Can Kelly Johnson Bounce Back?

There might not be a more up and down player in fantasy than Kelly Johnson. After establishing himself as a useful fantasy second baseman in 2007-2008, Johnson completely fell off that radar at the position after a dreadful 2009. Just when it looked as if Johnson’s usefulness as a fantasy option was at it’s lowest point, Johnson responded with an incredible comeback season; in which he was worth 5.9 WAR. In the same environment that Johnson excelled in 2010, he faltered in 2011. A change of scenery may have helped his value down the stretch, but it makes Johnson one of the riskiest fantasy players entering the off-season.

For reasons unknown, Johnson really struggled in Arizona last season. After posting a slash line of .311/.396/ at home in 2010, Johnson fell to just .197/.296/.424 in 2011. His walk rate, while still solid, dropped slightly, while his strikeout rate jumped to a career high. If those slight regressions weren’t enough, luck dragons had their way with Johnson in Arizona. His BABIP — which is usually a solid .311 — dropped to .257 last season while in Arizona. At the half way point, it looked as if Johnson was on his way to “bust” status.

Fortunately, a mid-season trade to Toronto seemed to salvage his season. While Johnson hit for the same amount of power in his new ballpark, he made solid contact with the ball. His 27.7% line drive rate propelled his slash line to a solid .270/.364/.417. The danger in trusting that line, however, is that it comes with an elevated BABIP. As with most cases like this, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. Johnson isn’t as good as his Toronto line indicates, but he’s far better than his Arizona slash line. Due to his high number of strikeouts, Johnson isn’t likely to post high averages, but .250 seems reasonable for next season.

Some of Johnson’s outlook depends on where he signs next season. Johnson should be a low-risk, high-reward signing for most teams, making him a potentially undervalued member of the free agent market. Should Johnson remain in Toronto, HR might be in for a nice rebound. Either way, Johnson should look for a team with a small ballpark, as his power is what really sets him apart at the position.

While it’s easy to stay away from players that have burned you in the past, Kelly Johnson deserves another look next season. His rebound in Toronto — while a tiny sample — is slightly more indicative of his true talent level going forward. His struggles in Arizona seem to be mainly BABIP-fueled. Johnson is set to be a free agent, so his destination bears watching. Still, Johnson looks like a potentially undervalued asset heading into the off-season — both in real life and in fantasy.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.


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