Move over Hunter Pence there's a new Prince in town. His name is Chris Johnson and he's the last player to be profiled in our Rookie Review series.
One of the reason for the Astros turn around in the second half is the replacing of Pedro Feliz's -1.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with Johnson 1.8 WAR.
Give Ed Wade credit for swallowing his pride in June and calling up Chris Johnson to take over for the struggling Feliz at third base. CJ responded with a .319/.351/.485 triple slash line, hitting 8 homeruns and driving in 42. Erasing doubt about whether or not he can produce at this level. He's posted a .362 weighted on base average (wOBA) which is tops on the team.
There has been and to a certain extent still is some doubt about Johnson's true value as a hitter. While it's been nice to be proven wrong about a player, I considered a utility player or stop gap at best, there's still statistical evidence that suggests what we're seeing is more luck than skill.
Stats aside he has had a positive effect on this team, providing a spark for a stagnant offense.
Johnson was a long shot to make the team out of Spring Training. The Astros did see him as a possibility at third base but the signing of Feliz meant that possibility was more than likely to happen in the future. Chris went to work in 62 Spring Training at bats he posted a .323/.391/.790 line, leading the team in several offensive categories. He smacked 8 homeruns and drove in 22 RBI. A spot was opened up for CJ, with the injury to Lance Berkman who was eventually placed on the DL to begin the season.
Highlight: Johnson blasts one to tie the game
April, the Disabled List, and June.
Johnson's time in April was short lived, after only eight games, five of those starts, he was placed on the 15-day DL April 20th with a strained right intercostal muscle. Berkman being activated on the same day meant chances were good, with the veteran Feliz manning the hot corner, CJ would make his starts in Triple A, upon returning from the DL. During April he didn't do anything spectacular to say otherwise, posting a .227/.227/.318 line.
Exactly two months later, on June 20th, Feliz was not working out and in attempt to shake up the roster Ed Wade called up three minor leaguers. One of those three being Chris Johnson who was handed the starting gig at third base. He immediately respond posting a .414/.433/.517 in 7 June starts.
Highlight: Chris Johnson drives in four
Chris continued his torrid hitting with a .359/.393/.615 line, belting 4 home runs and driving in 14 RBI's. Sparking the offense the Astros went 13-11 in the month of July. With a 1.008 OPS for the month, July was Johnson's best month. he pretty much carried the team with his bat, providing a bright spot in a lost season.
Highlight: Johnson's three run homerun
Johnson cooled off a bit in August but still posted solid numbers with a .306/.336/423 line. He continued to drive in runs with 16 RBI to go along with 2 more homeruns. As a team the Astros went 17-12 taking themselves further and further out of the Anthony Rendon sweepstakes. Not a bad thing though, because it does provide a glimmer of hope for next year. Since the call up of Johnson, Jason Castro, and Jason Bourgeois the Astros had gone 35-28 by the end of August.
Highlight: Johnson says "no bunt hit for you!"
CJ has continued his downward trend, posting a .233/.303/.467 in 8 games, maybe his luck is starting to catch up with him. However that's a small sample and he has already hit two homeruns, including the one he crushed against the Dodgers on Thursday. He has sat out the last two games with a sore back, combined with his expected regression we may see a bad month from Johnson. Or he could defy the odds again and post another solid month. I'm at the point now where I'm just along for the ride. Regardless it matters not how he finishes the month, he's almost certainly asserted himself as the starting third baseman for next year.
The thing about CJ is that you have to read the fine print. Offensively he strikes out to much and doesn't walk enough. His average is also very much driven by his batting average on balls in play (BABiP). On the season he currently has a .402 BABiP which is really high and unsustainable. He's gotten lucky so far on balls he's been able to put in play. His line drive percentage of 23.8% on the season does give some hope that he will be able to sustain a higher than normal BABIP. Don't be surprised if he struggles this month.
ZiPS which is a stat that attempts to project a hitters batting statistics has CJ going .261/.292/.370 with a .333 BABiP the rest of the way. That would put his season totals at .310/.342/.468 which is nice, but he would still be carrying a .392 BABiP. Buyer Beware.
Defensively he's below average and I shouldn't need to show you any kind of statistics to prove that. From time to time he'll flash the leather but just watching him you can see he struggles a bit defensively. He has had a bit of a fumbling issue with balls hit to him. He has the arm for the position, but his accuracy leaves you wanting. This is hopefully something he can improve upon, because if he stops hitting he becomes a below average third baseman.
I'd like to buy into Chris Johnson but there is just so much statistical evidence that suggests what we're seeing is luck. My heart tells me that he can continue to defy the odds, but my head says there's rough seas ahead for CJ. Maybe he can continue to prove me wrong.