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Underrated Fantasy Commodity: Chris Johnson, 3B, ARZ

As the 2012 Fantasy Baseball season carries into the post-season I decided to take a look at my draft in a few of my leagues. I usually perform this exercise towards the end of the season as a way for me to take inventory and figure out what I did right and what I could have done better. Like most of the fantasy baseball community I try and look back and think about the players I wished I had grabbed in the draft or off waivers. Similarly I look at the trades I wish I had made or maybe wished I didn't make. While I was looking through the draft results in three of my leagues I noticed an alarming trend when it comes to how I drafted third baseman.

I should preface this article by mentioning that third base has been a tough position for many of us in 2102 as stalwarts like Evan Longoria and Jose Bautista have missed extended lengths of time with injuries along with other useful players like Pablo Sandoval, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Zimmerman, and everybody's favorite rookie sensation Brett Lawrie. Those injuries coupled with the general ineffectiveness of players like Michael Young and Kevin Youkilis have left the position rather thin. It's a good thing that the Detroit Tigers were kind enough to sign Prince Fielder and give the elite Miguel Cabrera a shot at third base or else things would be even bleaker. But like all seasons there are new faces that rise up and guys like Edwin Encarnacion, Chase Headley, and Mark Trumbo that have helped ease the pain for a select few who got bit by the injury bug early.

But what about if you were like me and invested an early round pick on a proven commodity like Pablo Sandoval, Brett Lawrie, or Evan Longoria only to see your season disappear before you even got started while your opponents waited until the 18th round to take a flier on Encarnacion or Headley? Is there no hope? The answer is yes there is hope. To borrow a phrase from the great Emily Dickinson, "Fantasy baseball glory is a fickle food upon a shifting plate". (She never said that but it just felt right.) It turns out you sometimes you just have to look in the dumpster to find the answer. It just so happens this proverbial dumpster was located in Houston, TX and has since be relocated to Phoenix, AZ in the form of Chris Johnson.

Realistically if you are in a competitive league and you burned a top 50 pick on a player, irrespective of position, and he takes a major nose dive it is almost impossible to replace his production on the waiver wire and trades become that much more important and difficult to pull off. Savvy owners will quickly identify your weaknesses and try and extort you because they smell your desperation. Your only hope is to try and stop the bleeding and focus on your strengths. Be judicious with waiver claims and potential trades and try and weather the storm. If at the end of the day you are still fading with no end in sight a player like Chris Johnson is more than willing to lend a hand. He is what I like to call the fantasy third base band-aid. While he won't win you any leagues, he might help you stave off losing a few.

Johnson, 27, started the season with the lowly Houston Astros before being acquired by Arizona Diamondbacks at the deadline. Prior to the 2012 season most thought the only fantasy commodities that the Astros were going to offer were second base spark plug Jose Altuve and back of the rotation (for fantasy purposes) starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez. To even classify those two as viable options was considered generous at the time. Unfazed, Chris Johnson went about his business and strung together a nondescript .275/.321/.405 with 6 home runs, 31 runs, 34 RBI, and four stolen bases prior to the All-Star break. Nothing flashy and nothing that the general fantasy community would get excited about. Post All-Star break and upon his arrival to Arizona it has been much of the same. He is batting .276/.326/.528 with 8 home runs, 15 runs, 33 RBI's, and zero steals. The power has improved since being traded but the average and OBP are nearly identical. To date his season line is a respectable .275/.323/.450 with 14 home runs, 46 runs, 67 RBI, and four steals.

Doubters will point to his 2012 BABIP of .345 and say that it is unsustainable and perhaps that is true. But I would counter with the fact that his average BABIP since 2010 is .348 and perhaps he is one of those players who will be able to sustain a high BABIP due to his very strong 24.3% line drive rate. Just for comparisons sake Johnson's LD% is exactly the same as Joe Mauer's and his BABIP is .001 greater than Mauer's dating back to 2010.

Now is Johnson ever going to be a top tier fantasy commodity? In a word: No. He strikes out way to often 24.6% K% over his career and hardly ever takes a walk 4.9% BB% but what he does is make contact and drive the ball into gaps enough to post a tolerable slash line with a little pop and drive in runners. In a fantasy season like this one where a once very deep position got thin in a hurry a guy like Chris Johnson, who has a starting gig and the skill, can help stop the bleeding and keep your dreams of fantasy glory alive.

As the saying goes, "You can't win a fantasy leagues in the first five rounds; but you can sure lose them." Don't let that be you.

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To date Chris Johnson has out produced players like Dan Uggla, Carlos Santana, and Eric Hosmer. He has also been better than quite a few of his hot corner peers like Mark Reynolds, Michael Young, Kevin Youkilis, and Pablo Sandoval.

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