From our season preview of the Atlanta Braves earlier today…
Can Chris Johnson and Juan Francisco provide the Braves with adequate production at third, or will the team need to find an alternate solution in July?
Johnson and Francisco aren't going to be Chipper Jones. Quite frankly, I don't think anyone is really expecting that either. After all, both players were dumped onto new teams during 2012: Francisco to the Braves at the end of Spring Training, and Johnson to the Diamondbacks at the trade deadline. Now, that doesn't mean that neither player has value. Johnson had an .824 OPS in 44 games with Arizona last season and had 15 homers on the season, and Francisco had nine homers in just over 200 plate appearances for the Braves.
But just because there's value doesn't mean there's a ton of it. The two players combined for just 2.6 fWAR last season, which would have placed the platoon behind five Atlanta offensive starters (and a hair ahead of Andrelton Simmons, who played in just 49 games). And here's the problem with a potential platoon: despite being a right-hander, Johnson actually has a reverse platoon split, mashing righties and struggling against lefties, just like the left-handed Francisco.
Another hole in both players' games is their plate discipline. In 2012, Francisco walked in 5.4% of his plate appearances. While that's bad, it's actually only slightly worse than Johnson's 5.9% walk rate. Johnson added a 25% strikeout rate to the mix, while Francisco struck out in 34.1% of his plate appearances. This is…how do you say…"not good". Cumulatively, the pair had a 5.7% walk rate and a 27.6% strikeout rate. And I'm sure you know the drill by now: no Braves offensive starter in 2012 had a walk rate that low or a strikeout rate that high.
At the end of it all though, I keep coming back to the power. The .178 ISO cumulatively put together by Johnson and Francisco last year was bested by just two Braves starters, Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman. That will be a huge boost for the Atlanta offense, even with the negatives that the pair bring to the table. There will likely be some falloff for Johnson in switching from a pair of hitters parks in 2012 (Arizona and Houston) to a pitchers park in 2013, but I don't think it'll be a huge overall decline.
Now, I'm not saying that a Johnson/Francisco platoon is going to be good, or even work. But consider that last year, a cumulative 2.6 fWAR out of your third base position would be roughly in the middle tier of the league. And is that platoon really going to be worse than a potentially washed up Michael Young in Philadelphia, or a definitely washed up Placido Polanco in Miami? A Johnson/Francisco platoon looks thoroughly heavenly in comparison to either of those options, though it's not a long-term fix for the Braves.