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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: