Remember in Little League or PAL (like I played) where the players on the field would chant, “Swing Batter Batter,” before each pitch? Apparently, Chris Johnson of the Atlanta Braves is still hearing those chants in his head. Of course, Johnson has had multiple occurrences of blowing up with his temper, so who knows what else is going on in his head. But the bottom line is that Johnson does not walk very much.
Johnson has never walked much, even going back to his minor league days. But last year he broke out and batted .321 and his 5.3% walk rate at least pushed him up to a good .358 on-base percentage. And he finished with a 127 wRC+ to cap off a good season that was somewhat of a surprise.
The Braves rewarded his season by giving him a $23.5 million, three-year extension that covers 2015-2017 with an option year after that. The good news is that he followed his good season by batting .281 so far this season. But that is as far as the good news goes. His on-base percentage is .299. That’s right, .299.
The problem is that Chris Johnson has tumbled from an already low 5.3 walk percentage last year to a staggeringly low 2.2%. A walk percentage that low is pretty hard to accomplish. How hard? Let me show you.
After 81 games, or exactly half the season, Chris Johnson has seven walks in 325 plate appearances. As is easy to do math-wise, Johnson’s pace is to finish with fourteen walks. In the last ten years, only five times has a batter finished with more than 500 plate appearances with less than fifteen walks in a season.
To go one step further, in the last ten seasons, no one with more than 600 plate appearances (a pace Johnson is on) has finished with less than 16 walks. So Johnson’s pace would be somewhat historic–at least for the last ten years anyway.
The last time a batter finished with 600 plate appearances and less than fifteen walks was Deivi Cruz in the year 2000. So this is definitely something to keep an eye on for the rest of the season.
Right about now, that extension the Braves gave Chris Johnson isn’t looking very good. Fangraphs has his season at 0.1 fWAR and baseball-reference.com has him even worse at -1.0 rWAR. That will hardly justify anything over league minimum money.
So what has led to Johnson’s plunge in walk rates? As you might expect, a lot of it is found in his O-Rate or the amount of times he swings at a pitch outside the strike zone. His rate is the highest of his career at 44.1%. His overall swing rate of 57.6% is also the highest of his career. His O-rate is the second highest in baseball and his overall swing rate is third highest.
Add to those numbers the fact that his contact percentage and swing and miss percentage are the second highest of his career, the highest they have been since his second season in 2010. His first pitch strike percentage is also quite high at over 61%.
To add to Johnson’s woes, his slugging is way off too. His slugging percentage is 96 points below last year and his overall OPS is 156 points lower! His 84 wRC+ completes the picture of inadequacy he has going on this season.
It is quite possible that Chris Johnson will improve in the second half. The Braves and the team’s fans can only hope such will be the case. A .281 batting average that only adds up to a .299 on-base percentage is a bit embarrassing–especially in this day and age where getting on base is a key criteria.