Johnny Damon and the Hall of Fame

Johnny Damon‘s case for the Hall of Fame has recently come up (again). Indeed, some people seem to think it is time to start discussing which hat he should be wearing for his induction. My initial response is “he’s been good, but not good enough,” but hey, I’ve been wrong before. Many times. While the voters have made some progress in recent years, they aren’t exactly known for their objectivity or consistency. What the voters will do with Johnny Damon is one question, one that involves stuff like history and folk psychology, things I’m not interested in dealing with here. Instead, I want to address what the voters should do in Damon’s case.

Some people will want to point to hits, home runs, runs batted in, and the like as “baselies” for Hall-worthiness, but this is FanGraphs, and if you’re reading this, you know we don’t go in for those sort of shenanigans (remember, I’m addressing the “should he” question, not the “will he” question). Instead, we try to base these sorts of discussions (partly, if not wholly) on a more all-encompassing metric like Wins Above Replacement. Hall of Famers on average are around the 60 WAR mark. That isn’t all there is to it, we want to take into account peak value so that players who maybe didn’t have a really long career but had a magnificent peak are properly valued, and players who merely accumulated a bunch of “pretty good” seasons don’t sneak in. That’s why the “nth best season” WAR graphs are so handy.

Let’s compare Damon to recent inductee and fellow outfielder Andre Dawson. Dawson wasn’t a shoo-in, but he makes a good baseline because not many feel like he besmirches the Hall, but he also isn’t a no-doubter. He had a long career, but also an impressive peak in the early 1980s in which he averaged more than six WAR for four seasons in a row. For his career, FanGraphs has Dawson at 62.3 WAR — right around the amount we’d expect. For Damon’s career, we have him (so far!) at 42.1. But let’s check out the contours of their careers to see if Damon has an impressive peak (click to enlarge).

This graph makes it clear that there’s no real comparison in FanGraphs’ WAR. Dawson not only had the better cumulative WAR, but his peak was far superior. It isn’t just Dawson’s clear defensive superiority, either. Despite his OBP issues, once adjusted for the era he played in, Dawon’s 118 wRC+ is better than Damon’s career 109 wRC+. This really isn’t a contest. One could make Damon’s case look a bit better by using Baseball-Reference’s WAR for him and Dawson, but the overall contours are roughly the same: while Damon has one season over six WAR according to Baseball-Reference, Dawson has four. Some will want to talk about Damon’s contributions to the 2004 Red Sox and the 2009 Yankees, which matter, but I don’t think they make of the difference. I wouldn’t say that someone who voted for Damon for the Hall was an “idiot,” but I wouldn’t be impressed, either.

In closing, I will briefly note that if there is a much better case to be made for a different ex-Royals center fielder being Hall-worthy:



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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.


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j6takish
Guest
j6takish

Until now, I’ve never heard of anyone who considered damon a HoFer. It seemed that everyone was in agreeance that he was an above average player with a remarkably consistent career, but never HoF worthy. He can still get on base though and probably has a few more years left in him

Steve
Guest
Steve

Here’s the issue: he has ~2600 hits.

If you believe, as you said, that he has a few more years left, he could realistically get to 3000 hits.

Then what do the voters do with him?

3000 hits has been an automatic ticket to Cooperstown.

Long way to go, I know, but it’s very possible he gets there if he’s willing to keep playing.

Steve
Guest
Steve

tag fail

descender
Member
descender

3000 hits has been an automatic ticket, doesn’t mean it should be.

That’s also 3-4 years for Damon to keep playing.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

Is Edgar Renteria destined for the HoF too? He has a realistic chance as well.

HRB
Guest
HRB

Speaking of automatic baselines, the one thing I wanted more than anything else was for Jamie Moyer to get 300 wins before he retired. I guess there’s still a shot if anyone employs him after elbow surgery.

Steve
Guest
Steve

Agree descender. Just wondering how the voters would treat him.

James
Guest
James

I don’t think the writers are dumb enought to fall for 3000… I don’t know if he’s ever been one of the best players at his position for more than one or two seasons, let alone one of the best players in MLB. Would definitely be one of the less deserving inductees. How could they possibly justify Damon and not Santo?

Ian R.
Guest
Ian R.

3000 hits used to be an automatic for the Hall. Then Rafael Palmeiro happened.

Different circumstances, obviously, since Damon wasn’t a steroid guy (so far as we know). But you know what? If the writers can keep out a man who had 3000 and 500 home runs, then can probably keep out a hypothetical 3000-hit Johnny Damon.

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