The Nick Johnson Quandry

This winter’s free agent class is full of guys with significant amounts of both talent and risk, especially on the pitching side of things. Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, Erik Bedard, Brad Penny, Brett Myers, John Smoltz, Pedro Martinez – the talent pool is very deep in guys with All-Star upside and spend-the-year-rehabbing downside. But it’s not just pitchers, either – there’s a first baseman who offers a similar problem for GMs with a shopping list.

I’m speaking of Mr. Disabled List himself, Nick Johnson. His list of health problems is longer than a typical Joe Posnanski column and not nearly as entertaining. With 542 plate appearances this year, this is only the third season in his career he’s topped the 500+ PA mark. But, as usual, he’s been an on base machine when on the field.

His .427 OBP ranks 3rd in baseball, behind two guys named Pujols and Mauer. He hasn’t posted an on base percentage below .400 since 2004, when he played for the Expos. Once again, he has more walks than strikeouts, and even without his usual power this year, he’s still been one of the league’s better hitters.

However, Johnson turns 31 tomorrow, and given his various surgeries and skill set, it’s fair to suggest that he’s walking around with the body of a 50 year old. He can hit, but his abilities to run and field have diminished, and his ability to stay on the field will always be in question. Just because he was healthy this year doesn’t mean he’ll be healthy next year. Unless the team invests in a protective bubble for him to walk around in, guaranteeing multiple years to a guy with his injury history is a pretty big risk.

Johnson’s production this year has been worth 2.5 wins, and the way he’s hitting in September, he could end the year as a +3 win player. Without all the injury concerns, we’d expect that level of player to get a multi-year deal for something between $10 and $15 million a year after a bidding war for his services broke out. But is anyone really giving Nick Johnson $30 to $35 million for his age 31 to 33 seasons? I doubt it.

My guess is Johnson will have to go year to year for the rest of his career, and teams will attempt to entice him with more dollars rather than more years. But an on base machine that doesn’t require a long term deal to sign is going to be a pretty popular target, so Johnson could find himself in the interesting scenario of having a whole bunch of teams bidding up his 2010 salary.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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lincolndude
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lincolndude
6 years 11 months ago

Has anyone done a study on injury history and how well it predicts future injuries?

I’m guessing that projection systems approximate this by using games played?

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

Royals should consider Nick Johnson out of any team who may want to lock him up for 2-3 years. He’ll probably go at a semi-discount. That is, if they want to trade Kila.

Dayton Moore
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Dayton Moore
6 years 11 months ago

Are you insane, he has the same AVG an half as many HRs as my current 1B. This makes no sense.

Wait … What was that?

You want me to get ride of Jacobs, he’s tied for second on the team in HRs. We can’t afford to give up that kind of production from the heart of our order.

I think I’m going to stick with my plan of trading Grienke in the off-season for a handful of mid-level relievers.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

May I suggest some team leadership?
Greinke for Jason Varitek sounds like a pretty fair trade to me. Whattya say?

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 11 months ago

I know you tried trading him to the Braves for Francoeur, but it’s still possible that the Mets may be interested in such a swap.

BX
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BX
6 years 11 months ago

Greinke for Mike Wuertz and Eric Patterson!!!!!!

Matt B.
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6 years 11 months ago

Get this guys some PEDs already!

Wrighteous
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Wrighteous
6 years 11 months ago

Abreu will probably be in a similar situation this offseason, although the issue with him will be age and not injury history. I bet they both sign with the Mets and end up on the 60 day DL by May 1.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

I just remember how pissed Max Kellerman was when the Yankees traded Johnson.

Hey, at least by the end of the Vazquez/Unit fiascos, the Yankees ended up with the pieces to get Damaso Marte. Oops.

Cory
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Cory
6 years 11 months ago

Wouldn’t it be wiser to give him fewer $ for more guaranteed years. A pricey 1-year deal is a blind bet, while a multi-year deal at least spreads the risk across years. At least this seems to make senese in hindight, given that the Nats lose all of Johnson for a year or two, but also got a couple years of above-value production.

