Yankee fans will undoubtedly remember Nick Johnson from his previous stint with the Yankees, not to mention his years in the minors when he enjoyed the “first baseman of the future” label. Johnson is, in some ways, a pretty divisive player because, well, he likes to draw walks. I mean, he really likes to draw walks. As in, he’s never had a season where his OBP wasn’t at least .100 points higher than his BA. As in its been since 2005 since he struck out more than he walked. He could quite possibly have the most discerning eye in baseball. Now how is that divisive? Well, for some reason, many fans hate players that draw walks. These fans subscribe to the notion that BA can (and should) determine how good a player is. These are the same people who might worry that Johnson will “clog the bases” or be “unclutch.”
2009: Well, in 2009 Johnson did his usual: he got on base, posting a .426 OBP in split time with both Washington and Florida. His power numbers slumped, as his SLG of .413 was one of the lowest of his career. Much of his power loss has been attributed to his recovery from wrist surgery – not to mention that he’s been playing in pitcher’s parks.
2010: Johnson, if he can stay healthy, is pretty much a lock for an OBP over .400 and should score a ton of runs batting 2nd in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. The move to Yankee stadium should also help his power numbers. The question, of course, is can Johnson stay healthy? Most of his injuries in the past have been accidents and not simply him breaking down from the wear and tear of a season (for example, Johnson suffered a broken femur from a play in the field – has that ever happened before in the history of baseball?). Since Johnson will most likely DH the majority of his games, the Yankees hope that will reduce the chances of another injury. Johnson is a skilled first baseman, but with Teixeira around, Johnson will probably start no more than maybe 10 or so games in the field, though he obviously provides great injury insurance for Teixeira.
Johnson is replacing Hideki Matsui as the Yankee DH, and he has many similarities to Godzilla. He’s also a lefty bat that been an effective and consistent hitter throughout his career. Johnson will get on base more, but will not have the power of Matsui. It’s significant also that Johnson shares Matsui’s reverse platoon split, as the Yankee lineup is very heavy on left-handed hitters. As strange as it sounds, part of Johnson’s appeal over Matsui is that he is less an injury risk – a difficult thing to accomplish for someone who has missed as much time as Johnson has. Matsui’s knees, however, are a source of chronic concern and he is 6 years older than Johnson.
The bottom line is that in Yankee stadium, if Johnson stays healthy, there is every reason to believe he will be a very effective offensive player in 2010.
Projected 2010: .280/.420/.470 120 runs, 120 hits, 100 walks, 85 Ks, 80 RBIs, 16 HRs
UPDATE: I realized after posting that I forgot to mention a critical part of Nick Johnson’s return: determining his nickname for 2010. The two most popular tend to be “Nick the Stick” and “OBP Jesus.” Personally, I’m leaning towards the later, simply because it’s more original.