Kelly Johnson, an Elite Second Baseman?

The league leader in WAR for second basemen? Kelly Johnson. I made some pretty bold predictions in our staff-wide preseason series, one of them being that Matt Kemp will not even get to 30/30 (looking like a bad one). One of the ones that is looking good so far is my prediction of Kelly Johnson being a top-5 second baseman.

In Yahoo! leagues, Johnson is currently the third ranked second baseman. His seven home runs leads the group, a group that consists of more home run threats than in past seasons. He has also added over 20 runs, with his team’s best hitter, Jose Bautista, hitting under .200 directly behind him (Johnson batted second until recently). Since moving to the leadoff spot, Johnson is three for three in steal attempts, and should score more runs as Bautista’s production improves. Johnson’s season is looking much more like his breakout 2010 campaign than his underwhelming 2011 season, which is exactly what those who drafted him were hoping for.

The similarities between this year and 2012 are quite noticeable. That season, Johnson walked at a rate than his career average, with a 11.8% rate. This year, Johnson’s walk rate has sky-rocketed all the way to 15.8%. He is striking out in over 1/4 of his plate appearances, but that is not too much of an issue when his walk rate is this high. Johnson has always prided himself on being a hitter who zones pitches, so he is able to wait for pitches to drive rather than make more consistent, weaker contact. This has always held him to be a less conventional middle infield bat, as he hits for solid power, lower averages, but with higher walk and strikeout rates.

It was easy to be down on Johnson after last season, but looking at the peripherals suggests that he was at least somewhat unfortunate. His power and steals were still there, which is huge for fantasy, as he hit 21 home runs and stole a career high 16 bases. His ISO still sat above .190 and his walk rate was still near 10%, but his average dropped from .284 the season prior to .222, mostly due to a very low .277 BABIP. His career BABIP is .311, which is close to in line with his .314 mark this year.

The home run per fly ball ratio he currently has is far from sustainable, and the fact that he is hitting fly balls at a rate lower than any season but his rookie year is somewhat worrisome. Even though his current home run pace is unsustainable, he should still produce solid numbers in a hitter friendly division and in a good spot in a potent lineup. When his power dips, he will likely attempt more steals. The combination of power and speed is rare for Johnson’s low cost, and though his average will likely never be a driving point for fantasy value, his ability to perform well in three categories makes him an extremely valuable fantasy, and real life, asset.

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Ben has been at RotoGraphs since 2012 and focuses most of his fantasy baseball attention toward dynasty and keeper leagues.

10 Responses to “Kelly Johnson, an Elite Second Baseman?”

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  1. RMD says:

    His success right now looks like a HR/FB illusion. His Babip is normal. His K% is normal. It’s also a pretty bold statement to say he is a great stolen base asset when he’s never had more than 16 SBs in a season (at a meager 69% success rate for his career).

    If you think elite 2B, it’s Pedrioa, Cano, Zobrist, Kinsler, and Phillips.

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    • what says:

      His bb% is nigh-bautistaesque, though.

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    • SteveJobs says:

      While you may quibble about the definition of elite…so far there is no question he has elite VALUE given his draft position. That’s good enough for me.

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  2. Dave H says:

    I’d take Johnson over Phillips right now and can see KJ finishing as #5 2B behind those other four. That’s pretty close to “Elite” to me.

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  3. Eyebrows says:

    I’m glad to have him. I had Rickie Weeks and he was killing me. Was able to grab Bryce Harper out of the FA pool in our redraft H2H league the moment he was called up and then shopped him to the owner who loved him and had Kelly Johnson on his bench behind Kinsler.

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  4. Dealer A says:

    Trade him for Rickie Weeks?

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    • supershredder says:

      I’ve got Rick Weeks & drafted Kelly to be my backup…threw that idea out the window 2 or 3 weeks ago! Weeks is bench material right now.

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  5. everdiso says:

    I always wondered why KJ has been so underrated in his career.

    Top-10 current starting 2B career offensive numbers (min 600pa):

    1) C.Utley (33): 4778pa, .882ops, .384woba, 132wRC+
    2) D.Pedroia (28): 3343pa, .839ops, .369woba, 123wRC+
    3) I.Kinsler (30): 3592pa, .826ops, .364woba, 119wRC+
    4) R.Cano (29): 4545pa, .839ops, .358woba, 118wRC+
    5) B.Zobrist (31): 2585pa, .784ops, .345woba, 116wRC+
    6) D.Uggla (32): 4181pa, .822ops, .354woba, 115wRC+
    7) R.Weeks (29): 3477pa, .782ops, .349woba, 113wRC+
    8) K.Johnson (30): 3319pa, .786ops, .345woba, 109wRC+
    9) B.Roberts (34): 5535pa, .769ops, .343woba, 108wRC+
    10) N.Walker (26): 1283pa, .755ops, .329woba, 106wRC+

    Top-10 since 2010:

    1) D.Pedroia (28): 1224pa, .862ops, .378woba, 134wRC+
    2) R.Cano (29): 1509pa, .883ops, .376woba, 134wRC+
    3) I.Kinsler (30): 1329pa, .823ops, .365woba, 124wRC+
    4) C.Utley (33): 965pa, .802ops, .360woba, 124wRC+
    5) R.Weeks (29): 1408pa, .804ops, .356woba, 123wRC+
    6) D.Uggla (32): 1483pa, .815ops, .354woba, 121wRC+
    7) B.Zobrist (31): 1456pa, .768ops, .342woba, 118wRC+
    8) K.Johnson (30): 1417pa, .799ops, .351woba, 114wRC+
    9) H.Kendrick (28): 1358pa, .764ops, .334woba, 109wRC+
    10) B.Phillips (31): 1460pa, .778ops, .338woba, 108wRC+

    Not quite the calibre of those top-5 guys (Pedroia, Cano, Kinsler, Utley, Weeks) but right there with anyone else, and up with those top-5 guys in a good year.

    I just hope he stays underrated enough that the Jays can re-sign him without having to match that Phillips contract. Unforunately he’s playing so well right now that I’m losing that hope.

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  6. Train says:

    No way Kemp reaches 30/30 with only 2 sb so far. Your prediction was correct Ben.

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  7. grassyjones says:

    ” The similarities to this year and 2012 are quite noticable.”
    You just blew my mind while I was noticing it blow up, and they were indeed quite similar

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