Is Atlanta Braves Third Baseman Chris Johnson Really This Good?

by Michael Theed | Posted on Sunday, August 18th, 2013
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It’s not often that the throw-in player of a trade ends up being just as important as the main piece that was acquired. Usually, the individual who is “thrown in” to a deal is typically used as a stopgap to fill a positional need while the team waits patiently for a prospect to develop.

For the Atlanta Braves, they needed a third baseman coming into the year due to future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones deciding that 2012 would be his final campaign. Some figured that utility man and 2012 left fielder Martin Prado would take over at the hot corner for Atlanta.

However, Prado ended up being the main piece of a trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks, along with pitchers Randall Delgado and Zeke Spruill, minor league third baseman Brandon Drury, and minor league shortstop Nick Ahmed in exchange for outfielder Justin Upton and third baseman Chris Johnson, who was essentially the “throw in” of this trade.

As it turns out, Prado has been the main third baseman for the Diamondbacks and has put up solid numbers. A slash line of .275/.329/.403/.732, which is below his career averages, albeit still good, with 26 doubles, 10 homers, and 53 runs driven in. Johnson, on the other hand, has put up the strongest season of his career, currently pacing the National League in batting average.

Chris Johnson is currently boasting a slash line of .336/.373/.477/.850, the average being 11 points higher than the second highest average, held by Yadier Molina. Along with that strong slash line, Johnson has hit 26 doubles, nine long balls, and knocked in 53 runs.

Chances are, Johnson would have had many more RBI on the season, if not for the fact that he had been batting seventh and eighth for most of the season until somewhat recently, now consistently batting fifth in the Braves lineup.

With runners in scoring position, Johnson is posting a slash line of .337/.385/.547/.932, and with two out RISP situations, he’s been even better, hitting .395/.469/.581/1.051 in those scenarios.

With the slash lines that he’s put up, one has to wonder, is Chris Johnson really as good as he’s been this year, or has he just been getting lucky? The fact that he’s been consistent throughout the year would absolutely solidify the former argument, but certain statistics say otherwise.

Johnson has put up a ridiculous BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) this year of .412, which leads the Major Leagues by a wide margin. A BABIP of that magnitude is generally achieved by hitters who are just having massive amounts of good luck, and is more than likely unsustainable over more than one season. To see just how lucky Chris Johnson has been, though, the statistic xBABIP (expected batting average on balls in play) is used.

As explained by fangraphs, xBABIP is calculated in this way:
xBABIP = (( GB – IFH ) * (GB-IFH constant) + (FB-HR-IFFB) * (OFFB Constant) + LD * (LD Constant) + IFH + BUH ) / (GB + FB + LD + BU + – HR – SH)

The constant used for GB-IFH was .195, .134 for the OFFB constant, and .740 for the LD constant. All three numbers were the average contact number from 2009-2011. To determine the exact amount of luck, xBABIP is subtracted from the player’s actual BABIP (thus, BABIP – xBABIP, simple enough).

For example, the luckiest hitters in 2012 were Justin Ruggiano (0.0809), Tyler Colvin (0.0610), Torii Hunter (0.0585), Jayson Werth (0.0538, although his season was shortened by injuries), and Miguel Montero (0.0532). If Johnson were having his 2013 season in 2012, he’d place second on this list. His current xBABIP sits at .345, making his amount of luck pretty high, as his BABIP – xBABIP number sits at 0.0673. Thus, he has, indeed, been getting incredibly lucky.

Of those five players listed, only one (Werth) has done better this year than last, with Hunter being the closest to his stats from the previous season, and that’s most likely due to the protection he has in his lineup.

The other three have dropped way down, with Ruggiano hitting .209/.284/.387/.672 (albeit, he just came out of an 0-42 slump) [.313/.374/.535/.909 in 2013], Colvin sitting in AAA after struggling in the MLB a season after putting up a career year (2013 slash line of .160/.192/.280/.472) [.290/.327/.531/.858], and Montero, currently injured, was posting a line of .228/.316/.345/.661 [.286/.391/.438/.829].

I hate to break it to you, Atlanta fans, but don’t look for Johnson to put up numbers anywhere near what he’s done this year in future seasons.

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Michael Theed
About the Author

Michael is a Marlins fan covering Marlins Baseball. Civil Engineering Student at University of Central Florida. Follow him on Twitter @MTheed4.

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  • Freddie Blassie

    Really going out on a limb there by saying C. Johnson is not going to have the same good results at the plate next year as he’s been having this year. Not many players lead the league in batting average year after year. All those formulas to tell you that? I gotta get in on your racket.
    Good luck comes to those who work hard. Johnson does not waste his at bats and puts the ball in play often to the opposite field. He does not swing from his heels and works his ass off.
    Are you getting paid to do this? You should have your engineering degree by now. Good grief.

    • Michael Theed

      Yeah, you’re right, I should have my degree already. But a lot of things came up and I had to start college really late. These things happen! lol; and no, I’m not getting paid to do this, I do it out of my love for baseball.

      To your statement of, “not many players lead the league in batting average year after year,” I understand that, as I’m sure everyone does. Baseball is weird sometimes. One year, a guy bats .315 and wins the batting title, the next year bats .315 and ends up 8th.

      These formulas do tell a lot. For instance, in 2010, his second best season to this one, he was getting almost just as lucky as this season. His BABIP-xBABIP was 0.0528, where-as his two middle seasons were more indicative of what he’s more about (-0.0120 in 2011, suggesting bad luck, and 0.0286 in 2012, showing a decent amount of luck).

      I may be wrong, he may keep this up next year, he may be even better – he is getting into his prime seasons. Objectively, this is nothing more than me making a bold statement about this situation. I’ll gladly say next year, if he is 80% as good as this year, that I was wrong. That’s a pretty big window, right? I also thought it would be interesting to bring in a relatively unknown stat, see how it was taken.

      Thank you for your comment!
      – Michael

      • john jamieson

        How about running those numbers on Dan Uggla when he was in Miami, vs. Atlanta…… might be interesting

  • Pep

    Could it be that he’s stepped up his game due to being on a better team? Maybe the new batting coach has helped his game. I know one thing for sure he’s hitting the ball to all fields and he hits it where it’s pitched. If he’s lucky I wish some of it would rub off on B J Upton and Dan Uggla.

  • Brad

    Like you said Michael, baseball can be a very unpredictable game and because of this fact, we have so many formulas and statistics to work with and try to predict certain outcomes. As we all know those rarely are accurate. That being said, I don’t believe anyone should come down on you because you suggested he might not sustain these numbers year after year…Although I sure hope he does. I love what he has brought to my beloved team. Who knows, it could be the new team, new city working for him… I mean look at Soriano since he returned to NY, will he always put up double digit RBI in 2 games? No, but you can’t predict when or if it will happen.. and that’s why I love this game so much.

    Good work on the article, you clearly put some time and effort into it.

  • Bill Hunter

    I have really enjoyed watching Johnson play this year. He brings excitement that was not expected. I hope your predictions are way wrong. He seems to be solid. I really feel for Dan Uggla…Solid defensive player for the most part and I hope the eye surgery is successful and helps his hitting. I want him to get back to the good hitter he once was. For some reason, I just don’t think BJ has it anymore. He seems to have a don’t care attitude. He is not exciting to watch. If he doesn’t pick up his game he won’t be back next year. Atlanta has several good young players who will push him out.

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