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Gary Roberts Wednesday - Reed Johnson

Reed JohnsonStu is unable to present a GRW today. Thus, in his absence, I’ll be taking over for the second time. Stu will return next week with a live report from Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Sick with it, for sure.

Anyways, last time I subbed in for GRW, I highlighted Eric Hinske. Some people didn’t take it seriously, but allow me to remind you that he’s a solid contributor on a winning team – the D-Rays are winning the AL East right now, and Hinske has put up a dandy .257/.342/.542 with 10 home runs, 27 RBI, 4 stolen bases, and a 141 OPS+ (meaning he’s 41% ahead of an average player at this point). Pretty sick, right?

Today…I have to concede something. I show a lot of disrespect and negligence towards this particular player, despite everyone constantly showering him with hugs and kisses and proverbial handjobs. His spectacular defense, grit, hustle, facial hair, pretty eyes, and better-than-they-seem offensive numbers make this man a serious piece of any potential championship puzzle.

I’m talking, of course, about Reed Johnson.

Reed JohnsonI got you, didn’t I?

Sorry, but this is the first ever mock-GRW. Reed Johnson is one word if nothing else: overrated. Why does everyone love this guy? It’s easy. He’s everything old school or casual baseball fans look for in a player. Unlike Dmitri Young, Jack Cust, C.C. Sabathia, or countless others, Johnson looks like a ballplayer. He feels like a ballplayer. He smells like a ballplayer.

It starts with the pants. They’re always dirty.

Then the facial hair. It’s manly, and reeks of baseball superstition.

And then the fielding. Despite missing a lot of balls he dives for, Reed is usually on the highlight reel once a week for a great catch. (Don’t get me wrong, he’s an above-average outfielder for sure, but highlight catches don’t make you a gold glover alone.)

And he gets hit by pitches. At a rate greater than all-time leader Craig Biggio’s. 88 times in 652 games, to be exact, with a whopping 8 already this year.

And finally, the offense. His numbers just scream baseball player.

Oh, wait, they don’t. Reed Johnson, on the offensive side of the ball, is terribly…average. If that. By all accounts, Reed Johnson is…gasp…not a good baseball player. Defense aside (which, again, to be fair, is his best area), Reed is nothing special. He’s a banjo hitter, at best, meaning he’s best suited for the bottom third of the order. He’s a guy who can bunt a little bit, has moderate speed, but won’t hit for much power or a good average. Let’s explore, then, why most people feel he’s deserving of a real Gary Roberts Wednesday.

In 2006, with the Toronto Blue Jays, Reed hit .319/.390/.479 with 12 home runs and 8 stolen bases. All of those are career highs, by far, and are nothing spectacular to begin with – they are numbers deserving of a lead-off spot on a team devoid of speed, or possibly the 2-hole, but they are nowhere near write-home-about numbers.

Reed JohnsonOutside of 2006, Reed has been way below average. That season, his OPS+ was an impressive 124, but it was his only season where he was above average. His career OPS+ is 94, meaning he’s 6% below average, but in the past two seasons he’s posted marks of 66 and 83, and in 2004 it was 79. Sure, last year he was hurt, but people are screaming his praises this year, too.

In a much-weaker National League Central, Reed’s numbers haven’t improved really on his mediocre Jays’ stats. His .261/.345/.359 is downright awful, he’s 1-for-4 stealing bases, and has just 2 homers and 8 doubles in 142 at-bats. He also strikes out twice as much as he walks, though I’m not a strong believer in the importance of strikeouts on the offensive end. Oh…he also doesn’t have an assist yet, despite claims that he has a pretty good arm (he does, it’s just not superb as some would have you believe).

So why do Jays’ fans miss him so badly, and pine for the days of a lead-off hitter who hits .270?
Probably because his replacement crew hasn’t done well, either. To replace him, the team has employed Braw Wilkerson, Shannon Stewart, Matt Stairs, and Adam Lind, with occasional starts by Joe Inglett, Kevin Mench, Buck Coats or Marco Scutaro. The team’s production from the left field position so far has been .232/.305/.303 with just 1 home run and an atrocious OPS+ 63. For some reason, no Jay can hit when they play left field (to be clear, only Wilkerson’s overall number are as bad as that never-walk line).

