Waiting On Dan Johnson | The Process Report

Waiting On Dan Johnson

Luckily, I have been able to avoid most of the debates surrounding Dan Johnson and Casey Kotchman. I have no shame in my support for Johnson, but I can admit 2011 has not gotten off to a good start. Some will point to Johnson’s 65 plate appearances and say “why would you continue to believe in this guy?” Because Joe Maddon does too.

 “He has had some bad luck. The balls he hit well seem to be right at everybody,” Maddon said. “I’m not worried about him.”

We are at the point in the season where things like swing and contact rates are starting to stabilize (swing more than contact). Thus far, Johnson is swinging at more pitches than he has in previous seasons. He is making contact about 80% of the time on those swings, which is right around his norm. In fact, his contact on pitches in the zone is even closer to his career number.

On the other hand, the hits are not coming despite him putting wood on the ball. Part of this is due to the “bad luck” Maddon mentioned. His batting average on balls in play is extremely low and unsustainable for any major league hitter with a larger sample size.

Part of it is the type of balls he is hitting. Johnson is hitting a lot of flyballs – especially of the infield variety. I’m not a swing analysts, but that seems more like a timing issue than a fundamental flaw. I have also noticed an increased amount of foul balls over the past week which could also be a sign of him being close, but not close enough.

Johnson plate discipline is not doing him any favors either. One of the reasons behind the increase in overall swings is due to him expanding his zone. Some players can maintain success when reaching for pitches; however, Johnson is not making a high rate of contact on these swings. Not to mention, his swinging-strike rate is slightly elevated.

As a byproduct of offering at pitches outside of the zone, Johnson is walking much less. This can be said of several Rays’ regulars, but part of Johnson’s allure is his ability to work good at-bats and make up for a low batting average with his willingness to walk. Right now he is taking a walk once every 21 plate appearances. Coming into 2011, his career rate was once every 13. I should mention walk rates take more time to stabilize, so he has some catching up to do over the next 150 appearances.

All things considered, it appears Johnson’s woes at the plate are correctable. Perhaps, this is my inner fan speaking, but I can’t help but feel as if Johnson is close doing good things. It also helps that the data suggests he hasn’t completely lost his ability to strike a ball. As long as he continues to make solid contact, the hits should fall at some point. This goes back to issue of luck and timing – if in fact there is something slightly off.

He can also help himself by regaining his lost plate discipline. Maddon has often talked about players trying too hard. Although it is hard to quantify that theory, I’m sure it has merit. If Johnson goes up to the plate desperate for a hit, he may be more willing to expand his zone and ignore that he is leaving behind a valuable skill – getting on via the base on balls.

Giving Johnson more time to correct himself at the plate is not an exercise in futility. As nice of a story as Casey Kotchman is, there is not much upside – even if he pans out better than expected. Johnson, on the other hand, is projected by some to be an above-average offensive performer. If there were a clear-cut, better option on the roster or in the minors, I would be open to change. In the meantime, we all – Johnson included – just need a little more patience.

One Comment

  1. The main issue I have with Dan Johnson is that while he is swinging at more pitches out of the zone (25.2%) he is also seeing more pitches in the zone than in any other season (52.7%). Pitchers have caught on to him and are throwing him 66.2% first pitch strikes, challenging him to make them change their approach. I don’t think patience is a major probelm because he’s seeing a lot of strikes. Can’t walk when you’re constantly behind in the count. Johnson is a dead-pull hitter and has yet to adjust his swing or his plate coverage to do damagae to pitches away.

    I think the problem is far more than bad luck and more the fact that the book is out and it’s been written by other hitters who have failed to get past the Quad-A status. Is his O-Swing% due to him being impatient or being constantly behind in the count and trying to protect the plate? I think it’s more of the latter. Can DanJo fix this? He has the hit tool to do it but he MUST make an adjustment soon because pitchers are not going to forget how to pitch to him.

    The sad reality is that we do not have a ready replacement so I do hope Shelton earns his paycheck and helps DanJo adjusts soon or we will be stuck with a below replacement level bat unitl we strike a deal with Arizona for Brandon Allen or Russell Branyan (wishful thinking on my behalf).

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