Chris Johnson

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.

113 thoughts on “Chris Johnson”

  1. What are the odds Johnson or Francisco gets flipped before the season for a useful part? They seem like the same player.

  2. Yeah, 3B is looking really ugly right now. I’m a little concerned that it will be the fatal flaw of the 2013 Braves, but at the same time it may prove to be so bad that a single transaction could help the team far more than any one fix could have helped last year’s team.

  3. It’s hard to imagine Francisco/Johnson hitter that poorly, that they could single-handily destroy the team. They’re also replacing Chipper Jones, who was basically a statue out there in 2012, so maybe the defense will improve at third a little bit?

  4. Pardon my ignorance, but is it possible to sign and trade Michael Bourn? Has anything like that ever been done in baseball?

  5. Yeah, but if we did that, we’d lose the supplemental pick. So, for that to work, we’d have to receive something between the value of the #11 (Mets) or #12 (Mariners) pick and the supplemental pick, which is a pretty tight range and a lot of scheming for a small inefficiency.

  6. It’s possible. The idea behind it is that (for example, if the Braves signed and traded Bourn to the Rangers) the receiving team (Texas, in this scenario) would not lose their first-round pick (since they didn’t technically sign a FA). However, the Braves would not receive a supplemental pick either and so Texas’s prospect would have to be equivalent to whatever the Braves thought they could have gotten with that pick. Then, there’s the never-ending risk of somebody not passing a physical or changing their mind. An MLB executive put it this way:

    We do think it’s possible to effectuate a sign-and-trade consistent with the Basic Agreement. The player would have to give an advance waiver of the right not to be traded. The union has been reluctant to do this in the past, but indicated some willingness to allow it here. So it is possible to pull off a sign-and-trade.

    There are a variety of difficult issues surrounding a sign-and-trade deal and, yes, we’ve had conversations with the clubs that are potentially involved. The rules of free agency in the Basic Agreement, collectively bargained by MLB and the Players Association, allows for a trade or assignment of a signed free agent to another team prior to June 15 “if the player gives written consent to such a transaction.”

    This is advance consent. Usually the union has been against that. They’ve said it has to be in the context of a known deal. But they said they’re prepared to do it in this case, which makes the sign-and-trade possible.

  7. Thanks! So, maybe. I’m just thinking out loud, and I know it’s highly unlikely. But maybe sign and trade Bourn for Mike Olt? He’s probably more valuable than the pick, so perhaps we pick up some of Bourn’s salary?

  8. Would the Padres go for Venters/Gattis for Chase Headley? They do need lefty relievers, based on their current roster (Thatcher looks like the only one they have, unless I’m missing someone). Would this be a bad deal?

  9. Where did you get that statement, desert? I’d love to know what player was being considered for this.

    If this ever happens, it will probably be for a #11 or #12 pick like the Mets and Mariners have. There’s no chance Texas does it. The #24 pick is nearly a supplemental pick as is, so they gain nothing. What you’re proposing, gsa, could be achieved by just signing Bourn and selling Olt for cash, which Texas will never do.

  10. I don’t really agree with this takedown of Chris Johnson. He’s a league-average 3B offensively, and though he seems to be bad defensivley, he’ll be playing next to one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, so range shouldn’t be that much of an issue. If he has a reverse platoon split, why not just make him the everyday starter and forget about Francisco? I just don’t see what the problem with a league average 3B is, nor what the problem with a .276/.315/.430 line from your eighth-place hitter is.

  11. DG: I don’t know what it would take. Headley would be awesome. We still have some minor league pitching depth and still have some financial flexibility, I think. So there might be a way to make it work.

  12. Nick: I guess we are getting greedy and thinking big after the Upton move. I think we are already stacked. The Expos are probably still slightly better. If not, it’s pretty close. And this is the one position that we could conceivably upgrade. Come back, Chipper!

  13. I mean, there’s almost no chance that whatever cockamamie platoon we were gonna come up with involving Gattis and Constanza in left field would’ve been as good as 162 games of Chris Johnson. No chance. And people were almost starting to talk themselves into that. But now Chris Johnson is worthless.

  14. What happened to Salcedo? Wasn’t he being groomed to take over at 3rd in ’13 or ’14? And I gather that Terdo’s stock has plummeted? Do we have any 3b prospects in the system close to coming up?

