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Logjam in the Infield

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Kelly Johnson was activated today, sending Conrad back to the minors, but Bobby Cox has quite the predicament.  With the way Prado has been playing, it doesn't look likely that Johnson will take over at second, so what should he do?  My answer is to supplant KJ as our new left fielder.  Garret Anderson is not good enough to warrant the spot over KJ, even if he has been on a tear this past week or so.  I know I've written about Kelly before, but this time I mean to compare the two players, Kelly and Anderson.  Without further ado, let me put some perspective on all this.

Yes, Kelly Johnson has been horrible in his time spent in the Majors this season.  His OPS of .645 is actually worse than Francoeur's.  Garret Anderson has more than 100 points on him by, somehow, getting on base at a better pace than Kelly (.320 vs. .286 OBP).  Fine.  He's been bad, but there is a lot of reason to believe he has been the subject to some pretty harsh luck.

Throughout the minors and majors, Kelly has not once had a BABIP lower than his rookie year of .296.  This year, in a substantial helping of 263 plate appearances, his BABIP is .238.  I heard many people claiming that, once he began to slump, he started tampering with his swing, which would realize in his incredibly low BABIP.  I never bought into that mostly because the guy's profile as a hitter didn't change much in that span. 

Kelly's walk totals are down from his promising '06 and '07 seasons (12.1% and 13.2% BB%), but his 8.2% rate this year is not off last year's 8.7%.  If anything, he has lowered his strikeout rates this year by more than 3%, so you know that his ability to make contact hasn't changed.  Also, there is reason to believe that he is hitting the ball with the same authority that he once was.  You will notice his HR/FB has recessed from 7.6% to 6.2%.  However, it's my belief that LD% is very noisy and is often mislabeled (or properly labeled; it doesn't matter) as FB%, which could be the case here.  His current GB% has stayed around 38%, only 3% off his career rate.  Instead, the rate of fly balls he hits has spiked to 42.6%, off his previous year's 36.5%.  Suppose Kelly hit fly balls at his career rate this year, 37%.  In that case, Kelly Johnson's HR/FB would be 7.1%, not far off from the previous year, especially considering how unlucky he's been.

Even if you don't buy my logic, his BABIP is still too low to think that he isn't getting short changed.  I was beginning to think that his long career could be in jeopardy, believing the critics.  Kelly seemingly dispersed my concerns by putting up some great numbers in almost 60 plate appearances.  As evident by Tom's minor league updates, KJ started raking towards the end of his rehab assignment.  His final line in Gwinnett is this in 59 plate appearances:

AVG / OBP / SLG: .308 / .339 / .596

BB / SO: 4 / 8

HR / ISO: 3 / .288

BABIP: .317

The BB/K ratio is a little worrisome, but his power is most definitely there and his BABIP, while maybe not as high as .317, should be much closer to .300.

ZiPS, a projection system which updates a player's predictions after games played in this season, seems to believe KJ is capable of putting up some good numbers.  The line they give him for the rest of the season is .264/.343/.433.  When comparing that to either Garret Anderson's current line, .287/.320/.433, or his predicted, .291/.328/.434, Johnson's plate discipline edges out Anderson qualifying him as the better bat.  And that's not even accounting for defense.

Kelly Johnson played a damn good left field in his 2005 campaign.  During that time, he posted a UZR/150 of 17.9 in 73 games started.  Compare that to Anderson's -10.4 this year, I think it is safe to say that Kelly is the better fielder.  Garret did manage to do some good defensive work in 2008 with 19.1 runs saved, but, when comparing that to his previous three years of -1.0, -7.6, and -9.4, I would say it was more of an aberration than signal.  Finally, add that Kelly is in the prime of his career and Garret is at the tail's end, I figure Kelly deserves the spot way more.

Signing Anderson, to me, reeked of the same desperation that the Raul Mondesi experiment did.  By putting a grizzled veteran who had a decent prime, you'll give someone that the fans have heard of and can cheer for.  The problem is we bought both of them when they were nearly washed up and the price wasn't anything to scoff at.  The only positive is that Anderson has been acceptable enough to last till now.  The better move would've been promoting from within, but the sudden emergence of Prado seems to leave me thinking Johnson should be patrolling left field.

One idea that I have heard thrown around for where to put KJ is back at second and moving Prado to first, supplanting Kotchman.  To me, I am shocked.  Kotchman is not a great first basemen and has not nearly lived up to expectations when coming over here from the Angels, but Kotchman is only 26 and has flashes of doubles power in his career.  Casey has a better eye and hits for much more contact than Anderson.  Plus, Kotchman fields his position well.  I know Prado is even better defensively at first, but I think the futility of the offense rests more on Anderson rather than Kotchman[1].

[1] Note that I say more, since it doesn't help having a first basemen that is very likely not going to hit more than 15 home runs. 

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