The Jays cut Reed largely to save on his contract, which was worth over $3M. Instead, they’re paying Mench and Wilkerson a prorated share of the veteran minimum ($380,000), Stewart $1.5M, and Lind the rookie minimum, since he hasn’t reached his arbitration years yet. In total, they are paying about $2.25M, savings of over $0.75M. It doesn’t seem like much, but:

a) It’s a chance the team took, and it hasn’t really paid off.
b) Reed’s numbers are hardly better, keep in mind, so it’s still savings.
c) Shannon Stewart has heated up recently, hitting .294 this month.

And finally…Reed was supposed to be the right-handed half of a platoon with Matt Stairs. Reed is hitting .250 against righties with just 5 extra base hits in 84 at-bats. We’re not talking just as bad as the current crop of left fielders.

So if you’re going to complain about the Jays’ left field situation or pine for Reed Johnson or claim he’s just freakin’ awesome…keep in mind that Johnson is below average…maybe average if you include defense…but he’s nothing more than that.

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4 Responses to “Gary Roberts Wednesday - Reed Johnson”

  1. Melody McMurdie Says:

    In reading your article, you did point out a few things that were “technically” correct, but only when you are just looking at the surface of Reed. Yes, he IS a gritty ball player. He has never claimed or wanted to be anything other than a team player. He was a walk on Titan… showed up, worked hard, played hard, tried out and proved to the coaches that despite his size… he would be an asset to Fullerton’s team. This man has always worked hard. He shows up early to the field, normally before anyone else gets there, works out and warms up. This has ALWAYS been his work ethic, and not just since the Bigs. The off-season, he not only works out himself, he motivates his teammates and other MLB friends that live near him to get up at 4:00am to go work out with their trainer. He takes the game seriously year round.

    I know why his friends and family love him so much - a genuine, generous, down to earth human being that has a quick quirky sense of humor as well. And he’s no different with the fans. This is why he was so beloved in Toronto. Him, his wife and Shooter loved Toronto (which had nothing to do with baseball). They just fell in love with the city. They would walk Shooter in the streets or local parks (everyone new Shooter whether Reed was there or not), eat at the local restaurants, sign autographs, stop and talk to everyone and anyone and did it with pleasure.

    He also helps charities (some publicized, most not). Not only does he help charities, he’s done alot for family members and friends. He flew his childhood friend and family to Toronto on his own dime when his friend had a leave from serving overseas. He put them up in a hotel, brought them to the games and spent time with them - only because he wanted to see his friend and a small way to say thanks for serving our country and to be able to say “stay safe”.

    Now… him playing hard every day is important to him.
    In reality, not all team members have to be hall of famers. They just need to do their part of the job they were hired to do. You say he’s not a “gold glove”, he’s never claimed to be - but in my book - anyone that goes out every time he’s given a chance and plays 110% and does whatever necessary to help the team is in my Hall of Fame. He doesn’t squawk when he’s scratched from the line-up. He has always known and believed that whether he’s out on the field or on the bench… there is a reason behind it and will be ready when he is given the call.

    He knows this is his work, he knows that he is one of the lucky ones that gets to do this for a living and takes it very seriously…. yet able to have fun and enjoy each moment. A truly “old school” ball player!

    Not everyone needs to be famous or flashy to contribute to the game of BASEBALL!!!! They just need to really have a passion for it, as Reed has always had.

  2. Blake Murphy Says:

    All of those things are probably true, and I do really like Reed as a ballplayer and as a person. That said, he IS still overrated with respect to his actual on-field contributions.

    I wasn’t trying to bash Reed, person or ballplayer, moreso those who hold him on a pedestal too high given his talent.

  3. » Mythbusters: Bluejays and the NL | SportsTalkBuzz 24/7 Sports Talk and Commentary Says:

    [...] 13-15 – vs. Chicago Cubs (NL) ( the return of the overrated Reed Johnson) June 17-19 - @ Milwaukee (NL) June 20-22 - @ Pittsburgh (NL) June 24-26 – vs. Cincinnati (NL) [...]

  4. Blake Murphy Says:

    Normally I deleted trackbacks but I’d like everyone to click that link and see that, for the second time (that I know about), someone has word-for-word stolen my work. Awesome.

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