Last season, it took me some time to drop my fear that Chris Johnson was just lucky. His BABIP of .394, which often ventured north of .400, made him a constant concern. After all, rarely do players maintain high BABIP’s for very long. Nevertheless, Johnson finished 2013 with a fine slash line of .321/.358/.457. He didn’t walk much, but he never did in the past. He struck out a personal low 21.2% of the time and his ISO of .136 was actually down, but over all, it was a productive 2.8 fWAR season for a third baseman largely considered the throw-in of the Martin Prado and prospects deal for Justin Upton last offseason.
This season, things have not been as pleasant, or as lucky. Johnson has walked less (2.6%), which is fairly ridiculous. His wOBA of .285 would be his lowest of his career. The only reason his fWAR has stayed positive (0.4) is because of a likely unsustainable positive UZR of 1.6. His best UZR was last season’s -5.2.
But is he unlucky now? His BABIP is .346 this season, 14 points lower than his career average and nearly 50 points lower than last season. But it’s not that greatly different than his 2012 season with the Astros and Diamondbacks where he slashed .281/.326/.451. At a position that lacks offensive talent, that’s a productive third baseman even if he’s not gifted defensively.
What’s wrong? Well, he’s walking less and his 0.11 BB/K rate would be horrendous and a new low. But that can’t be it. He’s not hitting for power, but why? Because the numbers don’t reflect a notable change in how he’s hitting the ball, I am inclined to believe it’s more mechanical or mental. Considering his most recent bout with yet another temper tantrum, that seems reasonable. One problem he has had this season is that he’s chasing more than usual. That is typically a sign of a guy chasing. Last season, 39.4% of “balls” were offered at (meaning, outside the zone). This season, he’s swinging at 5% more of those pitches and 4% more than his career average. He’s swinging more and with less results.
At the beginning of May, the Braves signed Johnson to a $23.5M contract over the next three seasons with an option for 2018. They need more of the guy who played well last season and less of this version of Johnson. And truly, as convinced as I was last season that the other shoe would drop, the more I look at his numbers, the more I am convinced Johnson should be better. He’s not as good as he was last year, but he’s not this bad. He seems more comparable to the 2011 version.
He needs to get out of his own damn head first, though.