Jun 9, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Braves third baseman Chris Johnson (23) during the fourth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Kubitza, a platoon partner for Braves Chris Johnson?

Analyzing the Problem for Braves Chris Johnson

Chris Johnson has simply destroyed left-handed pitching this year.  In 46 at-bats against southpaws, Johnson has a 1.025 OPS.  On the less shiny side of the penny, the 3-bagger has been putrid against right-handed pitching; a .579 OPS in 227 at-bats.  While this is not the norm for Chris as far as career numbers are concerned, it would be at least smart to start looking into internal options should the struggles continue.

This wasn’t the Braves initial plan…

If you recall, the Braves started off last year with a platoon at third base, the left side of it being Juan Francisco.  Juan Francisco played himself out of his side of the platoon simply by not producing and Chris didn’t stop hitting all year. His .772 OPS against RHP last year, while far less than his .939 OPS against LHP, would most definitely suffice.  But, as of now, the Braves have to be at least pondering the idea of searching for a platoon.  With Gavin Floyd out for the year and Aaron Harang likely destroying every bit of his trade value in his last start, the place to start looking should be within.  This is where Kyle Kubitza comes in…

My wife and I with Kyle Kubitza, after a pre-game interview in Pensacola.

My wife and I with Kyle Kubitza, after a pre-game interview in Pensacola.

Say this 5 times fast…

An Internal Platoon Solution

Kyle is the 23 year old 3rd baseman for the Mississippi Braves.  Through 65 games, he has an .845 OPS which is complimented by a .404 OBP.  A left-handed hitter, Kyle does have 10-15 HR power, but it’s likely been suppressed by the numerous pitcher-friendly parks that are prevalent in the AA Southern League.  And while he only has 3 HR to his name this year, his gap-to-gap power hasn’t slowed; 16 doubles and 3 triples. While he hasn’t been the most successful base stealer in the past, Kubitza is 12/13 in stolen base attempts this year.  He has above average speed, but not necessarily built for stealing bases regularly.  What stands out the most about Kyle’s offensive game is his patience.  He walks 15% of his plate appearances. That’s more than anyone else affiliated with the Braves, majors or minors, and like La Stella, a patient approach would be a refreshing site for the strikeout heavy team that’s been taking the field thus far this year.

There are a few scouts that say Kyle’s in the build of a guy like Ben Zobrist who has the hands soft enough to play all over the diamond, with a great arm to boot.  Boy…that sounds refreshing.

Keep an eye on both Chris Johnson’s production in Atlanta and Kyle Kubitza’s production in Pearl, Mississippi. If Chris can’t get rolling and Kyle continues to hit, Kyle could be an option for a platoon.

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Tags: Braves Chris Johnson Kyle Kubitza

  • Mushy Peas

    Chris has just recently been able to find his swing. I think it would be very unfair to yank him out of the line-up when vs RHPs. The Braves don’t face LHPs very often which would potentially leave one of their best and most consistent contact hitters on the bench if you were to platoon him. That aside, CJ is right-handed….of course he’s going to hit lefties better and even though Kyle bats lefty, he also seems to hit LHPs better: (vs LHP in 34 ABs .382; vs RHP in 183 ABs .279)
    That aside, Kubitza’s defense is actually worse than CJ’s, so that’s a big negative and goes against any argument to use him as a late-inning defensive replacement.
    I think there are far more prominent holes in the line-up, and on the roster in general, that need to be resolved before anything like that should be considered. (i.e. BJ, Uggla)

    • Ryan Cothran

      I’m not saying that the Braves should jerk Chris Johnson out of the lineup tomorrow as that would be unfair to his track record of success. What I am suggesting is that if his struggles continue, the Braves should try inside sources before looking outside the organization.

      And you’re right, a straight platoon wouldn’t be fair to CJ, but neither would running him out there with some of the worst numbers in the majors against RHP. At the end of the day,if he’s not providing offensive value, he doesn’t have value.

      On Kubitza’s defense: I’ve seen Kyle play 3rd a few times live, and looking simply at his fielding % in the Minors doesn’t do an athlete such as Kubitza justice in the field. Many scouts already say he’s a good defender with a good arm, something that was never said about CJ. He might not be better than CJ right now, but if I were a betting man, he wouldnt be worse.

      I agree that B.J. should be the first to go, however I don’t really think there’s anyone inside the organization that could replace BJ. The Braves would have to go outside the organization to replace him.

      • Mushy Peas

        Bottom line is that right now CJ is swinging the bat well. It took him awhile to find his swing, but now that he has shown some of the consistency he was known for last year, it should be expected that his numbers vs RHPs will improve. Most of the those negative stats against righties were accumulated from the times he was struggling earlier this year. I just don’t understand why it would be such a focus when, even aside from the Upton/Uggla issue, there are more concerning problems with the bullpen and the bench right now. I’ve seen Kubitza play as well, and even if he’s at least he’s being considered the defensive equal of CJ, it’s still not enough to make me think that there would be any benefit to having him on the roster at this point.