  15. As much as I love Evan Gattis in theory, I think Nick speaks truth @17. A split position platoon is inherently unstable, and JUpton has more upside than Prado, so we’re better off with JUpton + Francisco/Johnson than with Reed/Prado + Prado/Francisco.

  16. Chris Johnson is solid. Juan Francisco probably has some upside too. I think our lineup as a whole probably has more upside than any lineup in baseball. But if we could upgrade the position, that would be sick. So it is fun to think about.

  17. 11,

    The article was published regarding a Soriano sign-and-trade in 2011 (so the rules may have changed since then, but I couldn’t really find anything more on the topic apart from an ESPN insider post, which I can’t access).


    I certainly doubt that gets it done, but I did see that the Padres and Headley were quite far apart in their arbitration numbers: $10.30 million submitted from Headley to $7.07 million offered by the Padres. He’s also a Super 2, which means he’s got one more arbitration year left before hitting free agency after the 2014 season.

    I don’t think it would be out of the realm of possibility if the Padres put him on the block; he would one less expensive arb case to worry about, he would fetch back some great prospects (as the 3rd base market is barren), and they are currently not in a position to compete with San Francisco or Los Angeles in that division (and maybe not even Arizona).


    I’m going to put in a order from, a Chinese site that sells MLB/NBA/NHL/NFL apparel that is of the same (or in some cases, even better) quality than what can be bought from the leagues’ sites. This is a link to the Braves page:

    I’ve read reviews and seen pictures of actual orders that came in, and you really can’t beat $95 (including shipping) for 1 Hank Aaron and 2 Chipper jerseys. I’ll let you guys know how it goes, if anyone is interested.

  18. @20

    Oh, I’m not against upgrading the position. All I’m saying is that having that as your No. 8 hitter doesn’t even really qualify as a problem, much less a disaster.

  19. I suspect the Lowe and Hanson jerseys are a tough sell. I assume they don’t stitch ’em up until they get an order.

  20. 24,

    There are even a couple of Francouer and Smoltz jerseys there. Something tells me a Francouer 7 would be a really great gift for that Braves fan in your life.

  21. Terds couldn’t play 3b and didn’t hit at Gwinnett. He switched back to first when he was sent to Pearl (and hit okay) and now is listed as an OF as a non-roster invite.

  22. Small sample size caveat and all but BJ hitting fifth produces his worst numbers. In 225 career at-bats he’s .218/.283/.387. Best seems to be second. 756 ABs .271/.349/.463.

    He’s bounced around the order a lot. Over 450 career ABs in four different spots.

  23. I still think it would be hard for JUpton to be worse at 3rd than Francisco or CJohnson. Put JUpton at 3rd and sign Bourne. I know it won’t happen, but could you imagine that lineup?

  24. .277/.310/.461/.771 out of the 8 hole with average-to-below-average defense seems tenable for our 3B squad this year. That was Vinny Castilla’s 2003 season, when the Braves won 101 games. Different teams and eras, obviously, but my point is: the guys playing third are unlikely to tank the season by themselves. Hell, that’s an 8 hole hitter 90 percent of teams would welcome.

  25. Look, at best, Chris Johnson is a slightly better hitter than Juan Francisco. But he’s clearly a much worse fielder, which more than cancels out. Moreover, I’m not at all convinced that Johnson is a better hitter than Francisco.

    Francisco is 25, and in the minor leagues he hit .286/.317/.502.
    Johnson is 28, and in the minor leagues he hit .276/.318/.432.

    I’m not convinced that there is a single thing that Johnson does better than Francisco, and he clearly plays defense far, far worse than Francisco. So, if he can’t hit lefties, then why should we play him at all?

  26. 32,

    It seems that Johnson’s defense is more in the below-average to statuesque range. I had read something by a Diamondbacks fan saying that even after knowing that he was an absolute butcher in the field, he/she was still surprised at how bad Johnson’s defense was.

    Some highlights:

    Even a ‘spectacular’ play is probably something that most 3rd basemen make routinely:


    Yeah, I was wondering why he was in this deal at all. At best, he’s what we already have; at worst, he’s much worse than what we have. Maybe somebody in Atlanta’s scouting department saw something in him, but that’s hard to believe considering his age. I’d rather have kept Drury and not gotten Johnson.

