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Braving the Hot Corner

In the aftermath of the Justin Upton trade lies the messy entrails of fantasy baseball detail. Relative to third base, since the end of the 2012 season, the Atlanta Braves have gone from future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones to steady Martin Prado to Juan Francisco and a current Hall of Famer. That’s right, Chris Johnson is in the Stetson University Hall of Fame, and don’t you forget it.

As fantasy baseball goes, this probably helps Martin Prado but it muddies the water quite a bit in Atlanta unless you think Juan Francisco is going to hit like he currently is in the Caribbean at .307/.369/.575. But with Johnson coming over with Upton, the situation draws the potential for the dreaded platoon, which can effectively murder any value a player might have at a position. With this in mind, should you have Chris Johnson (and?) or Juan Francisco on your draft radar screen?

Let’s start with what we know, as my five year old would say, “for really reals.” Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco are flawed players, which is why Johnson has been traded twice in a year and Francisco is still trying to figure things out in Winter ball. Johnson, 28, is a career .276/.315/.430 hitter, with a .347 BABIP on the back of a 24% career line drive rate. He shows flashes of power in fits and spurts, but has never been particularly consistent in the long ball department. He walks very little, strikes out a lot (the Kevin Towers kiss of death, it seems), and has a brutal glove. Last season, Johnson hit to a .281/.326/.451 line, with 15 home runs and 76 RBI, easily his best performance in a short career, and if you’re the optimistic type, perhaps he can build on that.

However, Johnson likes to pull the ball with only one of his home runs going to right field and a .788 slugging percentage on balls left of center. The move from Chase field to Turner field adds about seven feet to left, four feet to the power alley, and two feet to center. And according to our Guts! page, as far as park factors go, the move from Chase to Turner impacts doubles for a right handed batter from a 109 to 97 and home runs from a 104 to 98. So, as far as the environment for half his games, this move doesn’t help him at all.

Juan Francisco owns a career .258/.303/.440 line, and is mostly known for his ability to do things like this:


He played sparingly last season, mostly in a platoon versus right handed pitchers, but even with that “advantage,” Francisco only hit .245/.291/.477 with all nine of his home runs coming off of righties. Francisco struck out over 34% of the time in 2012, with nearly a 17% swinging strike rate (highest in the National League), and managed just a 69% contact rate, which is Mark Reynolds territory. There’s no doubting his power, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll see him receive more than 300 plate appearances, which makes his fantasy value close to nil.

And about this platoon thing. Objectively, you look at a power hitting lefty and a line-drive hitting righty and you think natural platoon, but if you look at Chris Johnson’s career, he’s a far better hitter versus right handed pitching. And it’s not even close.

vs L as R 0.255 0.294 0.372 4.70% 24.40% 0.19 0.117 0.317 32.6 0.288 76
vs R as R 0.283 0.323 0.452 4.80% 24.80% 0.19 0.169 0.358 123 0.335 109

Not only is he significantly better versus right handed pitchers, he’s pretty awful versus left handed pitchers. So I’m not exactly sure that this platoon idea is going to play out particularly well unless Atlanta happens to know something about a Chris Johnson is in the best shape of his career when facing left handed pitchers narrative.

If Johnson had a better glove, I’d say look for him to ultimately become the regular starter, and if that happens, there’s enough in the bat to consider him as a late round flier as an emergency bench stash. But reading the tea leaves, it sounds like the Braves are thinking of swapping out Johnson and Francisco regularly, and frankly that’s going to turn Johnson into the worst version of himself, and limit plate appearances of both. Neither player has the upside to take any kind of risk on, so I’d say simply monitor the situation there to see if anyone grabs hold of the job outright. Otherwise, my advice is to look elsewhere.