Kelly Johnson’s Redemption

Dropped from Braves at the end of 2009, Kelly Johnson found little interest in his services and ended up in Arizona on a one year contract paying him just $2.3 million. Arizona gambled that Johnson would rebound from, among other things, a .247 BABIP in 2009 that severely depressed his offensive numbers. Rebound he has. Though his 2010 BABIP remains below his career rate, Johnson is hitting a superb .303/.394/.697, good enough for a .459 wOBA which is slightly above 2009’s .306 mark.

Johnson’s walk rate has returned to the level that he had the first few seasons of his career helped by a drop in out of zone pitches that he’s chasing. Despite a slight rise in how often he misses on his swings, Johnson’s strikeout rate has remained near his career level.

The real story for Johnson has been the power. Never much of a power hitter, Johnson is already at nine home runs and has another eight doubles to boot. Well over half of his hits (17 of his 27) have gone for extra bases and combined with his high average gives rise to that atmospheric slugging percentage.

The Diamondbacks will pay Kelly Johnson just $2.3 million this season. They’ve already received over twice that in value. Johnson is not going to continue posting a 1.100 OPS and hitting 30% of his fly balls over the wall, but even after he tails off he will have a good shot at being one of 2010’s best free agent bargains.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

10 Responses to “Kelly Johnson’s Redemption”

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  1. Joe says:

    I’m just slightly bitter the Braves let him go for nothing…oh who am I kidding, I’m intensely bitter.

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    • Bronnt says:

      You’re right Joe. And he was cut entirely because the Braves were unwilling to pay the $2-$3 million that they thought he’d earn in arbitration.

      Frank Wren continues to assure fans that the Braves aren’t reducing their budget, but intensely cheap moves like this and the rather forced Javier Vazquez trade point only to that. It bothers me that they were willing to pay $4 million for one season of Damon, but wouldn’t pay half as much to continue owning Kelly’s rights for this year and beyond.

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  2. ValueArb says:

    Free agent? Don’t the DBacks have a cheap option for 2011?

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  3. ChuckO says:

    I don’t believe that the Braves cut Kelly Johnson mainly as a financial move, though that might have been the public justification. Bobby Cox does not like patient hitters who walk a lot. He likes free swingers, figuring that he can teach them to be more selective. The prime example of that was Jeff Francoeur. No matter how much he struggled, Cox would run him out there every day until he was finally convinced that Francoeur wasn’t going to develop. When Johnson struggled at the plate, Cox would sit him down. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that Johnson can be brutal with the glove. Cox prefers sure-handed infielders, even if it means giving up some offense. In my opinion, Johnson’s struggles last season came from trying to conform to the Braves’ hitting philosophy. This is illustrated by the fact that he walked in about 8% of his plate appearances in 2009, as opposed to 13% in 2007.

    Bobby Cox’s preference for free swingers was recently brought into particular focus when he publicly criticized Jason Heyward, who had slumped briefly, for taking too many pitches. However, the problem wasn’t that he was taking too many pitches. It was rather that he was too predictable. For example, he always took the first pitch, as a result of which pitchers were grooving strikes on the first pitch, putting him behind in the count from the start.

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  4. xdog says:

    Johnson was slated to make much more than $2.3M in arb. That’s less than his 2009 salary. Plus, he was a man without a position with Atlanta.

    Johnson, home, 2010 — 51 PAs, 372/471/1000

    Johnson, road, 2010 — 57 PAs, 240/316/400

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  5. Kenny says:

    The Braves continue to be an example of a team that is incredibly good in scouting and developing players and then incredibly bad at every step after that.

    A good team doesn’t let Kelly Johnson walk away.
    A good team doesn’t sign Derek Lowe for that kind of money.
    I want to say a good team doesn’t trade one of the leagues best pitchers for Melky Cabrera, but the young pitcher they got back in the deal could be very good. But the point being they have to unload a contract of Vazquez because of a contract for Lowe.
    And a good team doesn’t trade away Feliz and Andrus and more for a Teixeira rental.

    It’s hard to admit, because so many good players come out of that system, but the Braves should have a lot more of those rings.

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  6. regfairfield says:

    Kelly Johnson is a three win player in a good year and would cost the Braves ~4 million.

    Martin Prado is a three win player in a good year and costs the Braves 400 thousand.

    The Braves don’t have a ton of payroll flexibility and they couldn’t afford to pay four million for a utility guy coming off a down year.

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  7. Greg says:

    I met Kelly Johnson a while back, couldn’t be a nicer guy. Glad he is having success.

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