With an 0-for-4 contribution today, Dan Johnson has now went 19 plate appearances without a walk and 18 without reaching base. The latter is the longest streak of his career, which says quite a bit about what Johnson is about.
Without opening the box of subjectively classifying batted balls by “hardness”, it is probably safe to say Johnson has not squared too many pitches; I think he has hit one or two to or near the warning track, but the rest have been routine plays. According to FanGraphs, 30 percent of his flyballs entering Wednesday’s game never left the infield. You can point to this and say, “A-ha! Quad-A player,” but I would not, as Johnson’s career infield fly rate is a little under 10 percent –in other words, it’s probably a skewed small sample.
My greatest concern with Johnson is that he is pressing. Heading into yesterday’s game versus the Angels, Johnson had a 50 percent swing rate –that is, he’s offered at half the pitches he’s seen—, whereas last season he swung about 33 percent of the time. In fact, Johnson hadn’t worked a 3-2 count entering the Rays tango with Dan Haren, but had averaged a walk once every 6.4 plate appearances through the first 368 games of his big league career.
The uptick in aggression is not causing a ton of swings and misses –pitchfx data suggests his contact rate was 85 percent, versus 82 percent last season— it’s just a matter of driving the ball and right now he isn’t doing that. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Johnson’s pitchfx data is the balls he is making contact with, as the majority are on the inside corner. That’s not too surprising, but the given results suggest he is making weak contact, and again, that just doesn’t jive with what we know about him.
Some may want to start the Casey Kotchman countdown (because nothing solves run-scoring problems quite like inserting one of the worst offensive first basemen in recent memory) but I think that is premature. Johnson isn’t struggling while playing like himself, he’s struggling for a myriad of reasons –and one just might be that he’s trying to be someone he’s not. I hope that he finds himself soon, because if you had told me that Reid Brignac would have infinitely more walks than Johnson would after two series, I would have assumed the Rays had their roof taken off the Trop.
If Johnson continues to play like this through April and into May, then sure, you consider the alternatives, but for now? Give him time, because time says he is going to play better than this.