How Would Damon Fit in Atlanta?

Everyone knows about Johnny Damon‘s longtime love for the Detroit Red Wings and octopus by now, but have you heard that he’s also a big Matt Ryan fan? He also loved WCW. WolfPac 4 ever!

Jokes aside, in addition to the Tigers, the Atlanta Braves have also allegedly shown interest in signing Damon (at least according to the rumor mill). For reasons I mentioned in this week’s podcast, I don’t think Damon is a great fit for Detroit — even if you think he adds a win or two to the Tigers, that isn’t likely to put the Tigers anywhere near the playoffs. The Braves, on the other hand, are in a position to spend a bit for a marginal win. They look like a team that could give Philadelphia a run for its money in the NL East, and failing that, would be a favorite for the wildcard.

What does Damon offer? Offensively, CHONE projects .352 wOBA, or about 13 runs above average per 700 PA. That projection doesn’t adjust for league, so let’s give him a couple extra runs for moving into the NL for +15. Damon’s defense has come under a lot of fire recently, but it’s probably not quite as bad as it seems. After taking positional adjustments, speed scores, and age into account, I have Damon at about minus 10/162 position-neutral outfielder (so about -13 CF, -3 LF). Despite his age, Damon has been pretty durable lately, so 85% playing time is still fair. +15 offense -10 fielding + 22.5 replacement level times 85% = a 2.3 WAR player. That’s a decent player even at $7M for one year.

How does this compare to Atlanta’s current major league outfielders? Nate McLouth is slated to start in center. CHONE projects .355 wOBA, or +15/700. I have him as a -5 position-neutral outfielder. +15 offense -5 fielding + 22.5 replacement times 85% = 2.8 WAR.

Bobby Cox is apparently discussing having Matt Diaz and recently-acquired Melky Cabrera share playing time. CHONE projects Diaz at .349 wOBA, about +12/700, and although he’s been platooned heavily due to massive splits, as a righty I estimate his split to be about even. I have Diaz as a -5 defender, but he also never plays full-time due to injuries and platooning — 75% seems about right. +12 -5 +22.5 times 75% = 2.2 WAR, although that might be high due to injury concerns and platoon uncertainty.

What about Cabrera? I’m with Dave on Melky — people focus too much on his alleged “tweener” status and miss his age relative to performance. CHONE agrees about offense, and projects Cabrera for a .358 wOBA, +17/700. His “tweener” status on defense might mean you don’t want him in center too much, but it also means he’s be a plus defender on the corners, I have him at -3/162 position neutral. +17 -3 + 22.5 times 85% playing time = 3.1 WAR. Far from being a 4th OF part-timer, Melky shouldn’t be taking a backseat to anyone in Atlanta.

McLouth and Cabrera are probably better players than Damon at this point, but Damon is better than Diaz, especially if you think Diaz’s platoon issues and injuries make him worse than the projection above. In any case, as Dave has argued in the podcasts, having four good outfielders is a good idea, especially given Diaz and McClouth’s recent playing time woes and the Braves’ hopes for contention. For the right money, Damon could make a lot of sense for the Braves if they distribute playing time properly. But…

…you’re probably screaming “What about Jason Heyward, the best prospect in baseball that the Braves are going to give the shot in right field?” And you’d be exactly right. I’m not going to bother with projections for Heyward. In short, if Atlanta thinks he’s ready and has him in the majors, they have play him every day, otherwise it’s a waste. At that point, you’ve got McLouth, Cabrera, and Diaz fighting over two spots that should go to Cabrera and McLouth, with Diaz as the 4th OF. If they bring Damon in, there would be a lot less playing time to go around, and the marginal value to the Braves is much lower.

So if Johnny really wants $7 million per from the Braves, it looks like he’d better bust out some new attire.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


29 Responses to “How Would Damon Fit in Atlanta?”

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  1. PL says:

    So in closing, Damon is NOT a good fit in Atlanta.

    I still think the Reds should grab him and play him in LF every day. Makes a ton of sense and the Reds look like theyre on the brink of contending, he’d be an upgrade over their current options and they, like the Braves, would make it worth it to spend on a marginal win.

    Of course Damon would be a nice fit on the Yanks too (why are people assuming Johnson is going to DH 162 games this year?), but we all know the deal there.

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  2. Scottwood says:

    The Tigers only have 1 guy who can hit from the left side against RH pitching as a regular starter, and that is Carlos Guillen. On top of that, he’s a significant injury risk. The Tigers need another lefty bat in their lineup and Damon would help ease some of those concerns. Given the injury risks to Guillen and Ordonez, he also provides insurance in case they can’t go and provides another bat in an offense that needs one. Given their high payroll, they have no choice but to go for it. The projections look bad for them, but a lot of that is b/c their pitching projections look really bad. I think the Tigers are expecting Porcello, Bonderman and their bullpen to contribute more than their statistical projections say they should. If that happens, then it would be more than worth it for them to sign Damon and give it a run at the division title.

