Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Profile: Nick Johnson

The two players on the D.C. team with whom I'm most familiar are Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera, both of whom spent significant time on the Yankees major league roster in 2003 before being traded for Javier Vazquez in the offseason. In this post, I'll profile Nick Johnson, the 26 year old who will probably be the Expos first baseman next year and in 2006, unless he manages to spend even more time on the DL.

Nick was the Yankees' third round draft pick in 1996. He has never been a power hitter, but in the minors showed a lot of promise as an extremely patient hitter, with an ability to get on base, and use all parts of the field. In 2001, his last real year in the minors, he batted .256 for the AAA Columbus Clippers, but had an OBP of .393 in 440 plate appearances.

Despite having a reputation for getting on base a lot (much like Kevin Youklis did coming into the 2004 season), Nick didn't do that well as a september call-up in 2001, hitting .194, with an OBP of .308 and a slugging pct of .313. Yet, he spent much of 2002 and 2003 on the Yankees Roster sharing 1B and DH duties with Jason Giambi.

In those two years, he hit a combined .262 with an OBP of .369, and a slugging % around .435. These numbers didn't really meet expectations. Many people believed he was going to mature quickly into a .300 hitter with a .400+ OBP. But, he didn't quite get there, and got a reputation for having brittle hands, spending about three months combined on the DL in 2002 and 2003.

2004 was worse. Due to hand issues, Nick didn't play a game until May 18th, then went back on the DL on August 21st, and never came back. His final stint on the DL had nothing to do with his hands, though. He got nailed with a hard-hit ball that took a strange hop, and broke his cheekbone. When he was active in 2004, he hit .251/.359/.398.

Nick bats left-handed and throws left handed. He's a big guy at 6'3", and about 225 lbs. Yet, he never seemed as slow on the basepaths as, say, Giambi or Posada. His splits for the past three years show him hitting about the same against lefties and righties, but that's a bit misleading, because he walks more against lefties. Plus, in his 2004 splits, he did much better against left handed pitching (.323/.488 vs. .228/.310-- 62 ABs vs. 189 ABs).

Nick hasn't yet lived up to the promise he showed in the minors, though he has been a reasonably solid player, when not on the DL. For instance, despite missing about half the season, he was only one win share below average, and I suppose he would have been about 6 above average if he'd played the whole year to the same level. While those numbers aren't impressive, they're reasonably solid considering that he's never gotten to play a full season without an extended stint on the DL.

What about 2005? The biggest question is whether he will stay healthy. We can only hope that his hand problems are behind him, and that nothing else breaks down.

If he does stay healthy, what can we expect? I certainly don't think that this is the year he's going to blossom into the .300 hitter people once thought he would become. Maybe if he were still with the Yankees Donnie Baseball could do for him what he apparently did for Miguel Cairo, but I'll be thrilled if Nick plays the whole year and bats anything near .275/.400/.400.

As a postfix, while I was working on this post, there was a press conference officially announcing Bowden as interim GM, who confirmed that Frank Robinson will be our manager in 2005.


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