It’s been over 10 months since Atlanta Braves legend Chipper Jones played his final game, but you won’t hear any Braves fans complaining about it.
His replacement Chris Johnson has quietly become one of the best hitters in baseball. The Braves’ third baseman leads the NL batting race with a .338 batting average coming into tonight’s game. Johnson sits above Yadier Molina and Mike Trout in the leaderboards, and is right below hitting savant Miguel Cabrera.
Johnson was part of the deal that sent Martin Prado to the Arizona Diamondbacks and brought Justin Upton to Atlanta. In Arizona, Johnson sported a decent slash line at .286/.321/.503; but since putting on a Braves uniform, he’s put up a much better .338/.376/.475.
He wasn’t expected to improve so much. In spring training, Johnson faced off against Juan Francisco in a battle for third base but once the season arrived, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez decided to platoon the two.
I thought for sure Francisco would be the most valuable player at third. He had really shown improvement during the second half of 2012 and his power was nearly unmatched, I recall the 459-feet home run he belted earlier this season against Alex Sanabia.
It didn’t take long for Braves GM Frank Wren to realize platooning them at third base was unnecessary. Johnson, a right-handed hitter, has put up a .380 batting average against lefty pitchers and an outstanding .320 against right handers. On June 3, Francisco was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers and the Braves haven’t looked back.
His consistency has been great as well. The worst month of the season for Johnson was May where he hit .283, though he only made 57 plate appearances since Francisco was still on the roster. His consistency in the lineup has proved to be of utmost importance for the Braves this season, as big pieces of the lineup like Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton and Justin Upton have had extended unproductive periods during the season.
I’m not even sure Johnson knew he had it in him, but he’s proving to be one of the most effective hitters in the majors. Sure, he doesn’t hit for much power, his name doesn’t come to mind when I think of elite defense and he’s not been in Atlanta for 19 years, but if there was ever a way to get over Chipper Jones’ retirement, having Johnson at third may be the best medicine.