The good, the bad and the Nick Johnson

One bad inning costs the Yankees a sweep
A controversy out of nothing

What does a team do when its designated hitter isn’t fulfilling the second half of his job description? That’s the question many who watch the Yankees have been asking themselves lately as Nick Johnson, the team’s DH, has struggled to hit.

After an 0-for-4 performance yesterday, Johnson is now hitting .125 with a still-robust .382 on-base percentage and a very low .229 slugging mark. Frustration seemed to be creeping into Johnson’s approach too as the usually patient lefty saw just 16 pitches in four plate appearances, a bit off his 4.6 pitches per PA mark. At least he leads the league with 18 walks, but the team was hoping for more offensive production from its two hitter.

As Nick has scuffled with the stick, reporters have asked Joe Girardi his take on the DH’s slow start, and the Yanks’ skipper defended Johnson. “I don’t think anyone is complaining about how much he’s on base,” Girardi said. “Sometimes you look at his batting average and you think that he’s really struggling and maybe not helping the team, but you look at how much he’s been on base, and he’s helping us.”

It’s certainly true that Nick Johnson is helping the team. Getting on base 38.2 percent of the time is a remarkable figure even for players who hit .300. That Johnson is doing it while racking up just one hit every eight at-bats is a testament to his value to the team. It comes across in his wOBA as well. At .327 prior to yesterday’s game, Johnson’s wOBA speaks of a player struggling less than it may seem.

Other factors too suggest an impending course correction. Johnson has struck out 36.4 percent of time this season, and his career mark is 20.9 percent. Perhaps he’s finding it a bit difficult at first to adjust to the American League after spending parts of six seasons in the Senior Circuit. As that number dips, he’ll be putting more balls in play which brings me to Johnson’s BABIP. Again prior to yesterday, Johnson’s batting average on balls in play was a woeful .185. While Johnson isn’t putting the ball in play during 53 percent of his plate appearances, the ball just isn’t falling.

There is, however, one stat that does concern me in addition to the strike outs. Johnson’s line drive percentage is a robust 25, but his ground ball and fly ball rates are backwards. He’s hitting grounders 25 percent of the time and fly balls 50 percent of the time. I know he and Kevin Long worked on elevating the ball during Spring Training to take advantage of the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, and it’s possible that in the early goings, this change is taking its toll. However, small sample size warnings apply.

Much as Austin Jackson’s .500 BABIP won’t last, Johnson’s low marks will be a thing of the past soon enough. He’s a .310 BABIP player for his career, and as he both cuts down on the strike outs and continues to put the ball in play, eventually, the hits will pile up. Marcus Thames has done nothing but hit each time the Yanks have opted to play him, but Johnson will and should remain the DH. The balls will fall, and the production will soon increase. It’s just the nature of the game as April wears on.

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One bad inning costs the Yankees a sweep
A controversy out of nothing
  • Dirty Pena

    I think you forgot to mention lack of true warriorness, lack of clutch, lack of postseason heroics, and not a True Yankee.

    • Dirty Pena

      And lack of Japanese monster inspired nicknames.

      • Klemy

        And the porn collection that comes with it.

        • Thomas

          And the lack of a two dimensional wife.

          • AfromNJ

            +1 to all

    • bexarama

      and he’s a designated HITTER that doesn’t HIT!!!!!!!

    • bexarama

      lack of postseason heroics

      Does no one remember his go-ahead bomb off Lowe in the 2003 ALCS Game 2 ;_;

      • Dirty Pena

        Good story>facts

  • Esteban in Valparaiso, Chile

    There could be a post on Teixeira’s .125/.279/.268 line too, right? I’m not really worried about either one, and while, yes Teixeira has been a better hitter than Nicky J in his career, Nicky J has enough of a track record to not be worried.

    • Ramondo

      Ha..if you are not worried that this guy will not wake up get out of his bed and some how break his leg then you obviously do not know the track record of “Nicky J”!

  • Klemy

    As long as his OBP maintains, I’m staying positive. He’s not likely to continue this much longer. I have full confidence that NJ will turn this around soon, much like Tex will. When that happens, this team gets even more scary.

  • JeffG

    He and Swisher have not been hitting all that well but as long as they are wearing out the opposing starters I have been really happy with their contributions to the team effort. When we can get to the underbelly of the oppositions bullpen our bigger hitters can score plenty to make up for their lack of hitting.

    The games in Oakland though there seems to be less patience on the part of Johnson and that is where we don’t want to be. I like to see pitches per plate appearance and OBP remain high for him and the rest of the team can feed off that production even if it is not as sexy as the HRs and high BA… leave Johnson alone Kim Jones.

