Damon’s Value

Last year, the Yankees decided not to retain an aging corner outfielder in an attempt to upgrade their defense and save money, as Bobby Abreu was seeking a significant paycheck for his durability and consistent offensive abilities. He found the market for his services nearly non-existent, however, and eventually settled on a one year, low money deal with a club in the AL West that was in need of an offensive boost.

Fast forward to today, and history is apparently trying very hard to repeat itself. This year’s aging corner outfielder that the Yankees are not retaining is Johnny Damon, and just like Abreu, he’s finding out the hard way that teams do not value him like they used to. This afternoon, Buster Olney reported that Damon’s best offer may come for $4 or $5 million on a one year deal from the Oakland A’s – an AL West club that could use an offensive boost.

2008 Abreu and 2009 Damon had very similar offensive seasons.

Abreu: 684 PA, .296/.371/.471, 10.7% BB%, 17.9% K%, .176 ISO, .368 wOBA
Damon: 626 PA, .282/.365/.489, 11.3% BB%, 17.8% K%, .207 ISO, .376 wOBA

Basically the same kind of production, once you adjust for the change in Yankee Stadiums. They’re similar hitters at similar spots in their career. Both have declined from their prime, but not fallen all that far.

There is one big difference between 2008 Abreu and 2009 Damon, however, and that’s on defense. Abreu was victim of the backlash against bad defensive corner outfielders. From 2004 to 2008, his UZR/150s as an LF were -10, -5, -14, -3, and -25. At the very best, you could surmise that he was below average, and realistically, he was more likely to be terrible. He was a borderline DH, the kind of defender who shouldn’t play much outfield except in case of emergency.

Damon, on the other hand, throws like a girl but is otherwise a decent defender. It’s true that his 2009 UZR is not good, but his total UZR over the last three years at the position is a +5, and as we try to remind people frequently, larger sample sizes are needed when evaluating defense.

Damon is clearly a better defender now than Abreu. He’s not great, and he may even be reaching the point in his career where he’s below average, but he’s simply not a guy that costs your team a ton of runs in the field.

Abreu was a bargain on a one year, $5 million deal with the Angels, even as he proved that he didn’t really belong in the outfield anymore. Damon, though, is basically the same hitter, just with better defensive skills, and he might have to settle for less than what Abreu got? This is a market correction gone way too far.

Even with the reduced costs of wins, Damon is easily worth $8 to $10 million for 2010. Just like with Abreu last year, teams will be kicking themselves in a few months if they let him sign for peanuts. There are enough clubs out there that could use a +2 to +3 win left fielder that this level of disinterest is simply a market failure.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

61 Responses to “Damon’s Value”

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  1. RagDoll says:

    Completely agree. I can’t see how the Yankees can let him walk when he could be had at a bargain price, especially considering that the team has little OF depth on their bench.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Supposedly the Yanks have a budget, and the opportunity cost is Gardner, who was a two-win player in half the plate appearances last year, not getting to start. Even if you make him 75% as productive as he was last year (a pretty heavy regression), equal playing time puts him on Damon’s level.

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    • Zack says:

      “I can’t see how the Yankees can let him walk when he could be had at a bargain price”

      They offered him 2yrs/14m and 1yr/6m and Damon TURNED THEM DOWN. What else are the Yankees suppose to do? Offer him 2yrs/20m just because thats what JD wants?

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  2. Dave says:

    Even with all the talk of how much defensive metrics have earned acceptance, could this be a matter of perception? While Abreu isn’t fooling anyone as a plus defender in the field he at least looks like a passable defender. Damon, on the other hand, looks absolutely atrocious when throwing, even if the rest of his defense is adequate.

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  3. Jimbo says:

    a much lesser known (and sometimes crude) blog made a similar point yesterday at http://www.marinerlog.com – called it “getting Abreu’d”

    M’s should pick him up at this price, no doubt.

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  4. Finite24 says:

    There is a perspective on Damon’s defense that warns us against writing off Damon’s 2009 defensive metrics. A closer look into the numbers should reveal that Damon’s defense actually deteriorated as the 2009 season progressed. There was a point during the latter parts of the season and into the playoffs where any flyball to left caused Yankee fans to cringe. It was the same cringe that was felt when we had to watch Abreu try to catch a fly ball at the wall. It seemed as though Damon’s vision had something to do with the bad jumps he got. There were also a number of flyballs that he actually caught that had us holding our breadth.

