Kelly Johnson: Aging With Style

Fantasy owners hoped for a bounce back in 2012 after Kelly Johnson regressed in 2011 after a superb 2010 season. A second baseman with 16 HRs and 14 SBs normally would have a relatively high fantasy ranking. Johson was only able to hit .225 and therefor was ranked 24th overall in Zach Sander’s postseason 2B rankings. Kelly Johnson may bounce back in a in 2013, but age is beginning to catch up with him.

The 30-year-old left-handed-hitting Johnson is going to be going to be a free agent this off season. The Blue Jays are not intent of resigning him, so he is likely moving to another team. The park and league will likely matter little with his value unless he goes to one of the extreme home parks in the league.

When Johnson broke out in 2010, most of his value was being fueled by 26 HRs. Since that season, his HR have decreased each season.

Season HR PA PA/HR HR&FB Dist.
2010 26 671 25.8 301
2011 21 613 29.2 296
2012 16 581 36.3 273

Along with the total HRs, his HR/PA and distance on his HRs and Flyballs are down.

Besides his power being down, he is having problems making contact.

Season K% Swing% Contact% SwStr%
2009 15.6% 44.8% 84.4% 7.1%
2010 22.1% 46.2% 76.9% 10.4%
2011 26.6% 47.2% 71.8% 12.9%
2012 27.4% 47.9% 71.4% 13.3%

Since 2009, he is on a four year trend of swinging at more pitches and making a less and less contact. His K% and Swing Strike% have both almost doubled over those 4 seasons.

Besides the strikeouts, his BABIP fluctuates widely from a low of 0.247 to a high of 0.340 and affects his AVG. Over his career, his BABIP is at .308. The last two seasons, it has dropped below .300. His xBABIP values show that his recent BABIP talent level may near 0.320.

2009 0.287 0.247
2010 0.319 0.339
2011 0.327 0.277
2012 0.318 0.292

Johnson’s low AVG in 2011 and 2012 has been a combination of a high K% and a low BABIP. Here is an idea of his possible AVG in 2013, assuming various BABIP and K% values

600 10% 20% 15 0.320 0.268
600 10% 25% 15 0.320 0.250
600 10% 30% 15 0.320 0.232
600 10% 25% 15 0.340 0.264
600 10% 25% 15 0.320 0.250
600 10% 25% 15 0.300 0.236
600 10% 25% 15 0.280 0.222
600 10% 25% 15 0.260 0.208

With the various combinations, an AVG over .250 in 2013 looks like a huge win.

The ability to steal a base still looks like a trait he owns. He was able to swipe 14 bases in 2012 and only got caught twice. To get an idea of how he is performing on the base paths, the Base Running component of WAR has gone from -1.7 to -1.0 to 0.5 from 2010 to 2012. He seems to be getting smarter on the base paths since his physical speed is probably the same or slower compared to 2 years ago.

Age is beginning to creep up on Kelly Johnson, especially with his decrease in power and his inability to make contact. Signs point to him having around a .250 AVG, 15 HRs and 12 SBs. The AVG is in the value likely to deviate the most of the 3. While he still will have some value in deep or AL or NL only leagues, he will be a borderline player in most leagues.

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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

6 Responses to “Kelly Johnson: Aging With Style”

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  1. dougiejays says:

    He was stealing (not to mention hitting) very well early on until his hammy got all messed up around June and his season went into the tank. He really had a lot of trouble making contact in the second half, though. Really made me wonder if there isn’t a way to rebuild his swing because a major league hitter should not get beat as often as he does.

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  2. jcxy says:

    Much was made last year after the hill/johnson swap about Kevin Towers hating K rates. Is there an analytical basis to this? In other words, should we be more skeptical about Johnson’s ability to recapture his contact skills after his last 3 years?

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    • Paul says:

      He never had any contact skills. The 15% rate was in half a season and was by far the best of his career (in a season where he hit .224 btw). I don’t know why it is presented as some attained skill level above, but any reasonable person would dismiss it as fluky, since his rates before and after have been north of 20%.

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  3. lexomatic says:

    I think this is just the kind of player Johnson is.
    3 of the last 4 years he’s hit 220ish, with an obp 303-313. The only thing that’s fluctuated is his power – iso .140 – .191, and slg 365-413.
    If you assume that the avg & obp are his true talent level, then you’re left with figuring out his power contribution. If you average out those 3 seasons, you’re looking at MAYBE a 700 ops.

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  4. Cybo says:

    Holy typo!

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  5. Dave (UK) says:

    I really think you mean PA/HR and not HR/PA

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