What’s the matter with Johnny?

At the beginning of the offseason, nearly everyone had Johnny Damon pegged for a return to the Bronx. It’s become apparent, however, that the likelihood of his returning to the Yankees is slim to none and slim’s as likely as Milton Bradley Day at Wrigley Field. Ok, so the Yankees have decided, with the prospect of a bountiful 2010 free agent class, not to invest in a 2 year contract for a 36 year old left fielder. But with Jason Bay now a Met, Marlon Byrd a Cub, and Matt Holliday out of everyone’s price range except for the Cardinals, where is the demand for Damon? Where’s the love for this postseason hero?

Fans of the game have lots of complaints about Damon, many of them valid. He is 36 and looking for a 2 year deal that will take him to nearly his 38th birthday. He is represented by Mr. Snidely Whiplash himself, Scott Boras. He does have a very weak arm in left field and, for the most part, that limits him to left. His power numbers were doubtlessly enhanced by the short porch at new Yankee Stadium. It’s understandable that GMs around baseball would show little interest in November and early December considering Damon’s drawbacks and the likelihood that he would return to the Yankees. Since the Yankee clipper has sailed, however, I’m more than a little surprised that there’s still so little interest in Damon.

Damon’s RC+ has been greater than 100 (above average) every year since 2001, when he was an Athletic, and every year but one since 1998. His career OPS, wOBA, and RC+ are all above average at .794, .351, and 112, respectively. According to Baseball Prospectus’ EQBRR, Damon’s base running has been above average every season of his career. His walk rate has averaged 10.6 percent over the last four seasons.

**Where’s the love for Johnny this offseason?** (Icon/SMI)

Damon’s offense since 2006
2006 .197 .362 17.7 5.3 23.0
2007 .126 .340 4.8 7.0 11.8
2008 .159 .373 22.9 1.6 24.5
2009 .207 .376 24.5 2.9 27.4

Even if you’re convinced that part of Damon’s success last year was a result of a favorable home ballpark, it’s difficult to foresee a scenario in which Damon isn’t an average offensive contributor in 2010 and 2011 and he’ll probably be considerably better than that. Remember that as much as we bemoan the fact that Damon got to play half his games in Yankee Stadium, we also must acknowledge that he played in the tougher league and played 25+ games each of the last two years against the Red Sox’ and Rays’ rotations.

So GMs’ collective hesitation about Damon must be because of his defense, right? Perhaps. He does have a weak arm, as scouts and statheads alike will acknowledge. And a check of his ’09 UZR shows us that he was, apparently, nine runs below average as a left fielder last year. While UZR and Tango’s fans scouting report seem to agree on Damon’s defense in 2009, ZRDif (the difference between his RZR and the average RZR for his position) and Chone’s Total Zone aren’t so sure. RZR (found in THT’s Baseball Annual) has Damon at .013 — above average in left — and Total Zone has him as a plus-six run defensive player in left.

By now we should know not to use one year defensive data in evaluating a player so even factoring in Damon’s minus-nine from UZR last year, his three year average UZR is 1.7 runs above average. His speed score is above average and he has stolen at least 12 runs every full season of his career. While his arm is a drawback, there is reason to believe that his range is still there.

For their parts, CHONE’s projections for Damon have him pegged for a .270/.357/.432 slash line in 2009, good for nine runs above average offensively and seven runs above average defensively. Damon’s had at least 600 plate appearances every season since 1998 so, 16 runs above average would have him as roughly a three win player in 2010. The ZIPS projections at Baseball Think Factory have basically the same line: .272/.350/.436. Conservatively, there’s no reason to think that Damon won’t be worth 4.5 to 5 wins over the next two seasons.

Damon’s value, therefore, should have him worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 to $12 million per year for two years. Even at the discounted market rate this offseason, he’s easily worth $16 million over two years and yet, there’s seemingly very little interest in his services. I’m surprised that neither the Mets nor Cardinals have viewed Damon as an alternative to Bay and Holliday. The Giants haven’t shown any interest that I know of either. There’s been talk that he’ll end up in Atlanta but, to my knowledge, the Braves haven’t pursued him to any real degree. It’s possible that the market for Damon will pick up once Holliday signs. So while there is a lot of mystery about the demand for Damon this offseason, one thing’s a lot more certain: someone’s likely to get a very good bargain when Damon ultimately signs.

