Kelly Johnson: Why the Low AVG?

Kelly Johnson came into the season a fairly decent option at second base. In one keeper league I was in, him and Ben Zobrist were both available. I considered them to be at the same talent level and went with Johnson. Wrong choice. Today I will look to see why Johnson has fallen on hard times and was there any signs for the drop off in production?

First off here is a look at some of his stats over the years and his 2011 ZIPS projection:

2005 Braves 87 334 9 46 40 2 25.9 % 0.295 0.241 0.334 0.397
2007 Braves 147 608 16 91 68 9 22.5 % 0.328 0.276 0.375 0.457
2008 Braves 150 614 12 86 69 11 20.7 % 0.340 0.287 0.349 0.446
2009 Braves 106 346 8 47 29 7 17.8 % 0.247 0.224 0.303 0.389
2010 Diamondbacks 154 671 26 93 71 13 25.3 % 0.339 0.284 0.370 0.496
2011 ZiPS (R) 438 14 59 44 10 23.7 % 0.306 0.260 0.334 0.450
2011 Diamondbacks 39 168 4 17 7 6 34.2 % 0.250 0.184 0.253 0.309

Kelly actually looks to produce pretty decent in a few fantasy categories if he keeps producing at his current rate. If he were to play in 120 games, thereby tripling the number of games he would be in, his SB would extract out to 18 (a career high). Also his Runs (51) and home runs (12) would be respectable. His main problem is his 0.184 AVG.

There are two main factors driving down his batting average. The first is his lower than average BABIP of 0.250. He put up a BABIP of 0.339 last season and was projected to have one around 0.306 for this season. His LD% has dropped from 20.5% to 15% this season with most of the change going to GB%. Using the common run that every 1% drop in LD%, BABIP goes down 0.010, this would explain the drop in BABIP.

In 2009, he had an even lower BABIP (0.247) than he does this season, but his AVG was 40 points higher. The main cause for this difference is that Kelly is striking out twice as much (34.2%) this season, then he did in in 2009 (17.8%). Here is a look at his plate discipline over the past few years:

Year Team Swing % Contact% O-Contact Z-Contact SwStr%
2005 Braves 42.3 % 79.1 % 33.0 % 87.4 % 8.8 %
2007 Braves 39.3 % 82.2 % 59.7 % 89.4 % 6.9 %
2008 Braves 46.9 % 80.8 % 59.1 % 88.9 % 8.9 %
2009 Braves 44.8 % 84.4 % 59.1 % 93.9 % 7.1 %
2010 Diamondbacks 46.2 % 76.9 % 58.5 % 86.9 % 10.4 %
2011 Diamondbacks 49.1 % 72.4 % 63.8 % 78.1 % 13.2 %

He is swinging at a few more pitches than in the last couple of years. This trend is not necessarily bad, but he is making less and less contact. His contact rate has dropped 12 percentage points (84.4% to 72.4%) over the last couple of years. The problem is not with him swinging at balls outside of the strike zone, in which his contact rate is up. Actually, he is having problems making contact with pitches in the strike zone (94% down to 78%).

Coming into the season, his AVG looked to regress some considering the high BABIP he had in 2010. His BABIP did regress, but the main cause of the lack of production is his inability to put the ball in play for the pitches he swings at. It would have been tough to predict the huge increase in strikeouts this season.

Kelly may be a buy low candidate (as he looks to still have a little power and can steal a few bases), but his average right now will drag down the rest of the team. Until he is able to start hitting line drives and putting the bat on the ball, an owner may need to look for other options.

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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.

15 Responses to “Kelly Johnson: Why the Low AVG?”

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  1. B says:

    Awfully hard to do much when you’re striking out that much. I outright dropped him the other day. Arizona seems to have cut hm a lot of slack, given him time off to get himself together, but if he keeps playing like this he’s going to get a lot fewer ABs.

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    • AA says:

      Arizona has a history of cutting slack to power hitters who strikeout a lot and hit for a low AVG.

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  2. PJ says:

    I should have listened to the haters from last season. What a wasted keeper!

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  3. Alex says:

    I have added and dropped KJ twice in my 10 team mixed league.

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  4. a guess says:

    Maybe he has the vision problem which causing the decline of ct%.

    Also, noticed that he really got impatient and swing more (but make less contact) as the game progressed. The 1st or 2nd at-bat of ballgame usually are his most quality at-bats.

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  5. Elias says:

    pet peeve – his contact rate dropped 12 percentage points, not 12% (in fact it dropped 14%). empirically not a big deal here, but in general there is a difference.

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  6. cs3 says:

    “if he keeps producing at his current rate. If he were to play in 120 games, thereby tripling the number of games he would be in, his SB would extract out to 18 (a career high). Also his Runs (51) and home runs (12) would be respectable. His main problem is his 0.184 AVG.”
    I dont think 50 runs and 50 rbi’s is anywhere near rosterable in normal leagues unless
    A) the guys a .300+ hitter or
    B) hes going to steal 30+ bases.

    also while 12 HRs is not totally terrible from a 2B, its still well below avg.
    12 HR’s would rank just 16th among fantasy 2B last year, and ill guess much lower this season considering Lowries full time play, Pedroia’s return, Zobrist’s re-emergence, and Cuddyers 2B eligibility.
    to put 12 HR in perspective,that puts in the company of Marco Scutaro, Howie Kendrick, Alberto Callapso, Jose Lopez, and Jerr Hairston of 2010… you want any of those guys on your team?

    since KJ is reaching neither A) nor B) even in his wildest dreams, id strongly disagree with the sentiment that hes in any way respectable from a fantasy standpoint

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    • Jeff Zimmerman says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      True on the numbers, I should always base it on smaller leagues. The smallest league I am in this year has 16 teams.

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    • Toz says:

      Like Jeff assumes larger leagues, you assume smaller ones. The answer to your question is, yes, I want those guys on my team in NL-only or AL-only, particularly in 5×5 where counting stats matter. I know you may consider “normal” leagues to be 10 or 12 team mixed, but when you can drop Kelly Johnson because of his poor start, then you aren’t in a deep enough league.

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  7. cs3 says:

    thats true, my response was assuming that most people play in 12 man leagues.
    In deep formats Jeff is right, he is definitely rosterable.

    however even in 16 teamers,I would still say KJ has been is no more than a fringe bench player. Yes, he has plenty of time/room to regress back to his career numbers, but his peripheral #’s suggest thats not going to happen.
    His LD, GB, BB, Contact, SwStr and K rates are all much worse than they were last year.
    And like Jeff showed us in the chart at the top of the article, he only had 2 good seasons before 201o, and tehy were both fueled by high BABIP

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  8. Schmerl says:

    A guy in my league (who thinks that these types of statistics are a joke) offered me Johnson for Dempster two weeks ago and I basically laughed. When he kept trying to push him on me, I made this analysis for him. He said I had no idea what I was talking about when I said Johnson has poor pitch selection this year as well as something being off about his swing (due to a huge drop in LD% and an increase in swinging strikes in the strike zone). It’s nice to see that people who know these in depth statistics better than me basically came to the same conclusions:

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  9. Pete_Bondurant says:

    Here is a typical Johnson at bat:

    Pitch one: fastball down the middle that Johnson always takes

    Pitch two: a breaking ball on the inside that Johnson always swings through

    Pitch three- somthing low that Johnson eithers chases and fouls off or takes.

    Pitch four- another breaking ball on the inside that Johnson misses or takes for a strike.

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