What’s Up with Kelly Johnson?

I’m a bit concerned with the way Kelly Johnson has started the season. Yes, it’s early, and sample size is an issue, but Johnson appears to have changed his hitting approach. His batting line is an un-Kelly-like .263/.282/.368: the power is gone, but the disappearance of walks is more disturbing. Last season, Johnson walked 79 times; and after drawing his first walk of the season in yesterday’s game, he is on pace for a Francoeur-esque 16. Even Jeff Francoeur has more walks (2), so far.

But, my concern grows when I look at the more-granular Pitch Data Summary numbers from Baseball-Reference. Last season, KJ averaged 4.12 pitches per plate appearance compared to this year’s 3.59. He’s swinging at 72% of strikes (compared to 67% in 2007), 49% of all pitches (compared to 39% in 2007), 26% of first pitches (compared to 20% in 2007).

Hey, it’s early, and a balky knee may be throwing him off his game. But, I’m a bit worried that Terry Pendleton has had one of his “you need to be more aggressive” chats with him.

12 Responses “What’s Up with Kelly Johnson?”

  1. ChuckO says:

    I don’t know what’s up with Johnson but announcer Joe Simpson thinks that the problem is that pitchers are taking a different approach with him. According to him, they have figured out that he likes to take the first pitch so they’ve been making sure they get first-pitch strikes. Hence, he starts out behind in the count. Whether or not that’s true, I don’t know but, from my casual observations, he seems to be taking a lot of strikes.

  2. JC says:

    Actually, his percentage of strikes looking is down from last season (28% from 33%).

  3. Merv says:

    JC, here’s a related question: What happened to Rafael Furcal’s walk rate after his rookie season? In 2000, Furcal was also a walk machine, but in 2001-2002, he started hacking, and his numbers suffered until his breakout 2003 season. But since then, Furcal has never rebounded to his walk rate of 2000.

    The thing about Furcal is, Pendleton couldn’t have been responsible for the declining walk rate: Merv Rettenmund was his hitting coach in both 2000 and 2001.

  4. Kyle S says:

    I think he’s just seeing more strikes period. According to BBref, 69% of pitches he’s seen this year have been strikes vs 59% last year. Pitchers know he doesn’t swing at bad pitches and seem to be trying to not fall behind in the count to him (which would allow him to sit on a 2-0 fastball). He hasn’t seen a 3-0 count all year, and only in only 8% of PAs has he gotten to a 2-0 count (vs 17% last year). His contact percentage is only down a little bit (77% from 81%) so I think it’s just a matter of time before he starts hitting like the Kelly of old.

  5. Kyle S says:

    One thing that does concern me – I heard him say in an off-season interview that he was worried about striking out 100 times last year, and that he was working to strike out fewer times this year. If he changed his approach so that he doesn’t hit the ball as hard but tries to make contact more, that could definitely be to his detriment. Probably something else to blame Terry Pendleton for.

  6. JC says:

    Kyle S,

    I believe that number includes swinging strikes outside the zone. It is possible that they are giving him more strikes though. However, if this were the case, I would expect him to be hitting for higher average and power.

    Again, this is all speculative because of the small sample.

  7. Greyson says:

    Yeah, its just the regular cat and mouse game that is baseball… adjustments, counter-adjustments… and you got it on the head there JC, small sample, don’t worry… But what is this blaming TP all about?? The man’s a saint!

  8. Marc Schneider says:

    The Braves have generally had a free-swinging approach for years, which I think accounts, in part, for the offensive inconsistency and, IMO, for the lack of success in October. Other than Chipper, none of the players the Braves developed have ever really proven to be walk machines. It just seems to be an organizational philosophy that they want aggressive hitters. I wonder how many teams would be as high on Francoeur, for example, as the Braves are.

  9. Sorry for the semi off-topic question, but could someone point me in the direction of baseball-reference’s pitchers / plate appearance data?

    I’ve looked before and haven’t managed to find that info on the site. I’d appreciate the help.

    Thanks

  10. JC says:

    Melvin,

    The data is hidden on individual player pages. After Special Batting but before Fielding, you have to click on (Show or Hide) beside the bold heading “Pitch Data Summary”

  11. Oh wow, it’s like you’ve opened a whole new world for me. Much obliged, JC.

  12. Did I use the phrase “much obliged” in the wrong context? Does it mean your welcome? If so, my mistake.