When Larry Wayne Jones Jr. retired in 2012, a big void was left in the Braves infield. the position was third base, and it had been manned by Chipper Jones for 15 1/2 years. Vinny Castilla and Mark DeRosa held the position from 2002 to midway through 2004. The Braves had Juan Francisco ready to man the position, with assistance from Chris Johnson. Let’s look to see how the Braves third basemen have stacked up compared to other teams.
The Braves currently rank eighth in MLB in WAR for third basemen, with 1.6. Chris Johnson currently ranks tenth in MLB with his WAR rating of 1.0. Juan Francsico, despite his recent struggles, ranks 15th in MLB with a WAR rating of .3. Last year, Chipper Jones finished off his total WAR with 2.6. The Braves third basemen have kept up the pace and, in some ways, exceed what Chipper did in his final year with the Braves. We’ll now take a look at individual performances from the Braves third basemen.
Chris Johnson has been a hitting machine since coming to Atlanta with Justin Upton in January. Regression is bound to happen with his .434 BABIP, which is way above his career norm, but he has not shown any signs of it approaching, despite a recent slump that was ended with a trip to Arizona. He hasn’t hit for a much power as advertised, but he has shown a willingness to go the other way with the ball, something that some of the Braves hitters have been reluctant to do. He likes to the ball, but if he’s given a pitch outside, he will gladly drive it into right center.
One of the biggest flaws I heard about Johnson was that he was a poor defender at the hot corner. Entering May 19th, He was currently rated as being slightly above average with his glove at third. There is no full-proof way to measure defense yet, but I find the fielding metrics used by fangraphs to be very effective.
One flaw with Johnson that I have noticed is his very low walk-rate, which is the lowest among the Braves active starters. Since his BABIP has been so high, it has masked his low walk rate. The OBP looks very good on paper, but a low walk rate and above-average BABIP means a strong regression is due for the Braves third baseman.
A final flaw with Johnson is that he strikes out a lot. His strikeout rate of 24% is slightly higher than the MLB average of 20%. It’s a slight increase, but I would like to see him get a little more patience at the plate to see the walks increase and the strikeouts decrease.
Overall, Chris Johnson has done very well. He’s no Chipper Jones, but who is? If he can fix his walk rate and still strike the ball with authority to all parts of the park, then the devastating blow of losing Chipper will be lessened. He’s a great talent, and could be even better if he can be more patient.
Juan Francisco has a lot of power, as exhibited with numerous swings this year. Unfortunately, Francisco has a hard time laying off a curveball down-and-in, which has resulted in a massive strikeout rate. Entering play on May 19th, Francisco was striking out in 39% of his at bats, which is absurd. Francisco has always been a free-swinger, but his current skid of seven strikeouts in nine at bats is inexcusable. He needs better strike zone recognition if he plans to anchor more third base time in the future.
Juan Francisco’s defense has been about equal to Chris Johnson’s, with only a slightly lower rating. I’ve heard people rave about Francisco’s defense, but he hasn’t put it into play in 2013 yet. I expect him to make up for some lost ground with future playing time, but I’m not complaining about average defense at third, with Andrelton Simmons at short.
Juan Francisco, like Chris Johnson, has an inflated BABIP of .383. That means we should expect some regression from Juan Francisco, as scary as that sounds. He also doesn’t walk much, with a 5.3% walk rate. If you tie together luck, low walk rate, and high strikeout rate, you should start to expect some real ugly numbers from Big Juan if he can’t straighten out his plate discipline.
Overall, Juan Francisco has been struggling mightily at the plate as of late. His average defense cannot mask his atrocious offensive numbers he has been exhibiting lately. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts, if he still wants to have a share of third base with Chris Johnson.
I can’t complain too much with the third base play for the Braves. Chris Johnson’s numbers have overshadowed Francisco’s, which is why the Braves third base platoon has been working. Unfortunately, the numbers say that both players are due for regression, which isn’t what a team struggling to score runs in a consistent manner wants to hear. More patience at the plate is a must, especially for Juan Francisco. Just judging off the raw numbers, however, the third base platoon has been good for the 8th best in baseball
Tweet of the Night
This one comes from the Braves official twitter page:
And we have taken the lead in the 8th!#soundfamiliar
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) May 19, 2013
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