  27. I’ll buy that. And the fairly clear weight loss can only help his defense, I would imagine. If Fransisco can defend somewhat better than average and hit 20 homers batting 8th, I’ll gladly live with his shortcomings.

  28. I should add that I don’t expect those things from Francisco, but they wouldn’t suprise me, either.

  29. If you want to argue that Johnson isn’t much better than Francisco while ignoring the point that Johnson was about league-average for a 3B last year, you’re basically arguing that the Braves already have a guy who can be about league-average at 3rd, in which case, what’s the problem?

    Personally, I don’t think Johnson’s going to be great shakes, but I don’t think Francisco is, either. Johnson has at least played in the bigs for a while and gotten near-full time ABs quite often. He’s roster depth that can hit better than Paul Janish. Not every starter has to be top teir, and when you get FRICKEN JUSTIN UPTON, you may have to sacrafice somewhere else. In this case, that means possibly having a couple of second division/platoon guys playing 3B.

    Frankly, I would be fine if Atlanta got a line of .276/.318/.432 out of 3B this year.

  30. I wouldn’t agree that Johnson was about league-average last year; he’s barely replacement level. He was 16/18 in qualified 3rd baseman WAR; 20/24 if you reduce the plate requirement to 400.

  31. What if the Braves traded both of them for independently valuable players. Then, the Braves trade the independently valuable players for one useful third baseman from a fifth party team?

    I’ve been watching a lot of White Collar. I’m sorry…

  32. I’m not sure I agree he was league average, though I understand your point.

    He produced 1.7 fWAR in 528 PA, close enough to 2 WAR (the general benchmark for league-average) in a full season’s worth.

    On the other hand, of 18 3B last year who had enough PA to qualify for the batting title, Johnson was third-worst in the majors. I just don’t see what he does well, hence I don’t see why he deserves any PT over Francisco.

  33. Whoops, I was wrong to say ‘barely replacement level’. I think mravery’s right, though… given Francisco’s struggles against lefties (he’s barely a better hitter than Johnson stat-wise even though he’s been given something like 4.8 PA against righties for every 1 against a lefty), Johnson’s a better everyday player than Francisco will be. Wren probably couldn’t find a corner infielder than can hit lefties at league-level (although this is surprising…), and decided to take a small upgrade over sweating it. After all, we’re only probably taking about 1 win maximum either way.

  34. I have a feeling Paul Janish will be playing a lot of third in the late innings.

    I also imagine Pastornicky may get a look there too.

  35. They traded for Johnson because he’s a natural platoon partner for Francisco. (The Braves almost certainly don’t believe the reverse platoon splits from the bigs, mostly because they were not present in the minors and it’s a small sample that doesn’t really carry much meaning by itself.)

    They also traded because it’s a fall back if they get a big offer for Juan Francisco. I suspect there are AL teams that would be interested in Francisco or Johnson as DHs.

  36. #40: I know a little, and have friends who know a lot, but I hate to tell you that you can’t 3D print Chipper Jones.

  37. Johnson hit lefties at AAA, and as Sam notes (and someone else noted days ago, on the day of the trade), the MLB sample isn’t big enough to be too meaningful. And Francisco can’t hit lefties. Pretty obvious platoon situation, if they’re both here to start the season.

  38. The minor league sample definitely isn’t big enough to be meaningful. From 2008-2010, he had a grand total of 184 PAs against lefties. You’re right, he hit well against them — .306/.344/.514 — but that’s in the broader context of hitting .267/.300/.417 against lefties at all levels of the minors.

  39. Would one assume that if the Johnson/Francisco platoon is the way we go for the start of the season, that we will make no more moves this offseason and our bench will come from pieces already with us? So, what does that look like? Laird, Pena/Janish/Dewitt, Francisco/Johnson, Constanza/Schafer, Mejia/Gattis? If McCann is on DL to start season, it’d be nice to see A bench of Gattis, Mejia, Francisco/Janish, Pena, Constanza.