    Is his defense, at this moment in time, any better than Abreu’s in 2008. I’d have a tought time believing that at this point. The videotape on this one might explain some things that the numbers do not.

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  5. Will says:

    Weighted avergae of Damon’s LF UZR is -1.87 over last three years. Not +5. That’s without puting say a 20/30/50 weighting on the last three years, which would make it much worse. Still a great player….. just don’t agree with calling him a +5 fielder in left.

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    • Not David says:

      Who called him a +5 fielder?

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    • Steve says:

      2007: 7.5
      2008 : 6.7
      2009 : -9.2

      these are totals, not rate stats. why average them? they add to +5.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        I’m not sure why Dave said his 3 year total. Nobody really cares about how good a defender is over 3 years, they care about his expected yearly value. The average of his last 3 years is more what we care about, and that comes out to +1.8. If you do some sort of weighting, which is how you are supposed to project stats, you get what Will said.

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  6. Bronnt says:

    I think some of the projections are overestimating Damon’s power. It’s hard to find another hitter who’s averaging less distance per home run than Damon did-only Mike Lowell and Dustin Pedroia among the names I’ve gone through. Jeter comes close as well.

    http://www.hittrackeronline.com/detail.php?id=2009_335&type=hitter

    He’s clearly not a guy who should be hitting 20+ HR. Get him out of Yankee stadium, and he might be guy who’s worth more like 12 HRs over a season, with 30ish 2B/3Bs, so his batting might be worth under 10 wRAA. Combine that with legitimate concerns about his defense-based largely on last year-and it’s very easy to see why he’s not going to get $8 million next year.

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  7. MarkSobba says:

    Any change Damon’s field would inprove if he spent some time DHing?

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  8. Ben Hall says:

    “throws like a girl?” seriously? one of the reasons i love fangraphs is because i basically never read stupid sexist or homophobic comments.

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    • Not David says:

      Would you rather him say that he “throws like a sissy?”

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    • Steve says:

      don’t want to start a flame war, but how is that “homophobic”?

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      • joser says:

        Have you ever seen a homophobe throw? I’m not sure I have. Though it’s pretty likely I see it regularly when watching any of the pro sports, I just don’t know for sure. Well, except for hockey. The only thing they throw there is punches. Wait, what’s the question again?

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    • PouxBear says:

      Have you seen him throw???? How would you describe it? I guess throwing opposite handed might work, but it’s not nearly as funny.

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      • matt w says:

        How would I describe it? “Throws like someone who’s never been taught how to throw?” I’m pretty sure that’s why the girls who throw “like girls” throw that way. Girls who are on softball teams throw pretty well.

        Or you could say “he can’t throw.” Or something original that doesn’t perpetuate stupid stereotypes about girls and sports.

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      • Dig Log says:

        How about a straightforward “He has a very weak throwing arm” or “He has one of the weakest throwing arms in the league” etc. Seems simple enough.

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    • csteve says:

      Looks like Jesus, throws like Mary

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    • Reuben says:

      this phrase stuck in my craw too. it’s cliche is the main problem, but it plays into a whole masculine sports culture that fangraphs is typically not a part of.

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    • Fred Phelps says:

      God hates you, you enabler.

      Now if you’ll excuse me, Dave Cameron and I have a solider’s funeral to go protest at.

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    • Andy Dick says:

      Gee, he *does* throw like a girl.

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      • Jason B says:

        I’m a card-carrying homo, and I took no offense. Appreciate the gesture, but I don’t need anyone getting offended on my behalf.

        One unmistakable sign that a group has truly arrived in society is when you can have a harmless laugh at their expense without howls of protest. It used to be only white men that you could do that to, and still is to some extent. But the times, they are a-changin’…

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  9. Facebook Status says:

    “Market corrections” and Invisible Hand economics only really holds for perfectly competitive markets (though the concept can be applied loosely to monopsonistic competition). There simply aren’t that many teams that need a left fielder at this point of the offseason, even if a team already has an inferior player on the roster (e.g. how do the Angels justify trading/cutting Juan Rivera to accommodate Damon?). Thus, Damon’s low value probably stems not from an undervaluation of his talent, but rather a non-existent market to begin with.

