guys who have repeated that type of BABIP before (Kelly Johnson’s career is .313).
      And, for what it’s worth, Bill James projects Roberts to have a similar 2010 (.347 projected wOBA, compared to a .348 2009 wOBA). Kelly Johnson’s projected wOBA? .350. Hardly worth the defensive difference.
      I’m not saying it’s a bad signing, I’m just saying I probably would have saved myself the money and stuck with what I had.

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      • heyyoo says:

        Roberts had a .935 OPS vs. LHP in 2009.

        He’d never had a .900 OPS season vs. LHP at any time in his minor league career and per minorleaguesplits.com since 2005 his OPS vs. LHP was .826 in 442 PA’s, and the MLE on that works out to .637

        Me thinks the .935 OPS vs. LHP in 2009 at the major league level is not likely to be repeated anytime soon.

        Fluke.

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      • Bruce Ketcham says:

        Agreed. Save the Johnson money and invest in pitching.
        You never have enought pitching.

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  8. ABC says:

    Agreed, always liked Kelly. Good power; as for the subjective: I always got the sense, for what it’s worth, that this is a guy with a gritty makeup, and he always felt like a clutch hitter, again, for whatever that’s worth which is probably not all too much.

    Incredible how impatient GMs are, isn’t it? One bad season and you’re garbage, cut loose.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      It wasn’t that, it was that arbitration is now an inefficiency for many teams.

      As long as we’re being subjective with KJ htough, he used to come to the plate with Dylan’s “Hurricane” playing. Winner in my book.

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