  40. I just don’t see why this has so many up in arms.

    Is he better against lefties than Francisco is? Yes, and significantly so. Thus, he’s obviously a better option against lefties than Francisco is, even if Johnson is better against righties than against lefties.

  41. Because, having watched a fair amount of Juan Francisco at third, it is not at all believable to me that someone significantly — and by “significantly,” I mean greater than or equal to the difference between a career OPS+ of 80 and a career OPS+ of 24 against lefties — worse at defending the position would have been trotted out to it for over 2700 major-league innings.

  42. I think Pena will be at third for the late innings of any game we have a lead. Also, isn’t there a significant lack of even average third basemen around, which makes a Johnson pick up in the trade more valuable? Some team will come calling.

  43. 2400 of those innings came in Houston. So… I’m not exactly sure I’d call them “major-league innings.”

    But I take your point and I’ll shut up now. Anyway, if that two-headed monster is our eight-hole hitter, there are a lot worse problems to have.

  44. Seems like bad roster construction where we might have to use three 3B during a single game. I still think the 3b situation gets resolved before opening day and Johnson/fransisco won’t be more than bench players.

  45. Yeah, I thought about The Astros Factor, but the offensive gap is so big that I just don’t think it’s possible to be that much worse than Francisco with the glove and be anything other than “only barely qualified for DH, defensively,” at the major-league level.

  46. Regardless, I think it’s fair to say that for every 2 or 3 great plays we get out of Simmons up the middle, we’ll have one forehead-smacker out of 3B.

    But I’ll take that for Justin Upton.

  47. If you guys thought Gattis should start the season in AAA, how long would you want him to stay there before moving him up to the big club, or should he be with the club at all? SHould we try him at third or let him catch?

  48. What about Tyler Pastornicky? I feel like he could be a useful part. His bat showed some promise. I feel like he could be a useful bench player, I would imagine that given the reps, he could be an above average defender at 3rd.

  49. The club usually carries what, 5 bench players.

    As of right now, there are four IF backups – Pena, Johnson, Janish, and the Rev

    Assuming neither of Johnson or Francisco get traded, Reed Johnson is your 4th OF, and a backup catcher of some kind, that leaves two spots for Pena, Janish, and the Rev, with no guarantee both will be used on light hitting MI’s. But it is the Braves, so it’s plausible.

  50. I think Pastornicky, given his age and minor league track record, has a chance to become Martin Prado.

  51. Both Road Runner and Johnson have a chance to be serviceable 3B. Neither is a guarantee. Francisco may be better against both LHP and RHP. Fredi/Wren will decide in Spring Training. Both deserve a chance.

  52. Just realized, there is no legitimate 1B backup right now. The Johnsons, Francisco, and Laird have essentially no 1B experience. Neither does Gattis, Pena, Rev or Janish for that matter

  53. 80—I see what you’re saying, but I think it’s a pretty small chance. Hardly anyone, anywhere has Prado’s work ethic and, IMO, that off-the-charts work ethic is 90% of why Prado became Prado. Remember when he was just a crappily-fielding second baseman?

  54. The Rev has had his season in the sun. He had joy, he had fun. Next up, Gwinnett. I expect to see a small investment in the bench, but i haven’t researched the Hinske types that are available. Yet another Johnson: Kelly?

  55. Only Mejia… doesnt make him worth carrying though… Freddie gets hit by a pitch, stick Johnson there. Bring Mejia up for a DL situation

  56. When your problem is five bad candidates at a position (in this case 3d) the traditional Braves reaction is where they seem headed. Give ’em all a try in the spring, give the job to whoever does best in that ridiculously small sample, and then keep one on the bench and another one in Gwinnett. Then, if by June, they all suck, trade for another one. Anyone see any reason why this isn’t what they’ll do here? Francisco, Johnson, the Rev, Gattis, the Clemensization of Chipper Jones, maybe Terry Pendleton. The only person I’m pretty sure is out is Ken Caminiti, and only because he was a bad influence, not because he’s dead.

  57. I would greatly prefer a Kelly Johnson type 2B/OF backup to a second slick fielding lightweight, assuming Pena is a lock. But he will get more money and a bigger role from someone else. Speaking of which, somehow I guess I missed this, but what exactly do we want Pena for? Isn’t he just Janish in a different slack size?

