When Kelly Johnson was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays back on February 5th, not a lot was expected of him. He was joining a crowded situation at second base with Ryan Roberts, Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez already on the roster, and he had struggled offensively, hitting at a .223/.308/.390 rate over the previous two seasons. However, he still displayed power, hitting 37 home runs over the past two seasons, so he was thought to at least be a bit of a power bat off the bench.
This season, Johnson, along with James Loney, have continued the Rays recent success with their reclamation projects. In the midst of a career revival, Johnson has been hitting at a .277/.344/.511 rate with eight home runs while splitting time between left field, second base and first. Johnson is tied for second on the team in home runs, ranks second in slugging, and is third in batting average and RBIs.
What has been the reason for the resurrection of his career? One of the biggest reasons appears to be a better approach at the plate. He has narrowed his strike zone, chasing few pitches off the plate. He has also tweaked his batting stance, opting for a more open stance and lowered his hands before swinging at the pitch. Both of these adjustments have helped Johnson get the bat into the hitting zone quicker, and have allowed him to make better contact on those pitches.
These changes to his approach may be all it needed for Johnson to get back to being the player he had been prior to 2011. He had been a solid offensive player, producing an average line of .274/.355/.455 with 16 home runs and 10 steals. He also may be in the midst of shedding his reputation as a bat first player. He has acquitted himself quite well to left, even though he had not played there since 2005. He is presently second amongst all outfielders in assists, having thrown out six baserunners from left field in 23 games.
Kelly Johnson has likely provided far more than expected for the Rays this season, in all facets of his game. The resurgence of players like Johnson, Loney and a healthy Luke Scott have helped the Rays to rank in the top five in runs scored, home runs and batting average heading into yesterday’s action. While Johnson has not attracted the same level of attention that Loney has for his great season, but he has been a vital part of the Rays offense performing as well as it has this season.