Sunday, July 01, 2007

Demotion Cuts Braves Kelly Johnson's Production

Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson has accepted his demotion from leadoff to No. 7 in the batting order, though the move will cut into his production for the remainder of the season.

Worse, reserve middle infielder Yunel Escobar is staking a claim to Johnson's appearances vs. lefties.

Even if Johnson can eventually reclaim full-time playing status -- which remains questionable -- a statistical analysis shows that the number of Johnson's hits can be expected to fall by up to 20 percent and his home run total up to five percent due to his demotion due to his lineup demotion alone.

Johnson's decline may be anticipated not only because the move will cost him some 50 at-bats, but because he no longer will be followed in the batting order by such productive players as Edgar Renteria and Chipper Jones.

Manager Bobby Cox demoted Johnson after the promising lefty fell into a slump, most notably a 2-17 spell during the week of June 18-24. The move also enabled Cox to exploit the hot bat of outfielder Willie Harris, hitting at a better than .300 clip with a .500 slugging percentage in limited appearances.

On days when facing a left-handed batter, Johnson will be backed up by right-hitting catcher Jerrod Saltalamacchia, who for the time being has settled into a lefty-righty first base platoon with disappointing rookie first Scott Thorman, who has had difficutly keeping his average much above .200 for most of the year.

Saltalamacchia may gain more and more playing time as he improves his play at first base, but Cox is being cautious so as not to leave himself without a backup catcher late in games. Thorman is struggling against left-handed pitchers, but so far Saltalamacchia has shown proficiency against both lefties and righties.