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Collette Calls: Whither CJ .321?

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

Earlier this week, the fantasy notables gathered in Las Vegas for the Fantasy Sports Trade Association's expert draft. There are 13 teams in the draft, including our own Peter Schoenke & Chris Liss sharing a team. The teams drafted 377 players that Tuesday night, but each team passed on one particular player that attracted my interest.

That player has a current NFBC ADP of 263. That player has the following projections for 2014:

RotoWire 595 0.290 13 73 53
Steamer 521 0.279 13 61 52
Oliver 600 0.299 13 74 70
ZiPS 556 0.275 14 77 52

That player is Atlanta Braves' third baseman Chris Johnson.

Given that it is arbitration season, I'd like to break down Chris Johnson as if I were his agent. I reached out to several of the participants in the FSTA draft who shared with me why they did not draft Johnson, and those opinions will represent the opposition. You, the reader, will be the arbiter as it will be up to you to decide which way you should go.

Johnson has accumulated a .292/.330/.443 slash line in 1842 plate appearances over the past four seasons, but it wasn't until the last two seasons that Johnson saw significant playing time. His high water mark for homers in a season is 15, he has never driven in more than 76, and has never scored more than 54 runs. He also handles lefties and righties rather equally, hitting .296 against lefties and .290 against righties and his other indicators in those splits are nearly identical.

Johnson also has established trends in his career. Simply put, he is a rather free swinger. He has a 5% career walk rate, and has never posted a strikeout rate below 21%. Johnson's Swing% at pitches is in the top five percent of all players with at least 1800 plate appearances over the past four seasons. His batting average is in the top 10 percent despite the fact his Chase% and his Contact% are in the bottom 20th percentile in the sample size. That is due to the fact that when he does put a ball into play, he tends to strike it well.

In the same sample size, Chris Johnson's .364 batting average on balls in play is the second highest, trailing Joey Votto by just .001. BABIP has a stabilization rate of 820 plate appearances, so Johnson's efforts are well beyond that. Johnson's BABIP's over the past four seasons has been .387, .317, .354, and .394. One of the things that allow him to maintain his high rate despite the flaws in his approach is that he uses all fields, for all types of pitches.

In this day and age, teams are aggressively shifting batters that exhibit heavy pull tendencies. Visualize Mark Teixeira, David Ortiz, Matt Joyce, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Belt, and others. Johnson doesn't allow the opportunities for teams to shift him as much as he is very willing to use all parts of the field, with all types of pitches (data from BrooksBaseball).

The one year where Johnson's BABIP was lowest was the year he showed more pull tendencies, whereas last season, he sprayed the balls to all fields. Keep in mind, Johnson's lowest BABIP was still 17 points above the league average. His BABIP is the one area his detractors point to as a worry about what he will do in 2014, but Johnson has demonstrated an ability to continually exceed the league average thus far.

Lastly, Johnson is still a projected starter who will likely hit fifth or sixth in the Atlanta lineup. It is rare for a player projected to get ~550 plate appearances and hit in the middle of a lineup to go undrafted, even in a mixed league. I felt it was an oversight by the 13 owners, so I reached out to a few of them and this is how they defended not taking Johnson.

I considered him in the reserve round, along with matt Davidson and Lonnie Chisenhall. But since there were some options at 3b still available, I decided not to backup Arenado and if something happens I need to replace him, options would be available. With Miggy having 3b eligibility, and players like Carpenter and Bogaerts probably getting 3b Eligibility in April, it opens up the spot. Plus I'm not high on the idea Johnson will be as productive this year as last. - Charlie Wiegert

I debated taking him with my last selection. Even discussed it with Mans who was sitting next to me. Ultimately I went with Ryan Cook as a potential source of saves if something happens to JJohnson (my RPs were thin in terms of saves so I added the arm and skills). - Ray Flowers

I guess Zola and I passed due to lack of intrigue. I pointed to him as we filled out the bottom of our roster and UT pick and Todd sort of shrugged and I wasn't that committed either and that was that. - Lawr Michaels

We let him pass because in shallow leagues, we seek upside. Even in his career year, he hit only 12 HR with no SB. Add that to the fact that his average was a product of an impossible to repeat .396 BABIP and you have waiver wire fodder in shallow leagues. The Colton and the Wolfman "Rules of Engagement" say draft upside late and we didn't see much upside. - Glenn Colton & Rick Wolf

Picking up Matt Adams for my UTIL made him my 4th CI, so I had to shift focus elsewhere. Johnson is always one those nice mixed filler guys and his BABIP record makes his BA profile surprisingly legitimate. Yet the tepid power for a CI didn't make me excited considering I had already filled my quota. - Tim Heaney

Rightly or wrongly, the impression I have of Johnson is that his primary contribution is in batting average. Since our team had a solid base there and we were looking for cheap speed sources late (and Johnson had exactly zero steals in 2014), he didn't have much value to us. First base is deeper than third base, so we plucked our starting CI from that pool. In the reserve rounds, we liked Omar Infante better for overall value, Kris Bryant as our late-round prospect flyer and Jose Iglesias for his SS/3B eligibility. - Steve Gardner

We looked at him for sure in reserve but wanted to hedge Norris with Zunino and because we missed on the setup guys we wanted, we opted to take some extra starters to make sure we had 7 with reasonable matchups. Then Schierholtz was a Joyce hedge. The other thing is in 12/13 team leagues corner is reasonable on the wire. 15 teams it really thins. The other pick was Rutledge and that was just a flier. I wanted to get away from the safe reserves and get some upside. - Todd Zola

I would have considered Johnson if the picks fell a certain way. My plan going in was to draft two 1Bmen and one 3Bman for my corners. At pick 11, I was expecting Fielder to fall to me and hope to get Beltre on the way back. But I couldn't pass up Adam Jones when he fell and Fielder was still there at 15 so I passed on Beltre. Given that, I was then hoping to grab Alvarez or Sandoval in the mid-rounds. If I missed on those both, I was going to wait for the end game and take a guy like Johnson. I ended up getting the newly-svelte Sandoval so Johnson came off my radar. Funny though, I did end up taking another 3Bman in the end-game for my UT spot, but it was Frazier who was already a whole bunch of rounds past his ADP. Just never made it down to Johnson.- Ron Shandler

Overall, most looked at him, but as a few people pointed out, there is a lot of depth at third base this year. In other years, Johnson would stand out more, but this year, there is a lot of competition on the market for him to compete against. That said, it is still tough to comprehend an everyday player that bats in the middle of a lineup go undrafted through 377 picks.