Rich Tandler's Nationals blog.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

WATG? Nick Johnson

If you’re like most Nats fans, you’ve been through the euphoria of the return of baseball to DC and looking forward to spring training next month. But as you ponder pitchers and catcher reporting, you look at the roster and wonder, “Who are these guys?” To help you answer that question, over the coming weeks the Capitol Dugout blog will run the WATG? series to give you the skinny on the players that make up your Washington Nationals.

Nick Johnson’s Vitals

26-year-old 6-3, 224 First Baseman, bats and throws left, career BA .255, OBP .372, HR 38 in his fourth season, salary $1.25 million. Has also played for NY Yankees.

Quick Take:

A large, lumbering first baseman who has yet to display the power or durability normally associated with such a player.

The Skinny

Nick Johnson probably is one of the few Nats you’ve actually seen play. He broke in with the Yankees and played in every postseason game of their 2003 run to the World Series. In an example of the circular nature of player movement in baseball, he was traded to the Expos prior to the ’04 season as part of the Javier Vasquez trade. Vazquez was traded in midseason for Esteban Loaiza, who just signed with the Nats as a free agent.

Perhaps it’s a bit unfair to say that Johnson lacks power as he has a career slugging percentage of .418, certainly respectable. But he hits home runs at a pace of 19 per 162 games and you want more power than that out of your first baseman.

The other issue to blame for his paltry career total of 38 homers is the injury bug. Last year he started the season on the injury list with a bad back and he ended it on the DL with a broken cheekbone. It took him until late last year, his fourth season, to accumulate 1,000 career at bats.

According to Scouts, Inc., “Johnson's calling card is his understanding of the strike zone,” but I fail to see where this notion comes from. For his career he has struck out (228) 40% more often than he has walked (165). That’s not very impressive given his home run number.

Still, Johnson has the possibility of becoming a valuable member of the Nats if (all together now) he can stay healthy. He’s a decent fielder with good range. His OBP makes him a good fit near the top of the order, perhaps in the #2 spot. At 26, he’s approaching what should be his prime and perhaps the Nats will benefit from such a development.

Or perhaps not. There has been talk of dealing Johnson for either prospects or a pitcher. Even if the is still wearing a Nats uniform when the season starts, he’ll likely be a topic of discussion as the July 31 trading deadline approaches (assuming, of course, that the Nationals aren’t in serious playoff contention).

2005 Down and Up

Downside: .255 BA, 16 HR, 40 RBI
Upside: .290 BA, 22 HR, 70 RBI

To find Nick Johnson’s career stats on, go to

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