Kelly Johnson: Slugger

As part of a critical five-run rally in the bottom of the fifth inning of yesterday’s Phillies-Diamondbacks game, Arizona second baseman Kelly Johnson slugged his NL-leading seventh home run. That leaves him only one home run behind his 2009 total of 8, a career low and a likely factor in the Braves’ decision to non-tender Johnson at the end of the 2009 season.

There are a couple of tools readily available to us with which we can evaluate a player’s home run hitting ability. First, HR/FB%. Simply put, hitters with home run power will hit more of their fly balls out of the park – that’s why Emilio Bonifacio and David Eckstein are at the bottom of the leaderboard and Mark Reynolds and Ryan Howard are at the top.

In prior years, Johnson’s HR/FB ranged from 7.5% to 13.8%. In 2010, however, Johnson’s HR/FB is a staggering 36.8% – 10% higher than Reynolds’s 26.0% league-leading rate from last season. Even though this almost certainly represents some luck, it also suggests that Johnson is hitting the ball extraordinarily hard right now.

We can also look at the sheer distance of the home runs that are hit, thanks to the excellent resource HitTracker Online. Again, we see sluggers like Reynolds, Joey Votto, Howard, Nelson Cruz, and Carlos Pena near the top of the farthest home runs hit in 2009.

So far, Johnson’s seven 2010 homers have traveled an average of 411 feet, well above the league average of 398.8 and his personal average of 400.4 last season. His 431 foot blast off of Nelson Figueroa on Saturday was the longest of his career. The “True Distance” supplied by HitTracker adjusts for wind, altitude, and temperature, so the move from Atlanta to Arizona shouldn’t be affecting these numbers.

There’s no chance that Johnson keeps slugging at the rate that he is now, but projection systems have been predicting a breakout for a couple of years now. Johnson is really driving the ball at this point in the season, and the distance of his home runs this year suggest that his latent power may have increased. The addition of Johnson has made the Diamondbacks lineup one of the best in the National League so far, and he will surely be a key to any run the Diamondbacks make in 2010 or 2011.



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ChuckO
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ChuckO
6 years 4 months ago

I’m one who believes that the Braves’ philosophy of hitting hurt Kelly Johnson. The Braves prefer hackers. That’s not what they call them, of course. They would say that they prefer aggressive hitters, but it comes to the same thing. (Bobby Cox formulates this philosophy of hitting by saying that he likes guys who put the ball in play, because good things happen when you put the ball in play.) I saw a lot of Johnson while he was with the Braves and it seems to me that he was, by temperament, a patient hitter. At times he was too patient. When he slumped, it was because he was taking too many pitches. The Braves pushed him hard to “be more aggressive”, which just screwed him up. I’m curious to see how he does in Arizona.

Temo
Member
Temo
6 years 4 months ago

Yea, that’s not really true about the Braves’ philosophy. This year’s bunch are some of the most passive hitters I’ve ever seen.

Steven Ellingson
Member
Steven Ellingson
6 years 4 months ago

They braves lead the league in walk rate this year.

ChuckO
Guest
ChuckO
6 years 4 months ago

Small sample size.

Reuben
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

Well it was a nice theory. If completely unsubstantiated.

sdp
Guest
sdp
6 years 4 months ago

Of course he’d breakout after leaving Atlanta. Kelly, I wish I could hate you.

Pernell
Guest
Pernell
6 years 4 months ago

Maybe the article was written earlier but Konerko leads the league in HR with 8.

ma
Guest
ma
6 years 4 months ago

All of Johnson’s home runs are at home. His road numbers are pretty bad right now. Granted they’ve only been to LA and SD, but I would think that might be important to note.

god shammgod
Guest
god shammgod
6 years 4 months ago

It’s encouraging to read an article that tries to explain Johnson’s start. The lazy way out is to scream “He won’t hit 50 homers!!!’ and then walk away from the laptop.

Kudos.

ABravesFan
Guest
ABravesFan
6 years 4 months ago

I always thought Kelly Johnson has the ability to hit 30 HRs. While, it’s an even smaller sample size, it’s possibly relevant to point out that 6 of his 7 HRs came when he got moved to the lead off spot (just slightly less than half of his AB this year).

Jim McLennan
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

Actually, “True Distance” on hittrackeronline.com is *not* the adjusted number. That would be the ‘Standard Distance” number. From
http://www.hittrackeronline.com/glossary.php
“Standard distance factors out the influence of wind, temperature and altitude, and is thus the best way of comparing home runs hit under a variety of different conditions.”

Jim McLennan
Guest
6 years 4 months ago

In addition, the two homers hit by Johnson off Kevin Correia were both longer than the one hit off Figueroa, at 439 and 434 feet.
http://www.hittrackeronline.com/detail.php?id=2010_61&type=hitter

Saga
Guest
Saga
6 years 4 months ago

He’s also hit 2 opposite field shots (won’t go out in all ball parks), but it shows that he’s not just pulling the ball (what he had been doing for past years).

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