Nick Johnson was amusingly tagged with the nickname “OBP Jesus” early in his career and has certainly earned the title in the years since then, ranking as one of just 10 active players with a .400 on-base percentage in at least 3,000 plate appearances:
Albert Pujols .427
Todd Helton .427
Lance Berkman .412
Manny Ramirez .411
Chipper Jones .406
Jason Giambi .405
Bobby Abreu .404
Jim Thome .404
NICK JOHNSON .402
Brian Giles .400
Particularly noteworthy about Johnson’s place in that amazing company is that he has both the lowest batting average and the least power in the group:
Albert Pujols .294 Albert Pujols .334
Jim Thome .280 Todd Helton .328
Manny Ramirez .278 Manny Ramirez .313
Lance Berkman .256 Chipper Jones .307
Jason Giambi .245 Lance Berkman .299
Todd Helton .239 Bobby Abreu .299
Chipper Jones .234 Brian Giles .291
Brian Giles .211 Jason Giambi .282
Bobby Abreu .194 Jim Thome .277
NICK JOHNSON .174 NICK JOHNSON .273
Getting on base at a .400 clip is a lot easier when you’re batting .300 and walking is a lot easier when pitchers are afraid to throw you strikes, yet Johnson has amassed a .402 OBP while hitting just .273 with a .173 Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) that’s barely above the MLB average of .160. If any of the great on-base threats of this era have truly drawn their walks it’s Johnson, whose walk rate ranks fourth among all active players behind sluggers Jim Thome, Adam Dunn, and Jason Giambi.
Now he’s back in New York, where as a Yankees prospect he had a .450 OBP in the minors and then got on base at a .376 clip through 248 games in the majors before being shipped to the then-Expos for Javier Vazquez. Johnson returns six years later, having posted a .412 OBP in 522 games while missing another 450 games with a never-ending list of injuries. And the man they call OBP Jesus will likely be doing his OBP’ing and walk-drawing directly in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Good luck, pitchers.
There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.
It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.
Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.
Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.
It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.
On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.
At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.
If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.
Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.
Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.