On the day game 61 will be played this evening we are taking a look at former Astros player Cliff Johnson, who ranks 16th on the Astros all-time Adjusted Batting Runs leaderboard with 61 career adjusted runs.
Before we jump in, lets figure out what Adjusted Batting Runs measures. From www.baseball-statistics.com:
BATTING RUNS The Linear Weights measure for how many runs a hitter contributes above and beyond what a league average replacement player would provide. Converts a number of offensive statistics into their run equivalent, based on Pete Palmer's 1978 computer simulation of major league games since 1901. The formula is:
Runs = (.47) 1B + (.78) 2B + 1.09 (3B) + (1.40) HR + .33 (BB+HBP)
- .25 (AB-H) - (0.50) (Outs on base)
So it's another way to look at how many runs above league average a certain player is offensively. For some context Jeff Bagwell holds the top four spots of adjusted batting runs for a season. His lowest number, 64, for his career Bagwell produced 624 career adjusted batting runs.
Johnson was no Bagwell offensively, however in his six years with Houston he never hit below a 100 in OPS+ and it's quite interesting to see some of the other players around him on the career Adjusted Batting Runs list. Just below is Hunter Pence who has 55 career Adjusted Batting Runs. Carlos Lee in almost triple the amount of plate appearances is ahead of Johnson with 73.
In six years with Houston Johnson batted .256/.370/.471 with a 142 OPS+. Very good numbers, unfortunately, he never appeared in more than 122 games for Houston. Which leads me to believe either he had trouble staying healthy or he was considered a bench player despite his offensive numbers.
With Houston he split time between the outfield, first base and even catcher. When he moved to the American League he spent a majority of his time either at first base or designated hitting, so it's possible that his defense is what kept him out of the lineup.
Another theory is that teams just didn't appreciate offense as much as we do today, or they put more weight on a players batting average than they did other parts of his offensive production. For his career Johnson had a 12.3% walk rate, a 15.6% strikeout rate, an ISO of .202 and a wOBA of .362, that .256 batting average though may have been what did him in.
Again, injuries may have played a factor here, but I don't see a player getting hurt that many times. In 15 years he never appeared in more than 142 games, leading me to conclude that teams just couldn't get past that career .258 average. I think it's safe to say Johnson grew in the wrong baseball era.