The recent news of Nick Johnson retiring marks the end of an era. Well, the end of the beginning of an era.” Nick Johnson is publicly known for his time on the disabled list. We all know that he has spent a significant amount of time there throughout his career. However, what many don’t know is he really helped changed the game. In our new era of baseball statistics and thinking, Johnson is perhaps a poster boy. He won’t give you a 7 WAR season, but he’d get your team nice value in his peak years. If you want to call them that.
The object of the game of baseball is to score runs. Well, how do you score runs? You get on base any way possible. It’s hard to say who did that better than Nick Johnson. Johnson finished his career with a .399 OBP. From 2005-2009 Johnson finished with an OBP above .400. Which is really incredible because his batting average never exceeded .300. His ability to walk was vastly underrated. I know, it sounds ridiculous to say that walking is a special ability, but it is. I mean it’s literally watching four pitches go by right? Not really. It’s much more than that. It’s being selective at the plate and most of the time you have to foul off a few difficult pitches to get the right count. It’s not an easy task and Johnson was the king of it.
Like I said above, the object of baseball is to create runs. What better stat to bring up than recently previewed wRC+ by our very own Jimmy Kraft. Johnson posted a wRC+ of 126 plus in five seasons. Just by walking Johnson brought more runs to whatever team he joined. Maybe I’m crediting walking a little too much because he did hit for a solid .268 batting average over his career. However, he had to walk in order to get his OBP to nearly .400. Anyway the presence of a dominant on base player is needed in any lineup.
Preferably that guy is at the top of the lineup. Johnson would never get the opportunity to be a regular lead off man because of his lack of speed, which is a really overrated aspect of the lead off spot in an order. You want the guy who’s getting on base the most in that spot whether he’s fast or not. I believe any team that would have batted Johnson first would probably have scored more runs at the end of the season.
Johnson’s career will probably be looked at as injury ridden. That won’t be the case for me. For me Johnson will be the man that helped revolutionize the game. Remember when Jonah Hill in Money Ball calls Kevin Youkilis the Greek God of walks? Well they should have called Johnson the Zeus of walks or something. Johnson is one of my favorite players of all-time because of his game’s simplicity. He wasn’t the guy with all the power as shown by his .173 ISO. He took the basic approach to the game by making it his goal to get on base.
So if you must remember him as the injury ridden player he was I suggest you also remember how he changed the game. A walk is just as good as a single.