Kelly Johnson: A DeRosa Alternative

Earlier today, Erik posted on the market for Mark DeRosa. I won’t rehash that analysis with which I substantially agree. Quick take: CHONE has him as .255/.333/.414 hitter next year, which Rally translates to -2 linear weights per 150 games. My projection is roughly the same: .263/.339/.431 for +5/150 (my lwts must differ in terms of individual weights and baseline). As an infield defender, DeRosa is below average at both second and third. Assuming he’s in decent health, he projects as about a 2 WAR player. That’s useful (league average) of course, but at 35 years old, DeRosa seems short on upside and high on risk.

Still, some teams might need a DeRosa type to fill a (high-priced) super-utility role or an infield/outfield spot, and there is only one DeRosa… or is there? While I dislike dealing in shadowy realm of rumor, Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson has been mentioned in multiple places as a non-tender candidate given his 2009 performance and replacement by Martin Prado in Atlanta. Johnson is due a substantial raise in arbitration, one that Atlanta seems unwilling to pay to a player who they don’t see as a starter.

Johnson has struggled defensively at second base, but despite his down year offensively in 2009, he still projects as an above-average hitter. CHONE projects Johnson to hit .268/.346/.436 (+3 runs/150) in 2010. My projections have almost the same “three-slash,” .268/.346/.441 (+9/150 according to my lwts). Both sets of projections have him hitting better than DeRosa in 2010.

Moreover, their defensive skill set seems to be roughly the same. Both are in the minus five to minus eight range as second basemen. I’m not sure whether Johnson could handle third base on a regular basis, but DeRosa isn’t exactly Mike Schmidt out there. DeRosa has played good outfield defense in the past. Johnson’s UZR numbers for left field reflect an incredibly small sample. Still, the Fans Scouting Report as well as his excellent speed scores imply that Johnson would be probably average at worst in left.

Johnson and DeRosa have similar defensive skills (bad infield defense, decent outfield defense), and Johnson probably is the better hitter. Johnson is also 7 years younger. Teams could wait to see if Atlanta will non-tender Johnson, or, if they really want to get a jump on the market, he could probably be had for very little given Atlanta’s lack of leverage in this situation. Johnson may have a fairly big arbitration award coming, but it seems unlikely to be as large as what DeRosa would command on a one-year deal. Teams interested in this type of player should be viewing DeRosa as a backup plan if they can’t get Johnson, not the other way around.

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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.

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+/- likes KJ a lot more than UZR. I realize you’re not inclined to print Dewan’s numbers here, but it’s worth note, I think.

On the hole I think KJ is about average. Above-average range, especially up the middle, bad hands, shaky footwork, decent arm.

He makes too many errors, and fans’ opinion of his defense is sometimes disproportionately skewed by the visibility of these errors.