Key Stats: After a 2009 that saw Kelly Johnson reach career lows in average, OBP, and slugging (and consequently at-bats which led to career lows in runs, home runs, and RBI), Johnson found the desert to be especially warm as he righted his career. He acheived new career highs in average, OBP, and slugging (and consequently had the at-bats and numbers that led to new career highs in runs, home runs, and RBI). In his 28 year old season he became a case study of why not to give up on a player when he moves into a hitter’s park.
Skeptics Say: Mark Reynolds clearly rubbed off on him. Johnson set a career high for strikeouts and came within percentage points of tying his career high strikeout rate. Given the overall success Johnson experienced last season it is unlikely that his approach will change much.
Another concern is that Johnson had the highest home run to fly ball rate of his career. Clearly playing in Chase Field helped (16 of his 26 home runs were at home), but even the ten road home runs were high for Johnson.
Peer Comparison: Johnson was not the only second basemen who went from fantasy castaway (and practically real baseball castaway) to a top 75 player. In fact this sort of thing has happened again and again over the years. Last year Johnson was joined by Rickie Weeks as players that were ranked worse than 900th according to Yahoo in 2009, but came back to both be ranked in the top 60 last season. Two seasons before, Aaron Hill was ranked over 900th when he suffered a concussion, and finished 2009 as a top 30 player. Johnson, Hill, and Weeks have all had their taste of awful and brilliant seasons recently, so trying to decipher who will be the best value among the three this year is an interesting debate.
All three players are in their late 20s, so the potential is there from that angle. Given that Weeks and Johnson were both brilliant last season, they are going to be drafted significantly earlier than Hill, who thought it would be a good idea to stop hitting line drives last season (10.6% leading to a .196 BABIP). If you ask me which player I’m taking though, it’s Hill for that exact reason. Hill had a line drive rate of at least 17.3% in every other season he’s played. Assuming he can get back to that threshold next season, he will be able to hit around .250. That’s 3 points lower than Weeks has hit over 7 seasons. Given that Johnson should have his average come down a little, Hill is comparable in that category. The power is already there with Hill. Despite how bad things were for him in 2009, he matched Johnson at his absolute best in the home run category. If Hill is hitting .250, there’s reason to also believe the Blue Jays will hit him in a spot where he could score and/or drive in runs. Couch Managers has Hill going 63 picks after Johnson. I’ll gladly wait.
Lineup Outlook: Reynolds is gone which to me does not make the lineup better in 2011. He did not even hit .200 last season, but given that he’s being replaced in the lineup by Melvin Mora and that Reynolds did have an OPS of over 1.000 in RISP situations last year, it will hurt Johnson a little. Nonetheless, this team and this lineup is very much up and coming. Similar to Johnson, Chris Young bounced back nicely and figures to continue to be an impact player. Brandon Allen has nothing left to prove in the minors and is capable of replacing the impact that Adam LaRoche had on this team last year. Arizona was in the middle of the pack last year in terms of runs, and should be again this season.
What They’re Saying: Yahoo: #9 Second Baseman & #98 Overall; CBS Sportsline: #10 Second Baseman; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN.com: Not ranked in top 10; FB 365: #11 Second Baseman; Couch Managers: #77 Overall
Projection: One of the most popular arguments against Johnson is that so much of his 2010 season was helped by a hot April in which he was ranked 14th in fantasy baseball. That’s fair, but he was also the 32nd best player in July and 29th best in September.
88 R 21 HR 74 RBI 11 SB .270 AVG .848 OPS
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