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    • Jeff says:

      I agree… The projetions cant account for the fact that Bondo has been injured for 2 year.. they dont account for the fact that Porcello is likely to outperform his projections since he isnt your everyday 2nd year pitcher..

      They dont account for the fact that Magglio’s horrible 1st half can be attributed to the fact that his wife was on her death bed.

      I think the Twins have imporved greatly, but to say the Tigers dont have a chance just based on Chone projections is lazy IMO… It is an example of taking statistical analysis WAY to far… There are other factors..

      Take Magglio as an example.. Projections may show a steep decline, but numbers can never account for the fact that his head wasnt in baseball.. instead of taking BP, he was flying home to be with his wife at the hospital 2 or 3 times a week…

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  3. TCQ says:

    I think you really have to temper that CHONE projection for Cabrera a lot. It’s predicting a really big progression for him(far higher offensive numbers than he’s ever posted or the ones projected by any other system – yes, counting FANS – listed here on FanGraphs), and you’re taking that at face value. I get that CHONE is the best out there, but I think you do need to dilute what’s obviously a heady (okay, dropping this metaphor…now) projection at least to some degree if you’re going to be realistic in that aspect of the analysis.

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    • That’s a fair point… I like to go with someone else’s projections because it’s “impersonal” (aside from the numerous other advantage CHONE has),

      But even if we take a full win off of Melky’s projection to 2.1 wins, Damon’s still barely better than that, and once your throw Heyward into the mix, it’s not clear how much Damon would really help the Braves. Over a Diaz/Cabrera LF platoon with Melky also backing up the other two spots, and Eric Hinske also availale. Yeah, he’d help _some_, but how much is it really going to be worth?

      Now, if Heyward isn’t going to start the year in the majors, that’s a different story, but it seems like they’re going full-speed ahead on that for now.

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      • TCQ says:

        (I just tried to post this, but I don’t see it, so if this ends up being here twice, my apologies)

        I basically agree with you on Damon…it’s entirely contingent on whether they want Heyward in the majors. If they don’t, I’d reference back to Dave Cameron’s point about having four good outfielders from today’s podcast and say that Damon has some real value for the Braves. If they want to have him in the majors from the get-go, Damon would be a pretty small asset.

        I was really pleased with that Hinske signing, by the by. Pretty nice guy to have around as a fifth outfielder.

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      • TCQ says:

        Crap, just realized that it seems like I’m ignoring Diaz here, which I’m not trying to do. I figure that if they don’t sign Damon, he and Melky will be a platoon – which is part of the value he provides, filling a spot that seemingly would be filled by two players in lieu of Damon.

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      • Bronnt says:

        You’re right about Hinske-that’s a very underrated signing. He gives you a left-handed bat who can fill in the corner OF spots, and he also serves as the back-up for the Braves’ injury risks in the corner IF spots. An above average hitter who is also an above average fielder everywhere (except third base), he should be worth 1+ WAR. And his ability to play the OF really reduces the marginal value of Damon to the Braves.

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  4. Whartonite says:

    If Melky can suddenly be a .358 wOBA hitter, that Vazquez trade suddenly looks a little less awesome (from the Yankees’ perspective). No disrespect to CHONE, but I’d have a hard time heading into any season expecting/*relying on* that much of a jump from his career-highs (.027 wOBA, 1.8 WAR–more than double). I’m not saying Melky can’t break out, but I wouldn’t expect him to be that much more better than Damon this year, if he is at all. I do tend to agree, though, that his tweener status isn’t really important and Damon isn’t really needed in Atlanta. The one thing I wonder is why, if Melky is a better defender than McLouth, he shouldn’t play center…

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    • Bronnt says:

      That’s far from certain. In 2924 innings, Melky has a UZR/150 of -5.9 in CF. In 3427 CF innings, McLouth’s UZR/150 is -7.1. That’s well within the margin of error you should use for UZR.

      Last year, both played above average CF according to UZR. You might describe McLouth’s last season as an outlier, but it’s possible his 2008 was the outlier-there’s not really much data on him prior to 2008. He had three season of being, cumulatively, below average in CF, a season of horrible CF defense, and one above average.

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      • Yeah… although I have Melky rated a bit higher above, that’s really picking nits when we talk about UZR error bars… they’re both kinda in that -5 in CF, +5 on the corners range.

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  5. MattC says:

    How can you say with the addition of Damon the Tigers would still be no where near the playoffs? They lost in a 163rd game last year and if they add Damon you could argue that their team will be better next year despite what some metricheads or projections think. Their bullpen should be improved with the addition of Valverde, their rotation at the very least should be similar with potential to be better depending on how Scherzer does and if Porcello improves and their lineup should be similar since they would essentially be swapping Damon and Sizemore for Granderson and Polanco.

    Damon posted a much better season at the plate last year and would fit the Tigers better than Granderson did. Damon gets on base more and can hit both lefties and righties. Last year Polanco wasn’t very good at the plate, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for the Tigers top position prospect Scott Sizemore to post something similar to that.

