I think I’ve probably visited Nick Johnson‘s baseball reference page 100 times already this season. It’s really a thing of beauty. We all knew he would walk a lot, but I’m not sure anyone predicted what he’s done so far. Going into Thursday’s game, he has a league-leading 18 walks. We’re nearing the end of April and the Houston Astros as a team have the same amount of walks.
As a consequence of all his walks, Johnson’s OBP is still over .400. Yet, you hear every time he comes to the plate what a terrible slump he is in to start the year. And yes, in terms of getting hits, he is in a terrible slump. Thanks to all those walks though, Johnson is still a somewhat productive offensive player. And if he does start hitting as his track record indicates he should? Well, then he becomes extremely productive.
You would think that by now no team would ever throw him a ball. The thing is though, Johnson not only does not swing at bad pitches; he fouls off good ones. You keep making a pitcher throw, and eventually they’re bound to throw one out of the zone. Johnson is just built to draw walks. It’s what he does. So when Joe Girardi says he doesn’t want Johnson to change his approach and be more aggressive, I think he means it.
This is what makes Johnson such an ideal 2-hitter: he can never really be in a slump. He will always get on base and be able to score runs.
Also, Johnson has a lot of value just in how many pitches he sees. That ability is something we are yet to concretely tie to a players value, at least in terms of statistics. We know how much a player is worth based on the offense they create and to a lesser extent how well they run the bases and defend. How much is it worth for them to see a lot of pitches? Player A gets out but saw 9 pitches in doing while Player B got out and saw 2 pitches. Player A has helped his team by wearing down the opposing pitcher, but is there anyway to quantify that value? It seems like if we can quantify defense, even in a very rough way, we should be able to quantify this skill – though it will probably require someone much more mathematically inclined than myself to do it.