On Johjima’s power outage

DMZ · June 10, 2008 at 9:00 am · Filed Under Mariners 

I haven’t written much about Johjima, while taking time out of my day to take potshots at Vidro, McLaren, Ibanez’s defense, Sexson, and pretty much everyone except Ichiro.

So here’s the short version: Johjima’s performance at the plate so far has been just abysmal. But some this is that I’ve felt a lot like I do about Beltre: Beltre’s been smashing the ball around, hitting line drives, and they’ve been caught. His batting average looks bad, but he’s doing fine, I’ve got no complaints.

Similarly, if you look at Johjima, you see much the same thing: he’s still not taking walks, he’s striking out about as often, and the huge difference in terms of average/on-base percentage is that the balls he’s putting in play aren’t getting hits (this year his batting average on balls in play is .236, after being at .292 and .291 the previous two seasons). Normally, I’d just shrug that off.

What worries me is the missing power. What power he had hasn’t shown at all:
– He’s not hitting line drives nearly as often, and his ground ball and fly ball rates are both up
– When he’s hitting line drives, they’re not going anywhere: only 3% turn into home runs. That’s awful. Vidro gets twice that (this year, last year he was at 4%)

The only real difference between this season and the last two is that Johjima seems to be swinging at and making contact with a lot more pitches out of the zone. If you look at Fangraphs’ data, you see the one thing that really spikes this year is his “O-Contact” which is the number of pitches outside the zone they make contact with when swinging.

More baffling, though, he’s not swinging at those more often — he’s just hitting them a lot more often, not making good contact, and they’re going for outs. We’ve all seen this (and ended up screaming at him, or the TV, to please knock that off).

Is it a quirk of the season to date? When everything else seems stable except for one weird stat, my instinct is often to shrug and chalk it up to chance. Johjima’s stance isn’t changed from last year, and I haven’t been able to find anything about him switching to a longer bat, for instance, and if there’s a change at work it doesn’t seem to be affecting much else about his game. And yet between these two things:
– he’s making a lot more crappy contact on crappy pitches, and
– overall, his power numbers are way, way down, more than I’d even expect from the contact issue

I am worried. But I don’t have anything to offer that might help. I think I keep hoping that it’s just a random fluke, because the worst case is that the M’s just signed a catcher to a lucrative extension as his hitting game started to fall apart. We have enough bad news to dwell on already.


29 Responses to “On Johjima’s power outage”

  1. wibnrml on June 10th, 2008 10:01 am

    So now we have to endure the standard excuse that he is overextending himself because he wants to justify his new contract?

  2. Breadbaker on June 10th, 2008 10:04 am

    This should be job one for the new hitting coach. There’s no obvious explanation for what he’s been doing wrong, and it might be a simple matter that he doesn’t realize it. And I suspect Pentland had other things on his mind.

  3. crazyray7391 on June 10th, 2008 10:04 am


  4. crazyray7391 on June 10th, 2008 10:05 am


  5. bakomariner on June 10th, 2008 10:15 am

    1- Didn’t they say that they got the extension done so he could relax and get his swing back? Now he’s trying to live up to the contract? I don’t buy it…I think Derek hit the nail on the head…we just signed another over the hill player to a large contract…awesome…

  6. fairweatherfan on June 10th, 2008 10:16 am

    “nothing to offer that might help…” I don’t suppose “Don’t swing at so many crappy pitches” would do any good.

  7. bratman on June 10th, 2008 10:19 am

    because the worst case is that the M’s just signed a catcher to a lucrative extension as his hitting game started to fall apart. We have enough bad news to dwell on already.

    you’d think it can’t and won’t get any worse… But it looks like it can and will. I guess we have to completely bottom out before we can rise back to prominence.

    I feel like we are the New York Knickerbockers of Major League Baseball.

    Man – There hasn’t been a happy post in Mariner nation for quite a while. This is just getting sad… think happy thoughts … oh wait, there are absolutely none. zero.

    We have Felix and that’s it.

  8. bakomariner on June 10th, 2008 10:20 am

    I really don’t mind the fact that we re-signed him, if next year he is okay with being Clement’s back-up…or a nice platoon partner…sucks that Burke would have to go…he’s been a nice story…and that is a lot of coin to pay an over-the-hill backup catcher…

  9. msb on June 10th, 2008 10:27 am

    could the power drop be due to an injury we haven’t heard about? a shoulder? elbow? that right hand with the plate and screws?

  10. msb on June 10th, 2008 10:27 am

    can we commission Brad Lefton to talk to Joh?

  11. Steve Nelson on June 10th, 2008 10:28 am

    Re Johjima’s contract – I often speculate/wonder:

    – if he totally tanks sometime in the next couple of years, will he suddenly decide to return to Japan to finish his career in Japan?

    – might something such as that be an unspoken part of the agreement with Johjima?

    – wouldn’t such an arrangement work well to ensure that Johjima stays with the Mariners as long as he’s productive and prevent an embarrassing situation in which Johjima is cut or released by a US team for poor perfomrance?