Also, Happy Birthday in advance Nick from fans in DC (it’s also my gf’s exact b-day).

Mark
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Mark
6 years 11 months ago

Maybe Brian Sabean’s replacement should sign Nick Johnson to be the Giants’ new first baseman. No long-term contract required, and he (gasp!) gets on base.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

On base?
That’s not how TEAMS win, Mark.
TEAMS win by bunting, hit and run, and smallball. How’s that supposed to happen when Nick Johnson keeps clogging up the bases?

/sarcasm

Michael
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6 years 11 months ago

STEALS, my friend, STEALS. More steals = more wins. The only base Nick Johnson can steal is first! Who needs that?

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

I’m trying to come up with a statistic called “Playing The Game The Right Way index”, or PTDTRW for short.

The elements in this statistic are singles, stolen bases, caught stealing, sac hits, sac flies, home runs, and at bats for a rate stat.

PTGTRW = 1B + SB + CS + SH + SF – HR

You only count singles because other hits require too much power. SB and CS both add to the index, since it doesn’t matter if you’re successful or not, no risk no reward. Sacrificing is important to the team, so you add that in, too. And home runs are team killing. Using plate appearances implies walking, so we use at-bats instead. Real men put the ball in play.

This season, the top 5 in playing the game the right way among league eligible hitters is:

Ellsbury: 204
Figgins: 197
Bourn: 191
Morgan: 190
Crawford: 190
Ichiro: 189

The bottom 5 are:
Pena: 11
Branyan: 33
Scott: 36
Ibanez: 39
Swisher: 40
Gonzalez: 41
Dunn: 41

These are obviously terrible offensive players whose very presense will suck the life force out of your team and cause losing.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

By top 5 I meant top 6.
Jeter is 7th with 168. He needs PTGTRW lessons from Jacoby Ellsbury.

Mark
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Mark
6 years 11 months ago

The funny thing is that the Giants are actually above average in doing stuff like moving the runner or scoring guys from third with one out. We can lament specific examples like Renteria failing on Wednesday, but overall the Giants *are* doing the little things. To expect them to be able to do them even better is a bit unrealistic.

The fact that their offense is as bad as it is while the team actually succeeds at the “fundamentals” is a ringing indictment of the roster and Bochy’s choice of players.

verd14
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verd14
6 years 11 months ago

@JoeR

As a Red Sox fan I don’t know if that scares me or delights me, (having Jacoby 1st that is).

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

I’m a Red Sox fan, too.
I look at the brightside. He could only have like 30 steals and drop out of the top 5.

BX
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BX
6 years 11 months ago

You have to subtract BB as well.

WE DON’T WANT NO GOSH DERN BASECLOGGERS.

Dionysus
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Dionysus
6 years 11 months ago

“Using plate appearances implies walking, so we use at-bats instead. Real men put the ball in play.”

Hm. I think your methodology is off here. Since walks are rally killers and hurt the team, then we SHOULD use plate appearances since the actual walks themselves aren’t added in. That way, the rate is lower for players who walk a lot then players who ground out softly to advance the runner on second like a good teammate.

Steve
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Steve
6 years 11 months ago

yes, i think you want to penalize walking but reward HBP’s

there also needs to be an adjustment for ass-pats. a good teammate always delivers a solid ass-pat from the on-deck circle as a player who just hit a sac fly passes them on their way back to the dugout.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

True, I better come up with a PTGTRW-2 score that adds HBP and subtracts walks. Obviously HBP is good since it’s taking a shot for the team. Walks are rally killers, though, and what lazy asses who can’t be bothered to swing do.

Be right back, I’m adjusting (I love when my boss leaves early).

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

New rankings (PTGTRW-2 = 1B + SB + CS + SF + SH + HBP – HR – BB)

Ellsbury: 169
Ichiro: 162
Morgan: 159
Crawford: 152
Bourn: 132
Theriot: 127
Podsednik: 118

Lows:
Pena: -67
Dunn: -61
Gonzalez: -58
Swisher: -45
Pujols: -36
Berkman: -34
Fielder: -32
Uggla: -31

I like these results even more. Ben Zobrist has a -8.

