"By CapitolAvenueClub | October 7, 2009
Mark Bradley comments on his own blog the following:
I read the Cox quote [stating the organization just can't give up on Kelly Johnson], too. And I said to myself, "Why can’t they give up on Kelly?"
I’ve composed a letter of response to this comment.
Dear Mark Bradley,
Why can’t the Braves give up on Kelly Johnson? Because the organization isn’t stupid enough to give up on a player just because of frustration. Let me be clear, Kelly Johnson is a rather frustrating player. Though his range is above-average, he frequently makes errors–usually at inopportune and highly visible times. That’s frustrating. He’s also been an inexplicably streaky player. I don’t believe previous streaky-ness indicates future streaky-ness, I think it’s something that happens because of entropy, randomness, and luck, but it’s still frustrating.
Like I said though, his defensive deficiencies stem from his errors, not his range. With a little more work and experience, there’s no reason to think he’s incapable of eliminating (or minimizing) them from his game and becoming an above-average defensive 2B. And even if he doesn’t, he’s a close-to-average defender at 2B right now. His +/- totals at 2B:
2007 … 0
2008 … -1
2009 … -2
And then there’s his bat. The bat has shown potential to be, and has been in 2007 and 2008, an above-average one. In 2007 he hit .276/.375/.457/.831 (117 OPS+) with 16 HR, 10 3B, and 26 2B. He scored more runs (91) than he drove in (68). He walked 79(!) times and struck out 117. In 2008, he hit .287/.349/.446/.795 (108 OPS+) with 12 HR, 6 3B, and 39 2B. Again, he scored more runs (86) than he drove in (69). He walked 52 times and struck out 113.
This season, he’s hit .224/.303/.389/.692 (82 OPS+) with 8 HR, 3 3B, and 20 2B. The percent of the time he hits a home run is 2.3%. It was 2.0% in 2008 and 2.6% in 2007. His ability to hit home runs hasn’t changed at all. The percent of the time he records an extra-base hit in general is 9.0%. It was 9.3% in 2008 and 8.6% in 2007. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has actually improved from 2008 (2.17) to 1.69. His contact rate has improved (19.2% K% in 2007, 18.4% K% in 2008, 15.6% K% in 2009) and his walk rate is up from 2008 (8.5% BB%) to 9.3% BB%. He’s not popping it up on the infield as much as he did in 2007 and 2008 (12%), generating an infield fly ball only 11% of the time. So what’s changed that’s leading to his terrible results in 2009?
Well, there are two things at play here. First of all, he’s not hit as many line drives in 2009 as he has in his career. Line Drives turn into hits a lot more frequently than ground balls or fly balls do. His career average LD% is 17%. That figure is down to 14%. Now, the ability to hit a line drive is a skill, but a 3% difference over 346 PA’s isn’t statistically significant. That is–the best explanation for this change is that nothing has fundamentally changed and random fluctuations are responsible for the difference in results. Still, this is enough to count for merely two or three points on his batting average. And, likewise, his OBP and SLG%. Considering the fact that his fundamental skills are largely unchanged, something else is obviously going on.
The answer is luck. Kelly Johnson has gotten extremely unlucky this season and it has nothing to do with his input. For instance, his BABIP–something he can’t control–is down from his career mark of .311 to .247. If a few more ground balls find holes (something that happens because of luck, not a hitter’s skill), a few more fly balls drop (same explanation) and a few more line-drives aren’t right at somebody, his results look a whole lot rosier. The difference between a .224 hitter and a .300 hitter is roughly one hit every three games. It’s very likely that Kelly Johnson has simply fallen on some hard luck.
In fact, when you plug in Kelly’s stats to this Component Batting Average Calculator (303 AB’s, 82% Contact Rate, 6.1% HR/FB, 52% FB%, and .247 BABIP), it predicts a .222 batting average–just two points off of his actual 2009 batting average–and 8 HR, as he’s hit. Adjust Kelly’s .247 BABIP to his career average of .311 and you’ve got yourself at a .273 hitter. The difference is just luck. .273/.352/.438/.790 is Kelly’s luck-adjusted line, and that’s assuming that all of the hits on balls in play he was "robbed of" turn out to be singles. That .790 OPS is 48 points higher than the league average 2B has produced in 2009. His .795 OPS was 51 points higher than the league average for 2B in 2008 and his .831 OPS was 72 points higher than the league average for 2B in 2007. No matter what which way you slice it, Kelly’s bat is going to play above-average at 2B with any luck at all.
So you’ve got a left-handed hitting middle infielder who plays average defense, runs the bases well, posts excellent walk rates, shows some pop, and posts fairly good contact rates. And you have a hard time wondering why professional talent evaluators don’t want to give up on him? I think they’d be crazy to get rid of Kelly Johnson.
I don’t buy the "he’s not worth the money" argument either. Kelly Johnson’s 0.6 WAR this season make him only slightly less valuable than his contract ~$285,000 (something that has never happened in his MLB career, he’s always been significantly more valuable than his contract) and he’s been worth, on average over the last 4 years, $7.65 million. Kelly Johnson is an immensely valuable commodity, no matter how much your emotions of frustration deceive you.
One final point. After Kelly Johnson hit .214/.288/.359 in 263 PA’s through July 2 (he was placed on the DL shortly thereafter), he hit .261/.358/.493/.851 in 83 PA’s from July 23 (his return from the DL) to the end of the season. Things are trending upwards and Kelly has turned it around. Wherever he plays next year, he’s going to be a very good 2B. I just hope the Braves don’t look past the talent and into the frustration and end up non-tendering him. He’s too valuable and there’s too much talent and potential to let get away. Especially if his on-field production is going to net you more than you’re paying him. Which it, in all likelihood, will.
-A Mark Bradley and Kelly Johnson Fan"
Wow, PWHjort...You have so eloquently stated what I have been screaming and arguing for months now. You have posted this better than I ever could have, and I thank you for it!
Let the KJ hating resume!