With a month to go in the 2013 season, the Atlanta Braves had a player on their team competing for the lead in the race for the batting title. It wasn’t Brian McCann, Freddie Freeman or Jason Heyward. No, it was Chipper Jones’ replacement, Chris Johnson.
The team is hoping that 2013 was a breakout season for Johnson at the plate. Maybe he figured something out that he was missing with the Houston Astros and Arizona Diamondbacks. Or maybe the line up in Atlanta was better for him, including the fact that 2013 was his first season in playing more than 107 games. Either way, he hit .321, which was good enough for second in the National League. The .321 average was 45 points higher than his career average going into the 2013 season (.276). He only hit 12 home runs, but Johnson has never been a power threat in his career. However, with the breakout season, he raised his WAR from 0.4 with the Diamondbacks to 1.9 in Atlanta. That number would surely be higher if he wasn’t one of the worst defensive third basemen in the NL.
If he can return to his 2013 form this season, the Braves will consider him a steal at $4.75 million. Two third basemen in the NL East, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman, will make $20 million and $14 million respectively. Granted, both play better defensively and have more power, but for $16 million less than the New York Mets are paying Wright, the Braves will take a .300 hitter, 15 home runs and a less than average defender.
However, he probably isn’t going to be able to reproduce his offensive prowess in 2014. As a career .276 hitter, his career high .321 is going to slide down closer to .300 if not closer to his career average of .289. He will still hit more than 10 home runs and hit a solid sixth or seventh in the lineup. His career offensive WAR is only 6.4, and that is including his 2013 season of 2.8. In 2010, when he played for the Astros, he had an offensive WAR of 2.1. That adds up to 4.9 of that 6.4 in two of his four seasons in the major leagues. That leaves the other two seasons with 1.5 wins above a replacement player offensively.
As he has progressed through the major leagues, Johnson has been an inconsistent player, hitting anywhere from .250 all the way to ,321 last season. He doesn’t hit for great power, doesn’t have any speed whatsoever, and doesn’t field his position well. Offensively, he most likely won’t match up to 2013 season and the team can only hope that he can provide timely hitting and get on base on a regular basis.