  58. We also need this year’s Rodrigo Lopez/Livan Hernandez. Freddy Garcia or Derek Lowe, anybody?

  59. Remember, Wren got Durbin and Hernandez during spring training last year. Waiting with bated breath to see if he has another unwelcome surprise in store for Braves fans in March.

  60. If you have the arm for shortstop, don’t you de facto have the arm for 3B?

    I guess the question is does he have the arm for shortstop?

  61. I know we are just goofing on a Sunday, but I wouldn’t mind some depth at starter. I suppose the Lisp could handle 3 or 4starts.

  62. Pete @47 – been around printing all my life and have observed that the only time real money is made in that industry is when new technology overwhelms the old.

    And it’s fascinating (to me, anyway).

    And I still haven’t gotten over the “3D Printing” of The Fifth Element.

    This is likely not the place for the discussion, but if you know of any reading materials on the subject you’d recommend, I’d appreciate if you’d hit me up @


  63. @73
    I think Gattis should stay at AAA for a while, if he is going to sit in Atlanta. He needs all of the ABs he can get.


    I agree, but we have no idea Pastornicky’s work ethic. I think he had the ability to be a solid utility guy.

  64. 94—We have no idea, but my point is that, statistically, it’s pretty unlikely that [Baseball Player] is going to have Martin’s ethic. Counting on the average somewhat-versatile, lacking-in-plus-tools utility infielder to turn into Martin Prado is almost always going to lead to disappointment.

  65. Prado may have also been systematically underrated as a prospect. As John Sickels noted back in 2010, Prado hit for average and showed good plate discipline and a good glove in the minors, but because he didn’t have much power and didn’t have any other eye-popping tools, he flew under the radar.

    I think prospectors are coming to realize that minor league plate discipline is very useful, and a prospect nowadays who shows his skills of defense and plate discipline now may be projected as a good middle infield prospect.

    Anyway, I don’t think it’s at all unlikely that Pastornicky becomes a useful supersub, along the lines of Nick Green or Tony Graffanino, and has a 10-year career in the majors. He’ll need to get over the sheer terror of screwing up in the big leagues. It seemed to me that a lot of his problems last year were mental, in addition to his physical limitations. In my eyes, he was decent — acceptably bad — the first couple of weeks and then just seemed to spiral downward.

  66. Paul Janish (career 70 wRC+ against lefties) has hit lefties about as well as Chris Johnson (career 75 wRC+ against lefties). I wouldn’t mind a Janish/Francisco platoon over at third. I think it would probably outproduce Johnson alone.

  67. Well, we may hurt his feelings by trading for Johnson anyway. Why not twist the knife a little more? On the days that Janish is out there playing third, we could probably keep Simmons directly behind second base the entire game.

    I guess 326 PAs (for Janish) isn’t a full season, but it’s a pretty good size.

  68. Just a reminder about Janish: .186/.269/.234. OPS+: 38 (career: 55).

    Would like to see as few at-bats from the infielder version of Corky Miller as possible.

  69. @101

    Right, there’s “light-hitting utility infielder”, there’s “can’t really hit at all”, and then there’s Paul Janish last year. Pena at least might be able to slide into the first category, and I don’t see the use in carrying both of them. Gotta trade out whipping boys sometimes just to do it.

  70. Bill Shanks did an interview with Frank Wren yesterday, and there was one thing that he mentioned that was interesting:

    There’s another guy that nobody knows about – a left-hander that led the Mexican League in strikeouts the last two years in Daniel Rodriguez that we signed in August. He really hasn’t pitched for us except in limited in Gwinnett that we really like a lot. There’s some depth there.

    Baseball-reference has Mexican League stats now, so here are Daniel Rodriguez’s stats.

    He’s a 28-year old lefty, listed at 6’0, 185. Seems to have been something of a late bloomer. Started out with no control and it still appears to be a weakness, but it’s improved. Likewise, he didn’t strike a lot of people out until 2010. Looks like a future LOOGY. But it’s interesting that Wren mentioned him.

  71. @109, No kidding. Starting with that stupid over and back, he seemed bound and determined to lose that one.

  72. Why not give this new line-up a chance? No one will ever replace Chipper. Those are some huge shoes to fill. But look forward. This is still a great team with talent!

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