I Will Not Draft: Chris Johnson

Aug. 10, 2010 - Houston, Texas, United States of America - 10 August 2010: Houston Astros third baseman CHRIS JOHNSON.

In July of last season, Astros rookie third baseman Chris Johnson hit .359 with four home runs and 13 RBI, endearing himself to fantasy GM’s who snagged him as a free agent. His overall numbers look very solid as well: .308 AVG, 11 HR and 52 RBI in 341 at-bats. However, he is a player I will be avoiding on draft day 2011.
Many times fantasy GM’s will reach for a player with a short track record because they see upside in his game. When it comes to Chris Johnson, I just don’t see it.
Year Age Lev PA 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2006 21 A- 239 7 1 1 29 7 11 35 .212 .251 .266 .517
2007 22 A-A+ 517 25 0 14 82 4 25 79 .261 .298 .401 .699
2007 22 A 277 14 0 8 44 3 17 38 .259 .304 .408 .712
2007 22 A+ 240 11 0 6 38 1 8 41 .263 .292 .393 .685
2008 23 AA-AAA 465 26 1 13 67 5 25 86 .299 .338 .455 .793
2008 23 AA 358 24 0 12 58 5 20 61 .324 .364 .506 .870
2008 23 AAA 107 2 1 1 9 0 5 25 .218 .252 .287 .539
2009 24 AAA-A+ 429 25 5 13 48 2 22 93 .288 .329 .473 .801
2009 24 A+ 17 5 0 0 6 0 1 3 .438 .471 .750 1.221
2009 24 AAA 412 20 5 13 42 2 21 90 .281 .323 .461 .784
2010 25 AAA 163 10 1 8 33 0 9 23 .329 .362 .570 .932
5 Seasons 1813 93 8 49 259 18 92 316 .277 .315 .429 .744
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/9/2010.
Over Johnson’s five minor league seasons, from ages 21 through 25, he amassed a slash line of .277/.315/.429 and a very poor .744 OPS. He hit 49 home runs in 1681 at-bats, which is roughly one home run every 34 at-bats. That AB/HR rate translates to about 15 home runs over 500 at-bats. Johnson was awarded his major league job not because he mashed his way to the big leagues, but because the Astros’ were employing a lifeless Pedro Feliz to man the hot corner and their farm system was one of the thinnest in baseball.
Then we have Johnson’s 2010 major league numbers to break down.

AVG

OBP

SLG

BABIP

AB/HR

0.308

0.337

0.481

0.387

31

LD%

BB%

K%

CT%

O-Sw%

24.0%

4.1%

26.7%

70.5%

43.1%

The one thing Johnson did well was hit line drives. However, that line drive rate stands alone in glaring contrast to his other peripheral numbers. His contact rate was tenth worst in baseball (min 300 PA) and the names around him included: Jack Cust, Carlos Pena, Pedro Alvarez, Mike Stanton and Mike Napoli. The problem with being linked among those names is that Johnson has never shown the power upside of the others nor has he shown anything close to the same plate discipline. Even with a 24 percent line drive rate, a .387 BABIP would be almost impossible to duplicate in 2011 and beyond, especially over a 500-plus at-bat season. 
Adding to the issue of Johnson’s swing and missed tendencies is his tendency to swing at a ton of bad pitches and draw very few walks. Adding poor plate discipline on top of a poor contact rate equals a huge red flag for future projections.
Third base is not the deepest of fantasy positions. As a matter of fact, it would be wise to grab a top-end 3B early in the 2011 draft. Still, fantasy GM’s will be looking for sleepers toward the later rounds and might take a good hard look at the .308 AVG, 11 HR and 52 RBI Chris Johnson provided in 2010. Based on five years of lackluster minor league numbers and a 341 at-bat 2010 season that screams fluke, I’ll pass.