Damon, 36, is coming off of a 2009 season in which he batted .282/.365/.489 in 626 plate appearances. Accounting for park and league factors, Johnny’s bat was 32 percent better than average (132 wRC+). That was the highest wRC+ of his career, just edging out his 130 mark in 2008.
The lefty batter’s career year at the plate was driven by a 24 home runs (tied with 2006 for the highest mark during his big league tenure) and a personal best .207 Isolated Power. Damon lofted the ball more than usual, hitting a fly ball 42.3 percent of the time (35 percent average since 2002), and 12.6 percent of those flys left the yard (9.4 percent average since ’02).
Not surprisingly, Damon’s power surge was predicated on his pulling the ball ferociously. Here are his splits by side of field from last season, as well as his splits from 2002-2009. I also included the league averages, taken from Dave Cameron’s post on Joe Mauer, for greater context:
Damon has generally been a very good pull hitter, but he went bonkers last season. As Greg Rybarczyk’s Hit Tracker Online shows, 23 of Johnny’s 24 bombs were hit to the pull side:
For those of you wondering, Damon’s HR distribution since 2002 breaks down as follows: one to left field, three to center and 129 to right field. About 97 percent of Damon’s dingers have been hit to the pull side over that time frame. Last year, AL batters hit 52.3 percent of their home runs to the pull field.
Johnny’s pull power surely wasn’t inhibited by New Yankee Stadium. In its inaugural year, the stadium inflated home run production by 26 percent compared to a neutral park. The HR park factor for lefty batters was 120, and 133 for right-handed hitters.
New Yankee Stadium received much attention for early-season power displays, and most fans probably think the park played like a bandbox. It’s wise not to glean too much from one year of data. But overall, the House That George Built wasn’t especially threatening to pitchers, decreasing run scoring by four percent according to the 2010 Bill James Handbook. There’s a tradeoff with all of those home runs: would-be doubles and triples that fall in at other stadiums find gloves in the Bronx (81 doubles factor, 50 triples factor).
For what it’s worth, Damon’s new home (Comerica Park) increased run production by five percent from 2007-2009. Comerica is homer-friendly (110 HR park factor), but much more so for righty batters (118 HR factor) than lefties (96 HR factor).
The big question with Damon, aside from, will he start rocking the cave man look again…
…is, what can we expect from him offensively in 2010? Just about no batters in their mid-thirties post career-best power numbers and then sustain that level of play. As such, it’s not surprising to see the projection systems calling for regression:
Bill James: .278/.355/.430, .152 ISO, 114 wRC+
CHONE: .270/.357/.432, .162 ISO, 116 wRC+
A simple Marcel projection spits out a similar line: .275/.353/.440, with a .165 ISO and a 117 wRC+.
Damon’s pending deal likely means that Carlos Guillen will spend more time at DH, with Ryan Raburn getting pushed back to the bench. Magglio Ordonez, meanwhile, will make stacks o’ cash in right field, though the separation between the $18 million man and the pre-arbitration Raburn looks slim:
2010 CHONE projections
Ordonez: .295/.362/.453, 120 wRC+
Raburn: .265/.339/.472, 116 wRC+
As for Damon, he remains a quality offensive player. But no one should be expecting a repeat of last season. According to MockDraftCentral, Johnny’s ADP is about 128, putting him in the same vicinity as Jay Bruce and Carlos Gonzalez. You’d be better off pulling the trigger on either of those young, high-upside guys as opposed to Damon. Still, Detroit’s new left fielder is a good option, so long as your expectations are realistic.
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