The Braves acquired Johnson in the offseason. In truth, the third baseman was a throw-in piece to the Justin Upton deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Johnson was to be a bench player, platooning at third with the likes of Juan Francisco and Paul Janish. When Francisco was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers on June 3, Johnson became the everyday third baseman.
And since then, he has been silently spectacular.
While Johnson’s defense (especially his range at the hot corner) leaves something to be a desired, his bat has been a revelation so far this season. Since taking over sole responsibility as starting third baseman in the beginning of June, he has posted batting averages of .300 and .374 in June and July respectively, giving him an overall .340 BA in the two months since taking over the starting job.
Now some, even most, might say that Johnson’s current league-leading .338 average is the most unproductive .338 BA in the history of baseball. It’s a valid argument – he does have only six HRs and 34 RBIs.
Home runs aside, the lack of production out of Johnson is largely a symptom of where he hits in the lineup. Most of his at-bats have come hitting in the eight hole, and with the likes of Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann driving in runs in front of him and Dan Uggla either homering or striking out, Johnson’s chances at the plate with runners on or in scoring position have been limited.
While his home run numbers could (and should) be higher, Johnson’s performance in the Braves’ last series against the league-best St. Louis Cardinals was most telling. A microcosm of his entire season, Johnson went 7-for-10 against the likes of Cy Young front-runner Adam Wainwright, Joe Kelly and Rookie of the Year candidate Shelby Miller.
The Cardinals’ Yadier Molina also came into the series with a league-leading .336 BA, but Johnson had overtaken him by the end of the series.
The Braves’ lineup is not likely to change, but if Johnson maintains his push for the batting title, Freddi Gonzalez may be forced to consider moving him to a spot that will maximize his production. For now, Johnson provides the bottom of the Braves’ order with some much-needed spark. Expect to see him at the top of the list of league-leaders in batting average at the end of the season.