Quick! While I've got your attention, name one of the guys who signed a long-term contract extension with the Braves earlier this year who you're most excited about! Surely it's one of the 3 All-Stars, right? I mean, there's plenty to be excited about when it comes to the future of guys like Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel and Julio Teheran! They're young, they're talented, and they've got the whole world ahead of them and they'll do a majority of it with a Tomahawk across their chest. Hey, Andrelton Simmons is still a dynamo on defense and he'll be here for the forseeable future as well! Plus maybe, just maybe, Jason Heyward will sign a long-term deal that will keep him as our defensive dynamo in the outfield. Those are all guys who signed contracts earlier this season who I bet you're excited about.
One guy who signed a contract who I guarantee you're not excited about? Chris Johnson. Now before you scroll down to the end of this article so you can fire off that hot comment, don't worry; I'm not gonna try to convince you to get fired up about Chris Johnson being an Atlanta Brave until the end of 2017 (with a potential option in 2018. Woohoo!). I'm about as excited for that as I would be to play through Stage 7 of Castlevania 3 on the NES. That's to say that I'm not excited about it in the least bit.
It's easy to point out why I'm not excited about Chris Johnson being here in the long term. Last year, he was 5th in fWAR amongst National League 3rd basemen. That was after a career year. This year, of the 12 3rd basemen in the NL labeled as "qualified" by fangraphs, good ol' CJ is 11th with an fWAR of 0.9 so far this season. Again, #11 out of 12. The only positive about being #11 out of 12 is that you aren't dead last, so at least Johnson has that going for him.
Now, why is his fWAR so low? Normally Johnson takes a hit to his WAR anyways because of the fact that he is pretty bad at defense. His DRS is -13 and his UZR/150 is -4.2 while his regular UZR is -2.6. That sound you hear is glass shattering because Stone Glove Chris Johnson is coming through. But the bad defense isn't the only reason. His .276/.300/.386 slash line at the plate with a wRC+ of 91 is a big reason why that WAR is so low. Another reason? His ISO is currently at a paltry .110, which would be a career low for Johnson if the season ended today. Then, there's the stat that everybody looks at when it comes to Chris Johnson. It's the stat that he was basically the god of in 2013: BABIP. Last year, it was .394 (!!!). This year? .361. He's still 4th in BABIP in the NL, but a 30 point drop is still a 30 point drop.
Now, why did his BABIP drop so precipitously? Well first off, there's no way that he could possibly hope to sustain a BABIP that was described as "astonishing" by someone a lot smarter than me. To see what a decline in BABIP looks like, just take a look at his spray charts from 2013 and through 2014.
(Click to enlarge, and credit to fangraphs)
If you take a look at the right side of the field on each chart, his success rate going opposite field is nowhere near what it was last season. Seriously, look at 2013's graph and take a gander at that cluster of green in shallow right field, the slew of blue dots around the right field foul line, and even that amazingly rare oppo homer (as a bonus, here's video of the black dot from 2013 that barely made it out of the seats and fair, which Chip Caray hilariously called a "no-doubter"). There's some success on the other side, but it's nowhere near what it was in 2013, which was the season that got Chris Johnson a $23.5 MM contract extension.
Now that I've sufficiently bummed you out, it's time for the part where I tell you that maybe, just maybe, it's not all that bad. Indeed, for the past two-and-a-half months, Chris Johnson has been pretty good at the plate. Since June 1st, Johnson has hit .291/.320/.425 with 108 wRC+, 7 HRs, and a BABIP of .379. His past two months or so are more in line with what his career numbers are (.287/.322/.429, 104 wRC+, .360 BABIP), which means that the current version of Chris Johnson is the one that we should expect. He's never going to put up spectacular numbers at the plate (unless it's BABIP), but as long as he can avoid falling into that pit of doom that he slipped into in the early goings of this season, he'll be worthy of a spot in the lineup and won't be a black hole of suck.
The BABIP God has gotten a lot of flack this season, and his production in April and May merited it. That criticism ramped up when he signed a contract extension, but the contract itself isn't exactly an anchor on the team's payroll, and as long as he can keep on being his old steady-if-unspectacular self at the plate, the contract is most definitely the most movable of the aforementioned extensions, and doesn't look like it'll be one of those contracts that belongs in Frank Wren's recycle bin (like the Uggla and B.J. deals).
Plus, with the statistical oddities in Chris Johnson's tow, we get to see weird things happen. Last night, he faced off against Jon Lester. Jon Lester is one of the league leaders in HR/FB%, which was a sparkling 5.7%. Chris Johnson's ISO is at a career-low .110. A pitcher with a low HR/FB% absolutely should not be giving up homers to someone whose raw power rates as lowly as .110. However, this still happened.
This happened around 16 or 17 hours ago and I'm still in shock. My head is still spinning. This is all the unassailable proof you need that Chris Johnson is not only the BABIP God, but he's also become the Destroyer of HR/FB% and All Other Things That Make Sense.
He's a weird case, but he's not all that bad, either. If all the statistical proof above isn't enough, then here's a question for all of the twitter users on here: When's the last time you saw this macro?
(•_•) <) )╯Chris / \ \(•_•) ( (> Johnson / \ (•_•) <) )> Sucks / \— Dan Simpson (@DSimpson88) June 17, 2014
It's been a while, and here's hoping that (as funny as it is) we don't see it too much in the future.