Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Kelly Johnson And Second Base

I have a little bit of a soft spot for Aaron Hill, so it was hard to see him leave for the desert. Aaron and his wife, Elizabeth, contributed both their time and money to the Ontario SPCA; which in my mind, is the best way to directly support the posting of kitten videos on the internet. Hill wasn't just a softy, though. He'd enter the batter's box to the tune of Iron Man by Black Sabbath to which the entire crowd (or just me) would sing, "I am Aaron Hill, Nah-Nah-Nah-NahNah, Aaron Hill."

When Aaron finally regained form after a devastating concussion, I was genuinely happy for the guy. Hill's 36 bombs in 2009 landed him AL Comeback Player of the Year to boot. People in Toronto like overcoming adversary, you see. We're all empathetic hosers that feast on maple syrup and Molson Canadian.

But, Aaron Hill is gone and we're left with Kelly Johnson, who thankfully is basically the same player. There are small differences like handedness, but both players bring a solid glove to second base while providing a good amount of pop. Both Johnson and Hill are coming off rather lackluster years, but it's probably safe to assume rebound seasons are in order. For Johnson, his 21 HR and 16 SB at least made his .222/.304/.414 triple-slash tolerable. His plate discipline seemed to head in the right direction north of the border, though. In 132 PA in Toronto, Johnson dropped his K-Rate from 27.4% to 23.5% while upping his walk-rate to 12.1% from 9.1%.  His slugging percentage remained similar, but his Toronto line of .270/.364/.417 was inline with his career norms. Johnson's BABIP went skyward, but that's what posting a 27% Line-Drive Rate will do for a player.

In Toronto, Johnson was whiffing less, making better contact inside of the zone, and swinging less in general. There's a sample-size warning, but the approach of seeing more pitches and hitting the ones that he liked, certainly helped Johnson salvage 2011.

Heading into 2012, there's still a little bit of uncertainty regarding Kelly Johnson but for the most part we know what we'll get. There's a chance he posts one of his really good but not great years, but the projection systems seem to agree that he'll walk about 10% of the time, strike-out about a quarter of the time, hit around 20 HR, steal about 15 bases, and post a .250 BA with a .330 OBP. Fangraphs FAN poll is slightly more optimistic and predicts Johnson to be about a 4.0 Win player. That's not the 6 Win player of 2010, but that's certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Personally, I'm fairly optimistic about Johnson heading into 2012. Sure, he'll strike out and yes, some of them will be painful to watch but his power/speed combination is something we've grown to expect from our second baseman in Toronto. A 25HR-15SB season from Johnson isn't a sure bet, and may not even be likely, but I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see him put it up.

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