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  10. Circlechange11 says:

    One of the best fan signs from the crowd regarding Damon read like this (when he had long hair and a beard). You can guess which park/fans displayed the sign.

    Looks like Jesus
    Betrays like Judas
    Throws like Mary

    Classic.

    I agree with others that there is little market for Damon. He was competing with Holliday and Bay. Had StL not signed Holliday, there was speculation that they may have been interested in Damon. For non-playoff teams his price and age are likely too high.

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  11. Jon says:

    I know UZR doesn’t account for Damon “throwing like a girl”, but how much of an impact could that have? I mean, he’s really terrible. How many singles become doubles or, more importantly, extra runs score due to his noodle? I’m probably overestimating the effect, but I would think it to be substantial. Does anyone have any info that discusses the importance of (ignoring) arm strength in outfield defensive metrics?

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    • tangotiger says:

      UZR does account for throwing arm. Over the last 3 years, he’s +12 on his range, -2 on errors, and -6 on his arm, for a total of +5 (after rounding) in about 1.5 full seasons. That’s an average of +3 per season, and since he’s older, and his most recent season should get heavier weight, UZR would call him probably -2 or something.

      If you include his bad fielding in CF, his regression point would go even lower.

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      • Finite24 says:

        I just don’t get the value of a number like +5 for a discussion like this on an aging player. Someone in their prime, sure, let’s use an average to establish their expected value going forward. For a player on the decline who had an awful year like Damon did? We need to weight that season considerably.

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  12. ToddM says:

    My Tigers, sporting awesome outfield depth in the form of Ryan Raburn, Clete Thomas, Maggs, Austin Jackson, and Don Kelly, could definitely use Damon.

    Of course, what they could really use is Curtis Granderson instead of AJax. Combine signing Damon and Valverde with unloading the most popular Tiger for “salary reasons” and the whole fanbase might riot.

    (don’t get me wrong, I have hopes for Scherzer and Schlereth and Jackson, and it WAS a good trade under the circumstances, but misleading messages from management are seriously annoying)

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    • joser says:

      But at least some of the fans of your Tigers claim that the Valverde signing was meant to appease fans angry about Granderson. Surely those fans would be further appeased by Damon?

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    • Nick says:

      Why does everyone keep parroting the line about trading Granderson for salary reasons? They traded Granderson because they thought he was a declining player and wanted to maximize his trade value. It isn’t possible that they traded him for salary reasons, when they turned around and gave his entire salary for 2010 and 2011 to Valverde.

      I don’t think DD is the best GM in the world, but I don’t think he’s so dense that he traded CG to save money, and then forgot about the whole thing and gave all that money to Valverde.

      It’s getting annoying how much Tigers fans have it stuck in their heads about a salary dump, when the evidence is pretty clear that it was not a salary dump.

      Since these messages are so confusing to everyone, I’ll try to spell them out:

      CG/EJ trade: “We think these guys will decline next year, so we are going to trade them for a nice package of young talent with a ton of team control to improve the team’s future prospects”.

      Polanco release: “We don’t want to give an aging 2B lots of money when a prospect at that position is ready for the big leagues.”

      Lyon/Rodney release: “These guys are overrated and going to get overpaid, so we are taking the draft compensation.”

      Valverde signing: “We still think we can compete in 2010 and we want the bullpen to have some stabilizing presence.”

      There really isn’t anything in there that’s out of whack, until you try to shoehorn in the idea that the CG/EJ trade was all about money, at which point the Valverde signing makes it look like DD has dementia and can’t remember what he did in December.

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      • Nick says:

        And for the record, I don’t even necessarily agree that CG was a declining player that needed to be traded before his value went any lower. But it’s pretty obvious that that is what the front office thought.

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      • ToddM says:

        I’d rather “parrot a line” than write the donkey of a post you just provided. Inflammatory posts don’t lead to reasoned discussion.

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  13. Kampfer says:

    Sabean did a great job on avoiding a younger and better veteran… Damon is still too inexperienced to be a Giant.