Bill
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Bill
6 years 11 months ago

Desperately needs a “taking the extra base” adjustment.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

Impossible to tell those apart from singles & throw outs and doubles without a pbp index.

Besides, taking the extra base = double. How are you supposed to steal second if you’re on second already? Not very scraptabulous.

Bruce W
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Bruce W
6 years 11 months ago

How can you leave off intagibles, stick-to-it-iveness, or the number of times opposing managers have referred to the players heart or called him scrappy?

Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
6 years 11 months ago

Joe, you forgot multipliers for being a college punter or being named David Eckstein.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

That’s gritty index, which only measures heart, uniform dirt, whiteness, and bunting.

Meaning the obvious MLB leader is Juan Pierre. He bunts so much that he has to say he’s white on job applications.

J
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J
6 years 11 months ago

Johnson is at the top of my wish list for the Giants. Has been for some time, I think he’s been undervalued for awhile. I don’t think his past injuries have much predictive power going forward: I consider a broken hand, broken cheekbone (HBLD), and broken femur just unlucky or freakish things. I’m less sure about the ligament and a little wary of back problem, but I think one of the better hitters in the league is worth a little risk. The Giants have a very solid backup/defensive replacement in Ishikawa. I think 500+ PA’s of .400+ OBP for cheap is too good to pass up on a team that can’t get on base at all.

jirish
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jirish
6 years 11 months ago

Johnson knows how to handle a bat. He could probably prolong his career by signing on with the DH league. Wouldn’t he look nice in a White Sox uniform?

Toffer Peak
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Toffer Peak
6 years 11 months ago

I’m surprised people would want him on NL teams. I think it’s time that he finds himself on an AL team so that he can rest some days and limit his exposure on the field. AL teams also have the advantage that they are more easily able to replace DLed 1Bs/DHs.

Then again the Cubs are the ones who ended up with Bradley this year so what do I know.

Alex Becker
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Alex Becker
6 years 11 months ago

Yeah, look how well that whole Milton Bradley thing worked out for them.

Bob
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Bob
6 years 11 months ago

In looking at Johnson’s stats, I was suprised to see that despite his more walks than strikeouts, his K% is higher than his BB%. It seems that K% is calculated Ks over ABs, whereas BB% is BBs over PAs. Why isn’t K% also over PAs?

Michael
Guest
6 years 11 months ago

It’s sort of dumb, but there’s no way you can K if you walk, and PA’s are only walks+HBP+AB’s. I don’t know, it doesn’t make much sense, it should be changed.

HAK
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HAK
6 years 11 months ago

That is dumb. Just like there’s no way you can K if you BB, there’s no way you can BB if you K. They should both be based on PA’s. If not, K% should = K / (PA-BB) and BB% should = BB / (PA-K).

ekw
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ekw
6 years 11 months ago

Sounds like a typical moneyball guy. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Billy Beane pick him up.

Nate Woodward
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6 years 11 months ago

ekw, you should read Dave Cameron’s recent post about the A’s: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/joe-morgan-and-the-as/

Beane hasn’t been going after these kinds of players for some time now. Not that he wouldn’t go after Johnson, but the whole point of being a “moneyball” player was that they were undervalued. Guys like Johnson just aren’t very undervalued anymore.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

That being said, I’m sure Billy Beane would absolutely love to give him a 1 year / $3,000,000 contract if everyone else is turned off by his love of the DL.

Aaron T.
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Aaron T.
6 years 11 months ago

How exactly do Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Brad Penny have all-star upside ?

Ed Nelson
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Ed Nelson
6 years 11 months ago

Ryan Theriot is the absolute definition of PTGTRW. Despite the empirical evidence otherwise, I suggest a reworking of the formula to make him #1.

Joe R
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Joe R
6 years 11 months ago

I’m sure I could make a 3rd index that factors in groundouts. Making outs while running hard is playing right to the max.

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6 years 7 months ago

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