    I’m not that knowledgeable of how situations such as this are perceived or handled in Japanese culture. From the little bits I have gathered about the importance of honor and saving face, though, I can’t help but wonder if the extension isn’t related to ensuring a graceful denouement for Johjima when that time comes.

  12. Matthew Carruth on June 10th, 2008 10:38 am

    That time should come in 2009 at the latest.

  13. robbbbbb on June 10th, 2008 10:42 am

    Steve Nelson’s point in 11 reminds me very much of the Kazuhiro Sasaki situation a few years back. He retired, left a bunch of money on the table, and went back to Japan. It’s possible that the M’s and Joh have a similar off-the-record agreement.

  14. bratman on June 10th, 2008 10:42 am

    According to the Kenji Wikipedia – it says

    Johjima once joked that he would register as “George McKensey” (‘JOH-JI MA-ken-ji’) should he make it to the Majors.

    Maybe if we start calling Joh ‘Georgie McKensey’ he will start hitting again.

  15. Mike Snow on June 10th, 2008 10:44 am

    The description sort of sounds like he’s picked up Ichiro’s skill in hitting almost any pitch, but without Ichiro’s more important ability to actually do something with it.

  16. Evan on June 10th, 2008 11:03 am

    Wait a minute – so Johjima is swinging at those bad pitches just as often as he ever has, but before he used to swing and miss more, which meant he saw more pitches, and thus saw more good pitches, and thus hit more good pitches.

    But, when Johjima swings at pitches he’s clearly trying to hit them.

    This season, Johjima is hitting those bad pitches more often, and thus making more weak outs, and generally being a worse hitter. Because he got better at something he was trying to do.

    I’m not sure how you fix that. Johjima’s probably pretty happy with his improved contact, and likely baffled as to why he’s coincidentally sucking.

  17. don52656 on June 10th, 2008 11:04 am

    Kenji’s poor stats this year are largely a result of an awful April, when he hit .181/.232/.221. His May was pretty comparable to his first two years:

    2006/07: .289/.327/.442
    May 08: .277/.282/.410

    A little bit of dropoff in power, a significant dropoff in OBP. I would like to attribute part of this to the unseasonably cool weather we’ve had so far this year…

  18. jro on June 10th, 2008 11:06 am

    The main question this leads to for me: is this a correctable situation? I don’t know if this is a logical interpretation or not, but here’s my swing at it.

    I’m fangraphs-challenged in terms of finding this information, but for Kenji’s previous years one might see his “I-Contact” numbers (if that’s the correct term) would be much higher than this year. I would suspect this is from seeing more pitches in the zone vs. out. I don’t know that’s the case, hoping someone can verify.

    If that IS the case, what would be the cause? While scouting to determine how to pitch to Kenji may be different this year vs. previous years, I would think it has more to do with the situation, i.e. more runners on the basepaths in his at-bats. Have to verify it, but I’m guessing he’s had far fewer runners to drive in this year vs. previous years. No runners on, so he gets pitched differently.

    So, in previous years, was Kenji the same hitter and just the beneficiary of batting-order/situational-runners/scouting, or is he doing something different this year?

  19. firemane on June 10th, 2008 11:21 am

    The most startling split for Joh-’08 is this:

    Home: .277/.333/.362/.695
    Away: .169/.185/.236/.421

    2007 (for comparison)
    Home: .272/.317/.422/.740
    Away: .300/.326/.443/.768

    He’s obviously suffering from RSD: Reverse Sexson Disease.

  20. B_Con on June 10th, 2008 12:13 pm

    I wonder if the M’s will look at Joh as sunk cost and start Clement at catcher next year, as that’s where he’d have the greatest comparitive advantage. The fact we won’t have a DH, first baseman or a single dependable corner outfielder makes me feel like they’ll keep playing Joh and waste Clement’s bat on another position that ideally, would be easier to fill than catcher.

  21. et_blankenship on June 10th, 2008 12:33 pm

    When a hitter begins taking defensive swings on 0-0 counts like Johjima has done countless times already this season, there is generally something wrong. A notoriously patient hitter who is slumping and frequently getting behind in counts might attack early to shake things up. He will repeatedly pound first-pitch fastballs until pitchers adjust, and then return to working counts. Johjima has the patience of a two-year old so this is clearly not the case.

    To me, it appears Johjima is experiencing typical regression for an impatient pull-happy hitter – somebody who begins to anticipate a first-pitch strike and guesses whether it will be a fastball or breaking ball. The all-important final calculation for getting the hands to the expected point-of-contact (recognition vs. bat speed) sometimes occurs after the swing has embarked on its destined path to generate a pull. Balls are still hit hard, but many of them are topped groundballs to 3B or routine fly balls to extreme left or extreme right. Look at Johjima’s spray chart – particularly his outs. I’m guessing he ranks among league leaders in % of outs made by the 3B.