        • Ryan Cothran

          I agree that CJ is swinging the bat better as his OPS for the month of June is .812. However, his OPS has not been aided by 2 things, both of which need to be present if Chris is to show long-term success:

          1. Walks- Chris has collected 3 walks this month, one of which was intentional. He’s still swinging way too much with little regards to location.
          2. Power- 4 doubles, 1 HR, and the rest singles. Without looking at the numbers, when someone has a +.800 OPS, but not producing many XBH or walks, the production is aided by luck, BABIP luck. Chris has a .439 BABIP this month. While he’s known to carry a high BABIP, .439 isn’t sustainable, especially for a slow-runner.

          The bench would be strengthened by a player of Kubitza’s build. He has the ability to play all over the diamond and hits both RHP and LHP well, and when he starts, CJ is available off the bench. Replacing Uggla with Kyle tomorrow would make the bench better.

          However, I’d like you to revisit my original post as I think my words have been lost in translation. Kyle should only be considered an option for the Braves if CJ’s struggles were to continue, and I stated that at the end. Right now, CJ’s hitting but not with authority very often and his OPS is carried by seeing eye singles, and not by walks or power.

          I’d love to see Chris get his stroke of last year back and there’s no doubt he’s trending in the right direction. However, if his production starts slipping again, the Braves need to look within the organization and outside Ramiro Pena. If they do that, they’ll find Kyle.

          • Mushy Peas

            I can assure you that there is nothing wrong with my comprehesion. I understand exactly what you’re saying. I just respectfully disagree, that’s all. I just think it’s a little early to assume Chris Johnson will continue to struggle against RHPs and I think he’s the kind of guy that’s better served being in the line-up on a consistent basis. There are obviously areas where I’d like to see him improve. I’d like to see him take more walks, but he is, and always will be a contact hitter who likes to swing the bat with an avg rate of contact right around 75%. He’s never walked much his entire career and his K% is actually near his career avg. Alot of his Ks so far this season were a result of him swinging at pitches that weren’t strikes that would break off the outside part of the plate. That’s pretty much where everyone was pitching him early on and he would always chase. Now that he’s cut down on that, he’s seeing more of a mix of pitches which will play to his strengths- so long as he can keep his swing consistent. His struggles earlier this season were also a result of him not keeping his hands in and letting his front shoulder fly open. As a result, he was rolling over alot of pitches producing alot of weak dribblers to SS which explains the high rate of hitting into double plays. I expect that to decrease as well. I honestly don’t take issue with “seeing eye ground balls”. I think part of the reason his BABIP remains relatively high is because he’s hard to defend against because he uses all parts of the field. CJ has altered his hitting approach since coming to Atlanta. Unfortunately, when with the Astros org., he fell victim to what I think is an unethical desire by teams to mold players into the offensive stereotypes relative to their defensive position. Chris’ natural swing just isn’t conducive to being a power hitter. He’s now found what works best for him. Right now, his LD% is actually in the top ten in all of mlb at 29.1%. (Freddie Freeman #1 at 32.8%). As for Kubitza, his avg K rate is roughly the same as CJ’s and I would expect that to increase against major league pitching. He has better speed which helps allow for more XBHs; but, despite his speed, he isn’t always the smartest base stealer as he was CS 16/24 times last year. He’s also not going to hit for power. Really, his best asset is a greater BB rate. That’s just not enough for me to consider having him as a platoon player. He still has a long way to go before I’d give him a spot on the roster. To go back to your point that, if CJ struggles against RHPs, then he should be considered for a platoon, might make more sense to me if Kyle actually hit RHPs better than LHPs. He doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I think Kubitza has a future in the majors. I just don’t see it as the near future. Nice debate though.

          • Sealift67

            To be realistic Kubitza is developing yet based on traditional
            organizational behavior, in contrast to the Uggla/LaStella
            situation, management likely is pleased yet feels no pressure
            to move K up, use an option, mess up CJ’s head. Perhaps
            Kubitza will push CJ next spring. At the moment there is
            a bigger issue in CF, and, whether they go after a starter
            through a trade. The latter will be based on analysis of
            whether such a trade eg with the Cubs, would bring the pennant.

          • Matt Talbert

            Well why did Wren give CJ a 3 year extension…so Kubitza is stuck for now…and obviously Simmons and Freeman aren’t going anywhere. La Stella looks legit. Maybe teach him to play some 2b as well so he can be a super UTL guy with some pop and some speed in the mold of a young Zobrist or Bloomquist.

          • fireboss

            He got the extension – too soon in my opinion – because the third base market is thin for the foreseeable future and he’s dependable if not spectacular at the position. Kubitza is looks like having a 2016 full time arrival if he’s consistent on defense. If he has a breakout season Johnson’s contract is very friendly making him a tradeable piece in that thin third base market.

          • Matt Talbert

            Hold on I always thought that Kyle had pop in his bat as well as some wheels. Nice combo 20/20 3b in the mold of a poor man’s Wright. I’m not so sure…