Kelly Johnson: Why the Low AVG?

Kelly Johnson came into the season a fairly decent option at second base. In one keeper league I was in, him and Ben Zobrist were both available. I considered them to be at the same talent level and went with Johnson. Wrong choice. Today I will look to see why Johnson has fallen on hard times and was there any signs for the drop off in production?

First off here is a look at some of his stats over the years and his 2011 ZIPS projection:

2005 Braves 87 334 9 46 40 2 25.9 % 0.295 0.241 0.334 0.397
2007 Braves 147 608 16 91 68 9 22.5 % 0.328 0.276 0.375 0.457
2008 Braves 150 614 12 86 69 11 20.7 % 0.340 0.287 0.349 0.446
2009 Braves 106 346 8 47 29 7 17.8 % 0.247 0.224 0.303 0.389
2010 Diamondbacks 154 671 26 93 71 13 25.3 % 0.339 0.284 0.370 0.496
2011 ZiPS (R) 438 14 59 44 10 23.7 % 0.306 0.260 0.334 0.450
2011 Diamondbacks 39 168 4 17 7 6 34.2 % 0.250 0.184 0.253 0.309

Kelly actually looks to produce pretty decent in a few fantasy categories if he keeps producing at his current rate. If he were to play in 120 games, thereby tripling the number of games he would be in, his SB would extract out to 18 (a career high). Also his Runs (51) and home runs (12) would be respectable. His main problem is his 0.184 AVG.

There are two main factors driving down his batting average. The first is his lower than average BABIP of 0.250. He put up a BABIP of 0.339 last season and was projected to have one around 0.306 for this season. His LD% has dropped from 20.5% to 15% this season with most of the change going to GB%. Using the common run that every 1% drop in LD%, BABIP goes down 0.010, this would explain the drop in BABIP.

In 2009, he had an even lower BABIP (0.247) than he does this season, but his AVG was 40 points higher. The main cause for this difference is that Kelly is striking out twice as much (34.2%) this season, then he did in in 2009 (17.8%). Here is a look at his plate discipline over the past few years:

Year Team Swing % Contact% O-Contact Z-Contact SwStr%
2005 Braves 42.3 % 79.1 % 33.0 % 87.4 % 8.8 %
2007 Braves 39.3 % 82.2 % 59.7 % 89.4 % 6.9 %
2008 Braves 46.9 % 80.8 % 59.1 % 88.9 % 8.9 %
2009 Braves 44.8 % 84.4 % 59.1 % 93.9 % 7.1 %
2010 Diamondbacks 46.2 % 76.9 % 58.5 % 86.9 % 10.4 %
2011 Diamondbacks 49.1 % 72.4 % 63.8 % 78.1 % 13.2 %

He is swinging at a few more pitches than in the last couple of years. This trend is not necessarily bad, but he is making less and less contact. His contact rate has dropped 12 percentage points (84.4% to 72.4%) over the last couple of years. The problem is not with him swinging at balls outside of the strike zone, in which his contact rate is up. Actually, he is having problems making contact with pitches in the strike zone (94% down to 78%).

Coming into the season, his AVG looked to regress some considering the high BABIP he had in 2010. His BABIP did regress, but the main cause of the lack of production is his inability to put the ball in play for the pitches he swings at. It would have been tough to predict the huge increase in strikeouts this season.

Kelly may be a buy low candidate (as he looks to still have a little power and can steal a few bases), but his average right now will drag down the rest of the team. Until he is able to start hitting line drives and putting the bat on the ball, an owner may need to look for other options.

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Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Awfully hard to do much when you’re striking out that much. I outright dropped him the other day. Arizona seems to have cut hm a lot of slack, given him time off to get himself together, but if he keeps playing like this he’s going to get a lot fewer ABs.


Arizona has a history of cutting slack to power hitters who strikeout a lot and hit for a low AVG.