Kelly Johnson thriving in Arizona
Former Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson is off to a hot start for his new team.
Johnson is hitting .310 with nine home runs, eight doubles, 18 RBI, and a .404 on base percentage for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 23 games.
Johnson is tied with his teammate, Mark Reynolds, for the National League lead with the nine home runs.
And for those of us who believed Johnson was capable of such production, it begs a very obvious question.
Why didn't this happen in Atlanta with the Braves?
Don't get me wrong - I'm not blaming Johnson. Sure, I guess you could put some of his inconsistency in Atlanta on his own shoulders. But it's just amazing that yet another former Atlanta player is thriving in another uniform.
I think the obvious answer is Johnson is finally playing everyday. He is not being platooned, as was the case in Atlanta.
Johnson started 127 games at second base for the Braves in 2007 and then 135 games in 2008. He didn't have injuries in those two seasons. Instead, Bobby Cox occasionally had the lefty hitting Johnson on the bench against left-handed pitchers.
Johnson is hitting .346 against southpaws so far this season in 26 at bats, with four home runs and seven RBI.
Last year Johnson was inconsistent and lost his job for good to Martin Prado. Johnson struggled in April, with a .203 average. He bounced back with a .297 average in May, but then in June Johnson was horrible, with a .125 batting average.
Johnson never seemed comfortable as the Atlanta leadoff hitter. Johnson struggled in that role in 2008, hitting only .263. Cox put him back in that spot last season, and Johnson hit only .222.
Surprisingly, Johnson has hit mostly first in the Arizona lineup, and eight of his nine home runs have come as the leadoff man.
For me, this is yet another case that proves most platoons, or even players that are occasionally platooned, are not effective. Players need to play everyday to be consistent, and if they don't, it's sometimes harder to find that groove at the plate.
Before Johnson, Adam LaRoche was my poster child for this. Remember how LaRoche platooned with Julio Franco for most of his first two years as the Atlanta first baseman?
Well, in 2006 Franco was gone to the New York Mets. Brian Jordan made the Atlanta roster as LaRoche's new platoon partner at first base. But when Jordan got hurt in June, the Braves didn't have another right-handed hitting option to come up and platoon with LaRoche at first base.
That enabled LaRoche to play everyday, really for the first time in his two and a half year career. In the second half of 2006, as LaRoche played everyday, he hit .323 with 19 home runs and 48 RBI.
The Braves took advantage of LaRoche's enhanced value that next offseason and traded him to Pittsburgh for reliever Mike Gonzalez. But it was obvious LaRoche took off after he got a chance to play everyday.
And now Johnson is doing the same thing, ironically again with LaRoche as his teammate in Arizona.
Now while Johnson is on pace for 64 home runs for the season, chances are he'll slow down the pace a bit. But he's got a great shot at surpassing his season-high in home runs, set in 2007 when he hit 16 for the Braves.
With the Braves having trouble in left field with Melky Cabrera and Matt Diaz, you wonder if they should have kept Johnson and moved him back to left field, the position he played when he debuted with the Braves in 2005.
Did Bobby Cox and the Braves make a mistake by not playing Johnson everyday? Talk about it on the premium message board!
Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Atlanta Baseball Show. Shanks writes a weekly column for The Macon Telegraph. Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.
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