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  14. Damon G. says:

    Remember when one of Johnny Damon’s throws to the infield was inexplicably cut off by a diving Manny Ramirez?

    This doesn’t have much to do with the discussion, but I laugh every time I think about it, and if you remember it, you’re probably laughing right now too.

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  15. Pat says:

    Anyone think it would be a good idea for the mets to sign him to play first till davis is ready? his arm is a non factor, he’s athletic enough to learn the position, he would fiit nicely in the lineup 2nd behind reyes and infront of wright and bay.

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    • Pat says:

      that’s assuming he’d agree to play first for a couple million………

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      • joser says:

        He was open to the idea a couple of years ago, but whether he’d be as willing for a lot less money and a team not in the Bronx is, as you suggest, a fair question. Then again, if the alternative is sitting at home waiting on a phone call as spring training starts…

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  16. JG says:

    I’m not well versed in advanced statistics, but doesn’t the fact that the Yankees and Mets’ UZRs differ so wildly from their respective DERs suggest that UZR hasn’t properly accounted for the park effects yet? And yes I understand they’re not supposed to match, but can UZR really be accurate here when it’s so far off?

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  17. hjghassell says:

    “There are enough clubs out there that could use a +2 to +3 win left fielder that this level of disinterest is simply a market failure”

    And we wonder why the A’s are interested. Isn’t this Moneyball?

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    • Murray Chass, Jon Heyman, & Joe Morgan says:

      Moneyball never worked! Dude never won a World Series, and isn’t that really what it’s all about.

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      • sprungonsports says:

        Hey Joe, love you on Sunday Night Baseball, don’t you agree that the Rays proved Moneyball is dead in 2008? Andrew Friedman obviously uses nothing from that book.

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  18. Rich in NJ says:

    Damon had trouble tracking flyballs last season. Whether that is a consequence of adjusting to playing in NYS, a one year aberration, or the beginning of an age-related decline, remains to be seen.

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  19. RON says:

    doesnt Damon’s 3 year UZR rating include time in CF as well as LF? Watching him play, clearly last year was a fielding disaster for Jon (questions about his eyesite) and this year could be more of the same.
    Taking him away from Yankee stadium also will eat into his power numbers, so one should assume a Yankee stadium rating and a non Yankee stadium rating. Based on non Yankee stdium projections, I too see Jon as a $2mil player, not $8-10.
    I think Yankee’s are playing it smart in this case, knowing Jon’s wife 100% prefers to stay in the city, and knowing Jon wants a chance at 3000 hits and best place to attempt it is in pin stripes

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  20. Joe R says:

    Since I’m a bitter, spitey Sox fan who wasted money on “Idiot”, I wonder when someone’s going to remind Damon what he said less than a year ago about the Red Sox FO in regards to Varitek.

    That being said, Oakland currently has 3 OF that they probably want to play regularly, but they could probably use a hedge option as well. And of course, someone with a whole lot of “been there before”ness.

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  21. randy johnson's jockstrap says:

    would love for the Twins to sign him and at 5-6 million he would be a steal…for some unknown reason they’re hell bent on running Delmon Young out to LF everyday despite the fact that he is one of the worst players in the league, god its so frustrating

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    • Finite24 says:

      Delmon, given 550 ABs, will hit for a higher average and higher slugging percentage. The OBP at the top of their lineup would make Damon more valuable with the bat, but not enough to justify $6 mil.

      Anyone else think the twins expect the ball to jump out to rightfield, given the design of the stadium and the Thome signing?

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  22. Joe R says:

    One thing, though, imo to remember about Damon…

    Career wRC+: 107
    2008 wRC+: 130
    2009 wRC+: 132

    Both of those are affected by outliers (high BABIP in 2008, highest ISO by far in his career in 2009), but he’s played really well the last 2 seasons. Even if he drops to a league average player, if the A’s score that for 5 million, it’s a clear win.

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  23. CircleChange11 says:

    Is it just me or does Johnny Damon look like the one ‘Geico Caveman’ that shaved?

    I mean, really.

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  24. Ronald says:

    If this is 2006 or 2007, Damon can get 12 min or more, but in this market today I think the best he can get is 4 to 5 mins. And the yankee has just signed Winn to 2 min a year.

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