Friday, November 12, 2004

Meet the Nats: First Base

Nick Johnson opens up the season as our first basemen--at least until he breaks again.

Nick is the kind of player we need to build around. He’s young, has plenty of upside, and is cheap now. And with the way arbitration works, his injuries have prevented him from accumulating the kinds of counting stats that would give him huge raises.

Last year, after starting the season with a wonky back, he hit a disappointing .251/.359/ .398. Those numbers are on back of an acceptable .284/ .422/ .472. He’ll turn 26 this year, so he’s certainly got a huge upside if he can build off his previous year, instead of last year’s injury plagued one.

Baseball Prospectus has his EQA at .263, after a career-high .310 the year before. Offensively, he’s extremely patient, willing to work the count deep, waiting for his pitch and unafraid to take a walk. He also, at least in the minors, showed a disturbing tendency to get hit by a lot of pitches--which certainly can’t help his injuries.

Offensively, at his peak, you can probably expect 25 homeruns, 30 doubles and 90+ walks, leading to a league-leading on-base percentage. He’s perfect as a number two hitter, because of those on-base skills.

As a Yankee, NJ got a reputation as a good defensive first baseman. This was presumably because his name wasn’t Jason Giambi. Nick isn’t a great defensive player, but he’s not a complete slug either. He’s completely average. And there’s certainly value in being average.

Nick should be one of the cores of this team moving forward. We’ve got a Mark Grace or Will Clark kind of player. He’s not going to be the big slugger, but when you’re getting on base and hitting line drives like those two did, you don’t need to be.