Did Reed Johnson fall into the chasm of “stinks once donning a Braves uni,” like so many before him had? Or was there still some redeeming value for him yet?
On July 21, Matt Diaz was put on the disabled list with a thumb injury. Regardless, Matt Diaz was not producing on-par of the cult lefty killer we in Braves Country had grown to love over the last few years. The Diaz injury opened up a vacancy on the bench for a right-handed bat who could play some outfield, and make the occasional start against left-handed pitching.
On July 30, Reed Johnson, along with Paul Maholm, was acquired from the Cubs in a deal which saw the Braves send Arodys Vizcaino and Jaye Chapman to Chicago. At first blush, Johnson was a noticeable upgrade over Matt Diaz; at the time of the trade, Johnson was hitting .302/.355/.444 with a .347 wOBA and 115 wRC+, and had accumulated 0.8 bWAR. Furthermore, he brought the capability to play all three outfield spots, giving Fredi Gonzalez a reliable man to spell any of the regular outfielders, and not just left field when Martin Prado had to relieve Chipper Jones at third, or needed his own rest.
With the 2012 season now behind us, Reed Johnson's numbers as a Brave could justifiably be construed as somewhat of a disappointment, considering how he was playing prior to joining the Braves. In 43 games as a Brave, Johnson accrued 105 plate appearances in which he hit .270/.305/.320 with a .278 wOBA and 71 wRC+; all noticeable drops from his slash lines as a Cub, and was worth negative value, with a -0.5 bWAR. His fielding ranked worse as a Brave than a Cub, and his base-running was downright atrocious.
Despite being touted as a guy who could play all three outfield positions, throughout his 10-year career, Reed Johnson isn't exactly a Gold Glove talent in either of the three outfield positions. To no surprise, left field is where he is the least detrimental, but he has logged at least 110 innings per outfield spot in just about every season he's played. Unfortunately the trend of "dropping off once joining the Braves" comes into play here, as based on his UZR scores, Johnson's numbers in all three outfield spots took a little bit of a dive compared to his career numbers, as well as his numbers while on the Cubs in the same season.
There's really no sugar-coating it, Reed Johnson didn't exactly set the world on fire as a member of the Braves. However, it bears repeating that Reed Johnson really shouldn't have been expected to be setting the world on fire, considering the role he was brought in to play, being a right-handed bat off the bench and a fourth outfielder.
Pinch-hitting and hitting against lefties is and has always been Reed Johnson's strengths, and when relied upon to handle these specific tasks, Reed Johnson is still nothing short of outstanding. Off the bench for the Braves, Reed Johnson hit 7-for-21, with a double and a walk. It doesn't sound monumental by any stretch, but that .333 average is noticeably greater than his overall numbers as a Brave. Overall on the season with his numbers with the Cubs included, Reed Johnson was a veritable force off the bench, hitting .361/.391/.492 as a substitute, which were all notably higher than his career averages.
Against the lefties, Johnson shined all throughout 2012, hitting an overall .311/.354/.444 against the southpaws, which is just about around his career averages of .311/.367/.461 in ten seasons in the bigs. And just as Matt Diaz so often did, Reed Johnson stayed on par with his own lopsided history with the Mets' Johan Santana - .500/.500/.1000 (1.500 OPS).
Pretty much, I'll err on the side that Reed Johnson was a little bit overexposed once he got to the Braves. Naturally, a lot of it could be credited to how often Martin Prado had to shift to third, or whenever Michael Bourn or Jason Heyward needed a day off. As a Cub, Reed Johnson started 33 games out of the 76 he appeared in (43%), but Fredi Gonzalez wasted little time in utilizing Johnson to spell some of his regular outfielders, starting Reed in four of his first five games as a Brave. Overall, Reed Johnson made 21 starts in his 43 games, which was just under 50% of the time.
So maybe Reed Johnson was a little overexposed, or perhaps the quality of pitching in the NL East was a little more prevalent than in the NL Central. Maybe Turner Field outfield feels more like PETCO Park compared to the Friendly Confines' diminutive outfield. But the bottom line is that Reed Johnson's core numbers may not be that impressive, but we can still see the positive contributions he's capable of delivering if used more selectively.
Reed Johnson is a free agent going into 2013, and there hasn't exactly been a lot of discussion on whether or not the Braves are remotely interested in bringing him back. Based on his audition with the Braves in 2012, it's hard to imagine that he will command a great deal of money, but the fact is that guys like Reed Johnson are always in demand from contenders as well as pretenders, every offseason. A right-handed batter that has a proven track record of mashing lefties, and contrary to the numbers, allegedly can play all three outfield spots will get Reed Johnson gainful employment somewhere, even it isn't with the Braves.
But hey, Matt Diaz could theoretically be healthy by next season, and could be brought back instead.