    Defensively they may take a step back with Sizemore at 2nd and Austin Jackson in CF for Granderson but it really is yet to be seen and if they do how much is that really going to be worth?

    So they possibly improved every aspect of their team but 2 defensive positions yet they wouldn’t be “anywhere near the playoffs” despite leading the division for everyday last year for the final 4 months with the exception of 1 day? I still put them behind the Twins but Damon could put them in that division race and would solve 2 needs for them, a lefty bat and legitimate leadoff hitter which is why I think he would be a great fit for that team.

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    • TCQ says:

      You realize we’re talking about what the 2010 Tigers will do and not what the 2009 Tigers would do if you add and subtract players to make the rosters match, yes?

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    • Linuxit says:

      The main problem for the Tigers is that the Twins look like a legit 90 win team now. Liriano has been fixed, they got Pavano back, and they added Thome, Hardy, and Hudson. They have a very solid ball club.

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      • MattC says:

        Obviously I know that 2009 isn’t a constant but it’s still ludicrous to think a team that finished 1 game back and led the division for the final 5 months of the year would be nowhere near the playoffs.

        I could understand if everybody on the Tigers had career years last year or played way over their heads but that really wasn’t the case. Verlander broke out and Edwin Jackson had a breakout first half but other than that every regular on the team was at or around their career norms. Yeah Cabrera’s WAR was way up from 2008 but it was on par with his 07 and 06 seasons plus his 08 WAR was down partially due to his defense, which considering 08 was his first year playing that position it is to be expected that his 09 defense would be better. And Verlander is so talented he could put up something similar next year.(probably not a 7.2 WAR but still put up a great season)

        If you’re gonna bring up 09 not being a constant why not mention something about the Twins? Can you count on them getting absolute career years from Mauer, Cuddyer and Kubel again? They dwarfed all their offensive numbers from the previous few years. Yeah Mauer is great so he may come close to what he posted but Cuddyer and Kubel were HUGE reasons why they ended up winning the division. If they played like they have been the previous few years they probably wouldn’t been close to winning.

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  6. Scott says:

    McLouth has been a 3.5 and 3.6 Win player the last 2 seasons, why is he projecting to drop suddenly? I’m not saying it won’t happen, but his 2 seasons when he was a starter for the whole season, he was a 3.5+ win player, I’d find it hard to project him under that total.

    Now what would absolutely be best case scenario with Damon is to have a platoon with him and Diaz. That would produce an insane platoon. In 2009 Damon produced a .387 wOBA vs RHP and Diaz produced a .473 wOBA against LHP.

    So you’d have to figure if they produce as last year (i’m just gonna assume same number of PAs cause I’m lazy) they’re worth about 38 wRAA, pretty insane.

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    • TCQ says:

      CHONE is projecting him(McLouth) to have only a few more games played than he did last year and regress back to below average defensively, which accounts for most of the drop from last year. Not sure why his offense is predicted to be almost exactly where it was last year though. I’d think a small rebound would be coming there.

      I’d refer back to the recent articles by Matt for some insight into why predicting anything close to Diaz retaining that split is probably not going to be accurate, but that would be a strong platoon, even with that as a given.

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      • Scott says:

        Well I actually expect more then a slight improvement from McLouth offensively, and it’s tough to say he’ll definitely regress defensively. Cause there isn’t much of a sample for him defensively. Also there’s a long standing theory I had from watching McLouth that perhaps Pittsburgh was not positioning him well. I mean I players can look better then they actually produce but McLouth aside from a few bad plays never stuck me as the worst defender in baseball.

        Also for Diaz, while he may not hit to his splits last season, his career wOBA against LHP is .393 and in 2007 his last full season he has a .406 wOBA. I mean I think him being in the 13-18 range of wRAA vs LHP isn’t out of the question.

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  7. xdog says:

    You talk about Diaz’ injuries like he’s a delicate blossom. He’s been hurt once in Atlanta, when he charged a foul ball and had his knee meet concrete.

    He could be charitably called a free-swinger, he has a big platoon split but still managed a 333 wOBA against righties, he’s no gazelle in LF, but injury prone he ain’t.

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  8. Troy says:

    “that isn’t likely to put the Tigers anywhere near the playoffs.”

    Oh really? So Pedro Gomez calling the Tigers the 5th best team in baseball is an inaccurate statement? I didn’t know that.

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  9. deewen says:

    Looking for Diaz and Cabera to make an impact in platoon. A healthy McLouth offers more speed. With Heyward, the four man rotation will prove effective, and with the addition of Hienske is going to prove an awesome upgrade.
    The Braves have strength inthe bench. Thus, i cannot a significant advantage with Damon

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  10. holgado says:

    I thought when I clicked on that last link it was going to be a picture of a first baseman’s mitt. Good one. And I’m with both you and Dave on Melky’s value.

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  11. LOL says:

    “McLouth and Cabrera are probably better players than Damon at this point”

    Double fail

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  12. Danaerys Dies says:

    Haha! you have just achieved the impossible second-guess triple fa!l. Wow how do you feel?

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