Kelly Johnson: A DeRosa Alternative

Earlier today, Erik posted on the market for Mark DeRosa. I won’t rehash that analysis with which I substantially agree. Quick take: CHONE has him as .255/.333/.414 hitter next year, which Rally translates to -2 linear weights per 150 games. My projection is roughly the same: .263/.339/.431 for +5/150 (my lwts must differ in terms of individual weights and baseline). As an infield defender, DeRosa is below average at both second and third. Assuming he’s in decent health, he projects as about a 2 WAR player. That’s useful (league average) of course, but at 35 years old, DeRosa seems short on upside and high on risk.

Still, some teams might need a DeRosa type to fill a (high-priced) super-utility role or an infield/outfield spot, and there is only one DeRosa… or is there? While I dislike dealing in shadowy realm of rumor, Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson has been mentioned in multiple places as a non-tender candidate given his 2009 performance and replacement by Martin Prado in Atlanta. Johnson is due a substantial raise in arbitration, one that Atlanta seems unwilling to pay to a player who they don’t see as a starter.

Johnson has struggled defensively at second base, but despite his down year offensively in 2009, he still projects as an above-average hitter. CHONE projects Johnson to hit .268/.346/.436 (+3 runs/150) in 2010. My projections have almost the same “three-slash,” .268/.346/.441 (+9/150 according to my lwts). Both sets of projections have him hitting better than DeRosa in 2010.

Moreover, their defensive skill set seems to be roughly the same. Both are in the minus five to minus eight range as second basemen. I’m not sure whether Johnson could handle third base on a regular basis, but DeRosa isn’t exactly Mike Schmidt out there. DeRosa has played good outfield defense in the past. Johnson’s UZR numbers for left field reflect an incredibly small sample. Still, the Fans Scouting Report as well as his excellent speed scores imply that Johnson would be probably average at worst in left.

Johnson and DeRosa have similar defensive skills (bad infield defense, decent outfield defense), and Johnson probably is the better hitter. Johnson is also 7 years younger. Teams could wait to see if Atlanta will non-tender Johnson, or, if they really want to get a jump on the market, he could probably be had for very little given Atlanta’s lack of leverage in this situation. Johnson may have a fairly big arbitration award coming, but it seems unlikely to be as large as what DeRosa would command on a one-year deal. Teams interested in this type of player should be viewing DeRosa as a backup plan if they can’t get Johnson, not the other way around.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

8 Responses to “Kelly Johnson: A DeRosa Alternative”

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  1. Peter says:

    +/- likes KJ a lot more than UZR. I realize you’re not inclined to print Dewan’s numbers here, but it’s worth note, I think.

    On the hole I think KJ is about average. Above-average range, especially up the middle, bad hands, shaky footwork, decent arm.

    He makes too many errors, and fans’ opinion of his defense is sometimes disproportionately skewed by the visibility of these errors.

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  2. shilzzz says:

    marvin prado?

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  3. LeeTro says:

    Could the Braves try Kelly in LF until they deem Heyward ready?

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  4. MBD says:

    I’m of two minds about KJ. His 2009 was a big disappointment, and his power seemed to wane. His LD% was down to 17.9%, and his HR/FB numbers have been in the area of 7.5% in each of the past 2 seasons. That OBP of .303 was ugly. On the other hand, his BABIP in just 300 ABs (.249) was well below his career norm (.313), his Ks were down, and his walk rate wasn’t that far off his average, so he might bounce back.

    I’d like to see more patience at the plate from a guy with great contact in the zone and only moderate power. He seems to have forgotten how to hit the change in 2009, which supports the idea that he was too anxious to swing. He was better in 2007, when he waited for his pitch. I’m trying to remember if that was the year he did a lot of leading off.

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  5. calbers says:

    I saw Kelly a good bit when he was in AA and playing SS. I always got the impression that his hands were ok…range not so much. Watching him play in ATL I think probably holds true. A lot of his errors were moving left or right and not able to get squared up. However, he seemed to turn the double play ok. He did play some 3B in the minors and was projecting as a 3B before he had tommy john surgery a couple years ago. I suppose his arm can handle 3B. As for LF he looked good. He played about 1/2 a season or so at AA and AAA in the OF and played mostly CF. I have wondered if he couldn’t handle CF fulltime? (If I were the Braves I would have asked him to play CF in winterball-which would have helped his value.) However, I think the argument is that his bat hasn’t played enough to go into the outfield.

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  6. lookatthosetwins says:

    As a Twins fan, KJ has been towards the top of my wishlist for the offseason. He would be cheap enough that the Twins could sign another infielder and have Punto be the utility guy. The Twins are also lacking OF depth, so he could help in that regard.

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  7. Couldn’t agree more. Didn’t notice this post until I was finishing up a similar one I wrote myself. If you normalize Johnson’s triple slash line to accommodate his .313 xBABIP (assuming all singles), it looks to the tune of .278/.350/.443 (.797 OPS). If you consider some rebound in power, a +800 OPS guy at a bargain comes nice. Plus, DeRosa’s .286 BABIP matched his xBABIP of .285…

    I would predict Johnson’s 50% prob. line closer to .275/.355/.450 (.805) mext season. 3 years, $9 million with a $7 million option for 2013 ($1 mil buyout) seems utterly reasonable (that’s paying for less than 1 WAR per)

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