Chris Johnson, Third-Base Improvement For Arizona?

While our rivals in the NL West both made significant moves to upgrade their offense in the days leading up to the trade deadline: the Giants got Hunter Pence, and the Dodgers Hanley Ramirez. In comparison, the Diamondbacks did very little, but going by the early results - and we are talking a very small sample size - their move might have been the best. Admittedly, that's in part because third-base had been an absolute black hole for them over the first hundred games of the season. However, in three games since coming over from the Astros, Chris Johnson has five hits, two home-runs and seven RBI.

Johnson is, startlingly, the seventh man to start at third-base for the Diamondbacks this season [Trivia question: can you name the other six? Answers at the end] - and it's likely significant that most of them are no longer part of the franchise. The Opening Day incumbent, who received the bulk of the playing time, was Ryan Roberts, but his performance in the batter's box was a pale shadow of his 2011 numbers. .250/.306/.357, an OPS+ of 74. That's a good part of the reason why, going in to yesterday's game and even playing in one of the league's most hitter-friendly parks, the Diamondbacks had an OPS of .644 from third-base, 116 points below league average.

There was little doubt that getting an offensive upgrade there was a priority for management, and some pretty big names came up for discussion - David Wright and Chase Headley were the most frequently-mentioned there. In comparison, Jackson was basically invisible, though with the Astros apparently in 'EVERYTHING MUST GO!!!' mode, it wasn't much of a surprise he was available. It didn't take much to acquire him: an outfielder, a position where the team have a good deal of depth, plus the player who'll forever be known as "the guy we took in the draft when Mike Trout was still available". Sob.

The early going in his debut was not promising, as Johnson flew out, and then hit into an inning ending double-play with the bases loaded, as well as looking even more mediocre than expected on defense (he has been second or third in 3B errors each year since 2010). But a grand-slam will cure a lot of ills, and that's what Johnson delivered next time up. The following day, he had three hits, and added his second home-run in the series finale. It gives him, in one series, as many home-runs as Lyle Overbay (110 PA), and as many RBI as Stephen Drew (94 PA). Four more runs driven in, and Johnson will match the tally of Geoff Blum over his entire two-year contract with the team.

It's still very early days, obviously, but what it reminds me of is the arrival of Aaron Hill at a similar point last season [that was a post-deadline deal, completed August 23]. Down the stretch, Hill was incandescent for Arizona, hitting .315 with an .878 OPS over 33 games. If Johnson can provide anything like a similar spark, that will, obviously, be grand. But it won't take much for him to be more productive than most of those who have played there so far, and that can only help the Diamondbacks in the battle for the NL West title.

[Trivia answer: The seven players to start games at 3B for Arizona are: Ryan Roberts (57), Cody Ransom (13), Josh Bell (12), Willie Bloomquist (11), Geoff Blum (5), Ryan Wheeler (4) and Chris Johnson (3). John McDonald has played third, but not started there.]

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