    • Beamish

      He and Swisher have not been hitting all that well but as long as they are wearing out the opposing starters I have been really happy with their contributions to the team effort.

      That.

      If these guys were such terrible hitters then why aren’t pitchers just challenging then with strikes? I refuse to believe that all these pitchers simply cannot throw strikes.

      If the Nick’s are such dead bats then why not treat them like an NL pitcher: three straight heaters and if you make contact it is will be a rarity.

      I only get annoyed when I see them take strike three. I’d rather they swing at the close pitch and put it in play. But until they have 2 strikes I am fine watching the bat sit on their shoulder.

  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    The most amazing part about him leading the league in walks is that #1 he’s not hitting, and #2 he has two of the best hitters in baseball behind him (Tex’s April struggles notwithstanding). The last thing a pitcher wants to do is put a slumping guy on base in front of A-Rod and Tex. At some point, he’ll stop slumping, and pitchers will start giving him better pitches to hit. I have zero concerns with the Stick.

  • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

    Maybe it’s his walk-up music that’s throwing him off?

  • Tank Foster

    Nick Johnson and Nick Swisher are the product of baseball evolution. It’s natural selection at work. Eventually, baseball rosters will all include 5-6 “Nick” type players, and pitching staffs will increase to 14 to cover the extra needed pitches to get through these spine-tingling-ly exciting lineups.

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

      ::Joe West’s head explodes::

  • Ansky

    I’ll start to worry when he stops getting on base.

    • Spaceman.Spiff

      I’ll stop worrying when he finally scores some runs.

      Kidding.

      • Rose

        Why worry at all? It will click. But statistically and factually, he hasn’t scored any runs thus far.

        • Rose

          And I didn’t mean that literally. He has scored SOME runs…I meant that loosely.

          Just wanted to make that clear for some of you sticklers out there…who despite saying what I have to say is unnecessary…seem to ironically do the same when you make comments regarding legitimacy at times. lol

          • Esteban in Valparaiso, Chile

            well you said literally and factually, so…

            • Rose

              You caught me…

          • Spaceman.Spiff

            I know, I was mostly kidding.

            But as you previously said, for all of Johnson’s getting on-base, it hasn’t led to any production for the Yankees in the form of runs. But wouldn’t you say that’s mostly a function of how putrid Tex has been? And wouldn’t it be reasonable to say that if we had a guy with a league-average OBP batting in Nick Johnson’s spot, that that player would have less than 7 runs? So just by increasing production in the form of runs over an average player, I say that the team has benefitted from Nick’s high OBP, more than just the pure number of runs without context.

        • pat

          Huh?

          • pat

            Ah ok nevermind.

  • http://www.lennysyankees.com lenNY’s Yankees

    I love the Montero watch: “April 22th @ Buffalo”

    Tooth?

    Nick Johnson’s BA will definitely improve, but do you think high enough to keep batting second all season?

    • http://mystiqueandaura.com Steve H

      His .383 OBP in front of Tex and A-Rod is high enough to keep batting 2nd. It’s all about getting on base in front of the big guns.

  • V

    Paging dalelama. Paging dalelama. This is your one chance to rant and rave about Nick Johnson, instead of doing so off-topic in other threads.

    • Across the pond

      Kinda disappointed he hasn’t been on to start an argument yet

    • Spaceman.Spiff

      He should honestly just bookmark this specific post and refer back to it to vent irrationally all he wants all season instead of starting arguments in other threads.

    • bexarama

      no, because, see, this post points out the low BABIP and stuff and he/she will ignore any facts that aren’t, like, Nick Johnson sucks, A-Rod is THE REASON we lost in 2004, etc.

  • http://www.livingwithballs.com Living with Balls

    I wonder what the record is for biggest difference between OBP and BA. Do they keep that stat?

    • Spaceman.Spiff

      Bonds had an OBP of .609 and BA of .362 for a whopping .247 difference. Insane.

    • http://www.teamnerdrage.com dr mrs the yankee

      It’s called IsoP (isolated patience) but I’m not sure where to look up leaderboards for it.

      • bexarama

        IsoP is the difference between BA and SLG, IsoD is the difference between BA and OBP. Fangraphs has IsoP listed as ISO but no IsoD as far as I can find :(

        There are some notes about it in the comments here:
        http://www.baseball-reference......hives/2338

        They don’t have single season records though.

        • http://www.teamnerdrage.com dr mrs the yankee

          Haha you’re right I had a brain fart momentarily there. Thanks for clearing it up so that other people who can’t read my mind didn’t get confused.

          • bexarama

            np

            also your blog’s name is freaking fantastic

  • larryf

    Let’s discuss the bubble gum bubbles. NJ leads the league. Does he do it more after a walk/during an AB/as he comes back to the dugout? Important stuff…