Nick Johnson on his .400 Career OBP

Nick Johnson needs a typical Nick Johnson season to secure his legacy. Not as an injury-prone first baseman — that’s his other legacy — but as an on-base machine. The 33-year-old left-handed hitter came into the year as one of fewer than 60 players in history [minimum 3,000 plate appearances] with a career OBP of .400 or better. Now with the Baltimore Orioles, Johnson was right at that mark when he talked about his disciplined approach prior to Saturday’s game.


Johnson on his career .400 OBP: “[Having a high OBP] means that I’m helping the team out. That’s how you score runs. You get on base and the next thing you know someone pops one, or hits one in the gap, and you put a couple of runs on the board. You have to be on base in order to score runs. I think [OBP] is big.”

On his patient approach: “Ever since I started playing the game, I‘ve had that approach. Even in Little League and high school. I’ve had people tell me to swing the bat more, and this, that and the other, but it’s just something I’ve always had. I don’t know where it came from.

“Sometimes, when you’re seeing a lot of pitches, you can get too passive. I think there’s a fine line with that. But I like seeing pitches. The more pitches I see, the more comfortable I get throughout the at bat. I don’t mind hitting with two strikes.

“I’ve [taken the first pitch] a lot, but you have to know the pitchers and sometimes it’s not bad to jump on one early. They might leave one out there, so you have to be ready to hit. With men in scoring position, sometimes walks aren’t as good as other walks. You might have had a good pitch to hit early in the count, and you took it just to take it. If you were aggressive, you could have done a little more damage. Like I said, there’s that fine line.”

On seeing the ball: “I like to see what the ball is doing. I like to get a read on, say, a sinkerballer. I watch a lot of film, but when you get up there is when you get a gauge of how it’s moving. You also talk to guys, but you have be at the plate to get the timing. The takes I have in a game are really important. They allow me to see what kind of position I’m in on pitcher’s pitches — the ones they want me to swing at. That way I can move my sights to wherever they need to be.

“Out of the hand, I’ll see his release point, but it’s mostly just a matter of picking it up — of seeing the ball. I think I’m pretty good at recognizing pitches. But that can actually hurt you at times. You see it so early that you give up on it and it ends up coming back in. You see it and think “ball,” and give up on it, and it backdoors. Maybe it’s a cutter or a backdoor curveball. You have to make sure you stay with the pitch long enough.

“I try to look for the ball right down the middle. I don’t really look in and out. Looking down the middle, I only have a couple of inches either way to adjust. If they stick it on the black, I give it to them unless it’s 3-2 and I need to protect. My approach is to stay up the middle, work to left center, and react to everything else. I like to let the ball come to me.”

On where he likes to hit in the order: “I don’t care where I hit. I just check the lineup and go from there. I’ve never led off, but I have hit in the two-hole. I’ve hit third, fourth, fifth, sixth — probably everywhere except first. [OBP] matters in all of them. If you’re on, there’s a guy behind you who can hopefully do some damage. If you’re on first base, the hitter is going to have a hole over there. The more you’re on, the more things open up and the more chances you have to score. When there’s no one on, there’s not a lot going on.”

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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

14 Responses to “Nick Johnson on his .400 Career OBP”

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  1. Switters says:

    Baltimore (AP) – Orioles’ first baseman Nick Johnson was injured today while giving an interview. Johnson apparently tripped over a power cord and suffered a right heel contusion trying to avoid a boom mic. Johson has been placed on the 60 day DL.

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  2. Aaron Murray says:

    It really is too bad about the injuries with Johnson. Look at his ’03-’06 seasons, BB% approaching 20, K% in the mid teens, ISO around or a bit above .200. When he was healthy the guy was basically Joey Votto with a hair less pop.

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  3. GonzoFlyBall says:

    I vote for Nick Johnson as the most likely to be confused as a porn star award.

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  4. Dan Greer says:

    “I’ve hit third, fourth, fifth, sixth — probably everywhere except first.”

    So the one spot where he hasn’t batted is the one he should have been in for most of his career? Figures, doesn’t it.

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    • KDL says:

      In general I would disagree that
      1) highest OBP automatically bats first. Could you imagine the waste of big-head era Bonds batting first? That’s perhaps unnecessary hyperbole…but there are tons of examples of team leaders in OBP that shouldn’t automatically be slotted in the leadoff hole.
      2) Johnson is/was ideally suited to be a lead-off guy. I’d argue Johnson’s skill set drops in best at the two hole. The ability to hit for some power, and his..ahem…speed point to an optimal spot in the order of 2nd. This goes along with The Book’s idea that 1 and 2 should be your best OBP guys…while 1, 2, and 4 should be your best overall hitters. A guy with gap power like Johnson could drive in a lot of lead-off men with doubles over the course of a year/career.

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  5. Baron Samedi says:

    His moustache alone boost his BB rate by a couple percent.

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  6. Will H. says:

    I still stubbornly wear my Nick Johnson shirt to every Nat’s game. I’ve been following him since he was a Yankee (and before I changed cities and allegiances) when I was pissed he was traded. 37th career in BB%. Hi socks. Not only did he use SexyBack as a walk-up song, but did so mustachioed. Oh, and maybe some of his plate-prowess came from a close relationship growing up with his uncle, Larry Bowa.

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  7. JohnF says:

    I always imagined Nick Johnson could make a good hitting coach one day. The emphasis on plate discipline coupled with understanding the struggles a player goes through (the injuries and the unsung hero patient approach thing).

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    • willjohnson says:

      Maybe not a pure hitting coach so much as a “walking coach”… he was never a great contact hitter but I wouldn’t be surprised if teams started to look at ways to improve hitters’ disciple and plate approach because it is so important to playing good offense. Wearing down SP’s, especially considering how most of them seem to be on strict pitch counts, really helps an offense gain an advantage.

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