  22. jsa on June 10th, 2008 12:46 pm

    >Wait a minute – so Johjima is swinging at those
    > bad pitches just as often as he ever has, but
    > before he used to swing and miss more,

    If he missed more he would probably see LESS pitches.

    Probably he use to foul them off before, which may have been what he was trying to do on a pitch he thought might be close enough to get called a strike.

    Now he hits them weakly.

    But you point is still valid. He is trying to hit those, and maybe it has nothing to do with him, just his way of trying to step up and help the struggling team. If so he wouldn’t be the first guy on the roster trying to do too much with the ball.

    I’ve often thought it odd that catchers don’t SEEM to have an advantage on recognizing the strike zone while at the plate. (No numbers to back this up, just my impression). They see so many pitches, and have a very good understanding of the Umpire’s particular strike zone, yet as a class they don’t seem to hit as well as this exposure would suggest that they might.

  23. msb on June 10th, 2008 1:01 pm

    I’ve often thought it odd that catchers don’t SEEM to have an advantage on recognizing the strike zone while at the plate.

    of course, it is from a completely different angle …

  24. Broadcast James on June 10th, 2008 1:45 pm

    Is this an atypical situation for batters that are losing bat speed?

    also: “If he missed more he would probably see LESS pitches.”

    Only if you’re fouling them off… clearly a batter who strikes out swinging every time would see more pitches than a guy who grounds out to second on the first pitch.

    (Where’s the “button agreement”?)

  25. jsa on June 10th, 2008 2:05 pm

    > Is this an atypical situation for batters that
    > are losing bat speed?

    That’s what I was thinking too.

    If he was losing bat speed, wouldn’t he start putting more balls in play the other way? #21 Blankenship seems to suggest he’s still pulling many ground balls to third. To me this suggests he’s still getting around on the ball.

  26. smb on June 10th, 2008 2:09 pm

    Isn’t it obvious that SUCK is contagious? Somebody get him some anTurboitocs and he should be fine.

  27. don52656 on June 10th, 2008 2:13 pm

    Kenji’s approach at the plate does not appear to differ much from last year. Last year, he put 14.0% of the first pitch in play; this year it’s 14.5%. He’s put either the first or second pitch in play 36.9% of the time, exactly the same as last year.

    Interestingly, he was apparently least patient in his first season. In 2006, he put 16.6% of the first pitches in play, and 40.7% of the first or second pitches.

    I opined earlier that the unseasonable weather might partially explain his hitting woes, but #19’s comment would seem to rule that out, as the home hitting has been much better than on the road.

    Hopefully, we’re just talking about a sample size situation and will see a regression to the mean as the season progresses.

  28. et_blankenship on June 10th, 2008 3:59 pm

    If he was losing bat speed, wouldn’t he start putting more balls in play the other way? #21 Blankenship seems to suggest he’s still pulling many ground balls to third. To me this suggests he’s still getting around on the ball.

    Pull-hitters attack a smaller percentage of the playing field so their margin for error is also smaller. If loss of bat speed equaled more balls in play the other way, then most pull-hitters would reach a point in their career where they actually sprayed the ball around more and became better hitters despite their regression. It doesn’t work that way. In reality, pull-hitters tend to regress faster than spray hitters because they continue to be pull-hitters.

    Regression is a slow process measured in tiny fractions of time and speed. A player can successfully make adjustments to each incremental step down, at least in the early going. For example, a 31-year old pull-hitter might be struggling to consistently put the barrel on the ball exactly the way he likes, so he adjusts his hands or adds a timing mechanism to the start of his swing and everything is fine. A year later he makes another adjustment and continues to pull the ball with success, so on and so forth. Eventually though, a 94 mph fastball looks and feels like a 96 mph fastball and none of the adjustments he makes work to slow things down. In an effort to get the barrel out front where he feels comfortable making contact with the ball, he begins to take more chances. Sometimes he guesses fastball. Sometimes, especially against harder throwers, he has to commit his swing before getting a complete read on where his hands need to be in order to square the ball. He can still pull the ball, but many of the pitches he used to square up are now slight miss-hits, above and bellow the button. More and more line drives become groundballs or pop flies, and unless he commits to a complete mental and mechanical overhaul of his swing, the end is neigh.

    I’m not saying Johjima has reached this point in his career, and not all pull-hitters follow the same path. But watch any hitter take a few pitches and his body language will tell you most everything you need to know about how fast he is processing information and how quickly that information is put into action. To me, Johjima appears slower to react – not necessarily swing – than he did a year ago and is trying different things to fix it. One thing I hate to see, even more than the guessing, is the super-heavy top hand. Like all pull-hitters, his swing naturally uses loads of top hand. In the past he would still pull the barrel through with his bottom hand, but he has become a classic scalper this season.

  29. zDawgg on June 10th, 2008 4:52 pm

    Hey, what’s the problem? It’s only $24 million dollars! Just up the price of beer to $12 and it’s covered!

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