Five Minutes with Chris Johnson: BABIP Brave

Last week, Jeff Sullivan wrote about Atlanta Braves third baseman Chris Johnson. The article addressed the 28-year-old’s surprisingly stellar season, which has him leading the National League in hitting with a .338 average. More notable is the fact Johnson has the fourth-highest BABIP [.364] in history among players with at least 1,500 plate appearances.

What does Johnson think about his BABIP notoriety? I asked him that question when the Braves visited Philadelphia this past weekend.


Johnson on ranking behind only Ty Cobb, “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and Rogers Hornsby in career BABIP: “Those are some pretty cool names. I’m not sure how I feel about my name being on a list next to theirs, but I’m certainly honored to be in their company. I’m not sure why my [BABIP] is so high. I just try to put balls in play as much as I can by using the whole field. They seem to fall in for me, and hopefully I can keep it up.

“I think there is more room for error when you use the whole field. If you only use half the field, there’s less room for error, so I’m trying to use right field, center field and left field.

“I do have my share [of strikeouts]. The more balls you put in play, the better chance you have of getting those hits, and that’s what I try to keep doing. I can’t answer why they fall in. All I can do is go up there and try to put the ball hard in play.”

On power and honing his approach: “I’m trying to become a good hitter first, then kind of let that power come. Hopefully it will, later on. I’m still developing. Having more power is just a natural thing; it is about learning when you can take your chances, and things like that. But for the most part, right now, I just try to stay in the middle part of the field and not try to do too much.

“My approach kind of depends on the pitcher. With different pitchers I’ll look in different spots and for different speeds. That’s something I’m doing a little bit more of this year. I’m doing more research on pitchers, both with video and reports.

“I try to look at a lot of video. We watch every pitcher before every series, trying to get an idea of what they’re bringing to the table. I’ll pay specific attention to what he does against right-handed hitters.

“I hope I’m getting better. I think I am. Every day, I just try to be as consistent as I can. I’ve made a few adjustments, physically and mentally, but mostly it’s a matter of getting more comfortable. I’m seeing more pitches and getting to know the pitchers better, and that helps make you better. Like I said, all I can do is try to put the ball in play — hard — and hopefully they keep falling in.”

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA

22 Responses to “Five Minutes with Chris Johnson: BABIP Brave”

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  1. TKDC says:

    I was kind of hoping he would explain exactly what he was doing and how he was going to keep doing it forever, but I guess that was asking for too much. Oh well, Braves fans can at least enjoy it while it lasts.

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  2. triple_r says:

    In the first paragraph what did Johnson say instead of BABIP?

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  3. Steve says:

    Seems to me like he doesn’t want to admit he’s getting lucky, but he knows he’s been getting lucky. And that sucks, Braves fans.

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    • Mike says:

      That sucks? The dude was a throw-in for Justin Upton Trade. He was supposed to be a right-handed platoon and bench option. Even if he falls of the cliff starting tomorrow, we have already extracted far more value from him than anyone reasonably expected. Lucky streaks end. Rather than bemoaning their demise, try enjoying their absurd rarity.

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    • Glenn says:

      You’re right. He should have said, “I’m not really that good a hitter, really. I’m just getting lucky, that’s all.”

      Have you seen an interview response like that? Ever?

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    • bgburek says:

      I don’t think he’s getting that lucky. Look at his LD%

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      • ImKeithHernandez says:

        Here’s a fun thing:

        Player X: LD%= 28.7, GB%= 44.1, FB%= 27.2, BABIP= .384, Career BABIP= .363
        Chris Johnson: LD%: 28.5, GB%= 44.5, FB%= 27.0, BABIP= .419, Career BABIP= .364

        Player X is Joey Votto. This probably doesn’t mean anything, but it’s cool. I guess it means that .419 is still absurdly high, but Johnson fits the profile of a guy who should have a high BABIP.

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    • Wil says:

      He is getting a little lucky, but his career BABIP is higher than the average player normally anyway.

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    • Word says:

      He’s got 1,700 plate appearances. This is more than just luck.

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  4. Phantom Stranger says:

    It is harder to run the modern defensive shifts on a hitter like Johnson than most hitters. He’s unusual in that he will still take inside fastballs the other way, often fisting them into the RF gap.

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  5. Tim says:

    If you look at his heat maps on balls hit to the three fields, it’s clear that he really does hit the ball where it’s pitched. He pulls inside pitches, pitches down the middle to center, and goes oppo with outside pitches. I’m sure that mixed with his high line drive rate, help explain some of his BABIP (not that he hasnt gotten very lucky this year anyway..)

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  6. Dave says:

    Does anyone know if players having a high BABIP usually have a distributed spray chart?

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  7. Bread n Mustard says:

    Maybe he has gotten a little lucky but you can’t say his success is mostly due to luck. I think a lot of times players know how to do the right thing but they don’t know how to explain what they are doing. One of the greatest hitters, Edgar Martinez, when asked about his approach at the plate he would simply respond, “I was just trying to make good solid contact.”

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  8. K26dp says:

    Watching Johnson this season, I would say that early in the season his high BABiP was very luck-driven. Lots of bloop hits and seeing-eye grounders. When the Braves waived Juan Francisco and installed Johnson as the everyday thirdbaseman, I assumed that the extra exposure would drive him back down to earth.

    And it did, for a stretch of a few weeks. But then he started to get better. And by better, I mean that some of those swings that were generating the lucky bloops and bleeders started generating line drives. I think this is an example of success breeds confidence which breeds success. Even if that early success was mostly a product of luck (and I do), it gave Johnson the confidence to stick with his approach, which to his credit he has refined and is now seeing less luck-driven success.

    I think Johnson’s response is encouraging. He knows his limitations, so he’s working now to maximize his strengths. Then as he progresses, he’ll narrow those weaknesses.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know what he can do about his lack of range and somewhat erratic throwing on the field.

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    • ABravesFan says:

      With regards to his lack of range, playing with Andrelton Simmons help because he can focus on a smaller area (Chris Johnson says so in an interview with Buster Olney on this past weekend).

      As for his approach, in the same interview he said that the Braves told him to not worry about hitting homeruns. In a lineup with plenty of power and many free swingers, Johnson is a nice complement to those guys.

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  9. A.West says:

    Chris Johnson’s fielding has seemed to improve through the year. Steadier with routine plays, and now occasionally making some tougher plays. I’m glad to see that he is taking advantage of higher repetitions and playing time to improve his talent.

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