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  1. gfd said...

    He can’t help but have an inflated opinion of himself, thanks to that demon seed agent of his.

    Personally I hope he goes to the Giants huge field,and remembers how great he had it, at Yankee stadium, when he’s counting his money!

  2. Travis Bickle said...

    He is a liability in the outfield. And any fielding stat that concludes he was above average simply shows what a joke this new fangled stat geek B.S. really is. OBP – very good stat. OPS- holds some merit. UZR & RZR complete horsedung.
    Ask yourself if any player, G.M., Manager or Scout has ever refered to either one?…..Thats right never! When it comes to fielding trust your eyes not a geek. Oh and happy trails Johnny!

  3. Peter said...

    Question,  if the market is paying roughly $3.5 million per win and Damon’s worth 4.5-5.0 wins over the next two years, isn’t $8 million to $9 million more appropriate than $10 million to $12 million, per season?

  4. Geek said...

    The first problem is his agent, the second problem is his agent, the 3rd problem is the price and terms of his services exceeds the economic realities given his age and limitations.

    How many games can he help win for a club versus being a competent member of the team?

    When you look at the stats and the price, I would pass on him for a 2 year deal.  A 1 year deal for $ 7 million with a $1 million option clause for year 2 is the best I would do.

  5. Chuck Brownson said...

    Good question, Peter.  First of all, I think that the market’s going to be a little higher than $3.5 M after Holliday and Damon sign.  Second, I think teams in playoff contention—there’s no need for rebuilding teams to toss $15-20 M toward Damon—will be willing to pay more than $3.5 M per win.  So I was using basically a $4 M per win guesstimate.  In fact, I speculated that he’d probably receive and be worth $16 M due to the discounted market.  Somewhere between $16 and $20 M is about right. 

    To Travis—every fielding stat except for ‘09s UZR shows him as above average, for a left fielder.  Remember, as a left fielder he’s being compared not to all other outfielders, but to all other left fielders.  Compared to Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham, Jason Bay and many others, I’m entirely comfortable with the notion that Damon is above average.  Also, if you think GMs don’t use UZR, ask yourself why Jason Bay only had basically one suitor.  Why have the Cardinals been absolutely unwilling to even consider Bay for their LF opening?  Ask yourself why the Red Sox were so quick to move on to Cameron.  Why were the Rays so high on Jason Bartlett?  Why are the M’s so high on Franklin Gutierrez? 

    You may think that the emphasis on stats is “B.S.” and while some GMs likely agree with you, others do not.

  6. Ballpark said...

    Damon was avery good baseball player.
    Damon was a centerfielder.
    Damon was a priemer basestealer.
    Damon was apretty good leftfielder.
    Damon`s skills have diminished with age,it happens to everyone.Last year he had his highest k rate of hiscareer, and he looked like Hellen Keller in the outfield.JOHNNY D is not the player he once was.forget the stats use your eyes.

  7. B-Chad said...

    and if we are going to trust what we are told by some of those portrayed as “experts,” in the media we might as well refer to Derek Jeter as a great fielding SS… but we all know that’s BS.  Fielding stats are useful, and those who don’t care to use them or refer to them probably believe wins are the best measure of a pitchers success and RBI’s are a great measure of a batters success.  The 1990’s called, they want the stats they measure a players’ success with back.

  8. Chuck Brownson said...

    Circle—I never suggested the Cards should consider Damon instead of Holliday.  It is obvious that Holliday’s a better ballplayer.  It is curious, however, that the Cards have never considered Damon in the event they’re unable to sign Holliday.  Now it appears as though the Cards will sign Holliday, so the point is moot but that wasn’t always the case.

