Johjima Leaves M’s; Johnson and Moore Move Up Depth Chart

Kenji Johjima won’t be back with the Seattle Mariners next year. The 33 year-old backstop, signed out of Japan prior to the 2006 season, has decided to return home. He leaves two years and $16M on the table, as part of an ill-advised Bill Bavasi contract extension covering the 2009-2011 seasons (is “ill-advised Bill Bavasi contract” redundant?)

Johjima posted solid 2006 and 2007 campaigns, with wOBA’s of .338 and .327, respectively. However, his offense fell off a cliff in 2008 (.272 wOBA), and he turned in another mediocre season in 2009 (.305 wOBA). Johjima’s walk and strikeout rates remained stable, but his BABIP tumbled from the low-.290’s over the 2006-2007 seasons to the .240 range from 2008-2009.

That’s extremely low, but the former Fukuoka SoftBank Hawk had a few factors working against him: he hit a lot of groundballs (never a good idea for a slow-footed backstop) and he popped the ball up often (infield flies are near automatic outs).

With Johjima now out of the picture, Seattle’s internal options behind the dish are Rob Johnson and Adam Moore.

Johnson, 26, split time with Johjima this past season. The University of Houston alumnus is known more for his defensive virtues than his lumber. Johnson has authored a .270/.323/.389 line during his minor league career , including a .270/.323/.381 triple-slash in three seasons at AAA Tacoma.

The righty batter was an absolute hacker his first time around the Pacific Coast League in 2006, walking in 3.7% of his PA, punching out 22 percent and posting a lousy .258 wOBA. In 2007, he bumped that wOBA up to .311, drawing a free pass 8.5% and whiffing 14.7%. Johnson posted similar walk and strikeout numbers in 2008, but his wOBA climbed to .351 (he hit for slightly more power, but a 40 point increase in BABIP boosted that figure).

In his first extended big league trial, Johnson batted just .213/.289/.326 in 290 PA, with a .274 wOBA. On the positive side, he walked in 9.2% of his PA. But as you might expect from that line, there were plenty of problems with Johnson’s lumber.

He was jammed at a sky-high rate, with an infield/fly ball rate of 20 percent (7th-highest among batters with 250+ PA). Opposing pitchers bullied him with fastballs, as Johnson posted an ugly -1.7 run/100 pitches value against heaters (5th-worst among batters with 250+ PA). He posted a negative run value against curves, sliders, cutters and changeups, as well.

Moore, 25, is the more interesting player from a fantasy perspective. A 6th-rounder in the 2006 draft taken out of Texas-Arlington, Moore has shown considerably more offensive promise.

In 2007, he batted a robust .307/.371/.543 at High-A High Desert. That ball park is a launching pad, but his park-adjusted line of .296/.363/.498 was still pretty tasty.

Bumped up to AA West-Tennessee in 2008, Moore mashed to the tune of .319/.396/.506. He walked 8.5% of the time, with a modest 17.9% K rate and a .186 ISO.

The 6-3, 220 pound right-handed hitter split the 2009 season between AA and AAA Tacoma. Back at West-Tennessee, he showed excellent plate discipline (14.4 BB%), batting .263/.371/.411 in 116 PA.

With the Rainers, Moore posted a .294/.346/.429 triple-slash in 368 PA. He walked 7.1 percent and punched out 15 percent, with a .135 ISO. Moore was called up to Seattle in September, drawing a few starts down the stretch.

As a guy in his mid-twenties, Moore isn’t a monster prospect. But, he has enough offensive ability to be a league-average (.330-.335 wOBA) hitter. That’s pretty valuable, when one considers that the average MLB catcher hit just .254/.320/.395 in 2009. That equates to a wOBA around .324.

The Mariners could opt to bring in a veteran via free agency, but the pickings appear slim. Assuming Seattle sticks with Johnson and Moore, fantasy owners should be rooting for Moore to grab the starting gig.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


11 Responses to “Johjima Leaves M’s; Johnson and Moore Move Up Depth Chart”

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  1. Gary says:

    Seattle has to be delighted that he’s leaving the money on the table. Having an extra 16 million to spend over the next two years could bring the team back to relevance even faster.

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  2. Mike says:

    Unless of course they choose to spend it on the same type of player that they spent it on the first time around….

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  3. Kevin S. says:

    It wasn’t an ill-advised Bill Bavasi contract, it was an ill-advised contract that ownership forced on management because it wanted to take care of a Japanese player, if I recall correctly.

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    • joser says:

      If you can offer any actual substantiation of that, I’d be interested to see it. A lot of people presumed or suggested that, at the time and since, but I haven’t seen any statements by anyone with actual knowledge — Kenji, his agent, the Mariners front office (past or present) or ownership — that that was the case. We don’t know for certain that M’s ownership makes special requests on behalf of players, but we definitely do know that Bavasi hands out ill-advised contracts; therefore, until evidence to the contrary comes to light Occam suggests that it’s perfectly reasonable to put this one onto the rather substantial pile of Bavasi mistakes.

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      • Brian Joura says:

        I think you are asking for a level of proof that is going to be mighty hard to find, especially with how poor the contract turned out to be. Only Bavasi has something to gain by making a statement on the contract.

        But USS Mariner had this to say:
        “Yes, the Johjima extension happened entirely at an ownership level, and the baseball operations team had basically nothing to do with that decision.”
        http://ussmariner.com/index.php?s=johjima+extension

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  4. Kazinski says:

    There shouldn’t be much doubt that Moore will be the starter. Moore is already better both offensively and defensively than Johnson; Johnson had 9 passed balls last season in only 80 games, and there were quite a few “wild pitches” he also should have handled. I’ll give Johnson a little bit of the benefit of the doubt here, as he is having double hip surgery (one down, one to go) over the off season, so lack of mobility may account for some of that. But having said that, with double hip surgery is he likely to be better this coming season?

    Moore has a much higher offensive upside, there is no reason not to play him. Even if Moore has a rough adjustment to big league pitching and is starts the season totally lost at the plate, that will just bring him down to Johnson’s level. Johnson is perfectly fine as a backup, but there is no reason he should be starting more than once a week.

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  5. Matt says:

    It may be due to the lack of communication via the language barrier, but Johjimas inability to call a game hurt the Mariners pitching staff. The pitcher team ERA when Johjima was catching was over 5.5 while it was around 2.75 when Johsnon was behind the plate

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  6. ML says:

    You need to contextualize catcher ERA. Johnson caught Felix every start and caught most of Bedard’s/Washburn’s starts as well. Getting your 1-3 pitchers to catch every week while Johjima was stuck with the Jason Vargas’s of the world help explain alot of that difference. Plus CERA depends on a multitude of external factors (defense for one) which is does not take into account. I would be interested though if there was a stat like FIP or xFIP or tRA equivalent for CERA where we can adjust for defense, quality of starting pitcher, quality of opponent, park factor, etc. Make it happen fangraphs!

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  7. MDS says:

    good thing they traded clement. idiots. they deserve to lose for managing a team to get japanese media dollars

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  8. FWB says:

    I don’t think Clement has the knees to catch anymore after all those surgeries on both knees and he was terrible defensively to begin with.

    I believe the Mariners will sign a cheap veteran to backup Adam Moore and send Rob Johnson back down to Tacoma or possibly trade him.

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