When the Braves traded their projected starting third baseman for Justin Upton, they needed to get an infielder back. So they got Chris Johnson, a 28-year old platoon third baseman. As of now, the plan appears to be a lefty-righty platoon of Johnson and Juan Francisco. We saw enough of Juan last year to know what he is: a feast-or-famine slugger who’s an average defender and okay against righties but brutal against lefties. (Plus, he’s in the best shape of his career!) So who is Chris?
Here’s what Michael Barr of Fangraphs had to say, and it’s a pretty good start:
Johnson, 28, is a career .276/.315/.430 hitter, with a .347 BABIP on the back of a 24% career line drive rate. He shows flashes of power in fits and spurts, but has never been particularly consistent in the long ball department. He walks very little, strikes out a lot (the Kevin Towers kiss of death, it seems), and has a brutal glove.
Johnson is a Florida native, born in Naples and starring at Stetson University in DeLand, Chipper’s home town. (The connections run deep, as a Stetson news release indicates: “Jones, a DeLand Native, is the God son of Stetson head coach Pete Dunn. Jones’s father Larry was Coach Dunn’s teammate and roommate at Stetson, and an assistant coach with the Hatters for a decade.”)
Chris Johnson’s father, Ron Johnson, is a longtime major league and minor league coach and short-time player who received a couple cups of coffee in the early ’80s. He spent much of the past decade with the Boston Red Sox, but he was one of the many coaches axed after the 2011 swoon. He’s now with the Orioles organization, and spent last season managing the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. (Justin and B.J. Upton are from Norfolk. COINCIDENCE???)
So that means that Johnson will be going back to Florida for spring training, which would not have happened if he had stayed in Arizona, and that will be nice. On the other hand, he’ll also be trying to replace Chipper Jones, which would have been daunting even if he hadn’t been the godson of his college coach.
When talking about Johnson, it’s a lot easier to talk about what he can’t do. He can’t play defense, for example: among qualified players, he is easily the worst defensive third baseman in the majors. Since 2010, he has -32.8 UZR and -39 DRS, and despite that reputation, when the Diamondbacks got him last summer, a blogger at AZ Snake Pit still found that he was “looking even more mediocre than expected on defense.”
Another thing: he doesn’t hit as many homers as you’d like. His power is inconsistent, as Barr said. In all, his HR/FB since 2010 is 11.0 percent, making him 17th among 33 qualified third basemen: 0.6 percent below Chipper Jones, 0.3 percent above Casey McGehee. Same with ISO, where his .157 mark makes him 18 of 33, six points behind Ty Wigginton and four points ahead of Ryan Roberts, whom he replaced in Arizona. He has a bit of pop, but he isn’t a power hitter.
Another other thing: for a right-handed hitter, he apparently can’t hit lefties. For his career, he’s at .283/.323/.452 against righties, .255/.294/.372 against lefties. However, as Anon21 pointed out, his sample size against lefties is relatively tiny — just 360 major league PA — so it could be a blip.
Strangely, as it happens, he didn’t spend much more time hitting against them in the minors, either. I took a look at his minor league splits, and in the minors from 2006 to 2010, he had 1380 against RHP and 414 PA against LHP; he hit .281/.321/.430 against righties and .267/.300/.417 against lefties.*
The minor league splits site doesn’t list sacrifice flies, so I took his total number of sac flies per year from baseball-reference and just proportionally assigned them by number of plate appearances lefty and righty. So those OBPs I calculated are pretty close to correct but they aren’t 100%.
So his reverse platoon split wasn’t as pronounced in the minors as it has been in the majors, but it was still there. That’s a shame, because the whole point of a platoon is having at least one person who can hit lefties. Even if Johnson is a marginally better hitter than Francisco — and I’m not convinced that he is — Francisco’s borderline-average glove runs rings around Johnson’s tattered leather, and more than makes up for whatever difference is between them with the bat.
If Johnson can’t hit lefties, then he should be a pinch hitter or stashed in Gwinnett. And if he doesn’t hit in April or May, then I don’t particularly care about small sample size any more. His true talent is so mediocre with the bat and so appalling with the glove that I’m ready to give up on him at the first opportunity. But Evan Gattis will need a couple of months to learn how to play third.