Ok, I’ll admit that I have a hard time arguing with the way the Rays’ management has put teams together, but it seems like they have a blind spot when it comes to manning first base.
Yes, teams want power out of that position and rightly so. That’s often where you park the big, beasty power hitter who is too slow for the outfield but his bat is too good to keep out of the lineup.
It’s why Carlos Pena and his lifetime .241 BA was parked there the past few years. He averaged 36 home runs and 102 RBI during those four years. Unfortunately his plate discipline became more undisciplined as the years progressed, making his power a liability in the lineup.
Casey Kotchman has done everything he can to earn a starting role…except slug. Except that his SLG is 159 points higher than Dan Johnson‘s this spring.
Joe Maddon said in an recent article that Johnson was still the favorite. “Right now, just being honest, Johnson has the inside edge,” Maddon said. “He’s got the inside track.”
I know that Johnson did well after rocking AAA pitching at the Ray’s Durham affiliate. And I realize that he did well in 40 games after getting the call up to the bigs.
I also know that in five big league seasons Johnson averaged .243 at the plate. That while he did mash seven home runs and drive in 23 runs, he batted .199 during that time. And his .243 lifetime average is a bit misleading. His best season was his first; in 2005 with the Oakland A’s, when hit .275 in 375 AB. He hasn’t been over .236 since, which is why Oakland released him.
Yes, he won a number of awards last year, hitting .303 while pounding out 30 home runs and 95 RBI, but this is a player who also carries a .291 batting average in the minors. His struggles at the next level are well-documented.
One of the big reasons the Rays failed in the post season last year was the lack of timely hitting. Pena’s power never seemed to translate when it was needed most. Johnson doesn’t have the defensive stats that Pena had; Kotchman on the other hand does. He also has hit at a .268 clip or better four of the seven years he’s played in the majors, and he does bring some power to the game. The bigger point is that he looks more likely to advance runners on the base paths than does Johnson…or Pena for that matter.
I suppose we will just have to wait and see. While I applaud Maddon for his loyalty, baseball fans can be extremely fickle. Considering the precarious situation in Tampa Bay getting fans to the stadium, the last thing Big Joe needs is for this one to back fire on him.