  9. DrJ1954 said...

    There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.  Nonetheless, I agree that Damon is a good buy by any measure.  Ironically, the one prediction that most (implicitly) agree with is that performance declines after age 36.  Yet, if you extrapolate from the improving statistics presented in this article, one would have to conclude that Damon’s performance will *improve* over the next two years.  Of course, no one believes that because they’ve already concluded that the statistic predicting declining performance is a fact.  The fact is most statistics are poor predictors of an *individual’s* performance.  Finally, there are characteristics of an individual player that cannot be measured.  It is clear that Damon’s contribution as a team leader and mature professional player were critical to the 2004 and 2009 World Series championships.  What is the value of experience, teamwork and leadership?  These characteristics that make Damon an outstanding player (HOF contender?) should be factored into the equation, along with his statistics.  He is easily worth $16 million over two years.

  10. dub the beachcomber said...

    the new stats are helpful when dealing with players you have not seen very often, but when it comes down to it you go with your gut. i have been puzzled as to why damon is not more highly sought after. with him, you can count on 275/375/15. in today’s market that is still worth ten.

  11. Brian said...

    Damon is worth what the market pays him.  Just because he was paid $52M over four years before doesn’t mean he was worth that.  If he valued playing for the Yankees so much and he thought it to be a class organization and he wishes to play there again, perhaps he should quit worrying about the numbers, sign for two years at 6M a year, get a big playoff share, which he likely wouldn’t get elsewhere, fire his agent and keep the 4% he pays him and be happy.

    These players who have made $100M in their career make me laugh.  Play where you want to play.

  12. Brian said...

    One last thing.  Drop your ego Mr. Damon.  It is preventing you from being happy and where you want to be.  LF for the Yankees is yours to play.  Just play and enjoy it, life is too short to worry about money when you have clearly earned enough not to worry about it anymore.

  13. CircleChange11 said...

    Why are the Cardinals NOT considering Damon instead of Holliday? Lots of reasons … all of them obvious.

    Now, if Holliday signs elsewhere (I’m still not convinced the NYY won’t factor in, despite the insinuations that they are not interested), then Damon may get more interest.

    I’m surprised the Giants haven’t made a big offer to Damon, after all he’s in his upper 30’s. *grin*

    Would Damon ever return to KC? Naw, my guess is he wants a playoff team AND and over-paid contract … y’know because of his post-seaon experience and intangibles (he may have *some* merit in that).

    If Damon can be had at market value, his stats are consistent. But, what are the odds that an aging Boras client accepts a deal at “market value”? Be interesting to see as the more days pass is the elapsed time brings Damon’s contract price up or down (Will he be more desperate to sign, or will teams be more desperate to sign him?)

  14. Dan said...

    “life is too short to worry about money when you have clearly earned enough not to worry about it anymore.

    Well a lot of that money went to the ex Mrs. Damon.  And probably a good chunk of his current bank account will go to at some point future ex Mrs. Damon.

  15. JollyRoger said...

    His stats are inflated because of the Yankees lineup and the short porch.

    Why should teams pay for diminishing values going forward?

    His production can easily nose dived like D.Ortiz.

    A one year plus an option is the best he should be receiving, IMHO.

  16. kranky kritter said...

    Damon lost a ton of money to a big Texas con man whose name escapes me.

    Damon sure has a weak arm. Yet when he played in Boston I watched most of the games. And I can’t recall a single time where it really killed us. Outfield arm strength just doesn’t come into play as a deciding factor very often.

    Damon has both production and durability on his side. He’s piled up a bunch of years playing 140+ games. He’s worth close to what his recent production suggests, with the aforementioned adjustment because he’ll hit fewer homers without New Yankee Stadium’s joke RF porch.

    Why would anyone give the Yankees a hometown discount the way they hand out dough? Be serious, like the Yankees would be doing Damon a favor? I remember some a-hole Yankee fan last year talking about how Andy Pettitte should have been grateful for the lowball offer he got even after NYY shelled out big dough for AJ Burnett. Same gist. And then of course Pettitte went out and had a season that was practically identical to Burnett’s, even though he got paid way less.

    I am fine with ratcheting down a guy’s pay when he’s actually showing a visible decline in production. For example, when Bernie Williams had his hissy fit? Bernie was washed up.

    Damon is still producing (just like Pettitte did). He’s a great asset to the top of an order, a real pro who burns up pitches, gets on base, and contributes to scoring runs.

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