Johnny Damon Detroit-Bound?

According to MLB.com’s Jason Beck, the Detroit Tigers are close to signing free agent outfielder Johnny Damon to a one-year contract. Multiple sources indicate that the deal is worth $8 million.

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…

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots
(picture from PicApp)

…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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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

11 Responses to “Johnny Damon Detroit-Bound?”

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  1. Paul says:

    Good stuff. I think the only thing absent here, and probably more important than any park factors, is the impact the difference in lineups will have on his production. The Tigers aren’t the Pirates but they’re not the Yankees, either. Without all those boppers hitting behind him (and in front of him), he’s going to have a hard time crossing the plate 100 times or plating 80 like he did last season. Remember, he had guys like Cano/Posada/Jeter on base when he came to the plate last season, and run producers like A-Rod, Big Tex, and Matsui to drive him in. This year, he has a couple of rookies and washed up vets surrounding him. Miggy’s the only guy you can count on in that lineup. I liked Raburn but Damon essentially knocks him out of the running for an everyday job.

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    • Polanco_Fan says:

      Your clearly undervaluing Magglio.. Projection systems or the national media don’t take into account that a MAJOR cause of his first half swoon was that his wife was DYING OF CANCER, and basically on her deathbed before making a miraculous recovery.

      So your telling me that his scoring opportunities will be that different being in front of Cabrera and Magglio than Tex and Arod??? I think not.

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      • Mat says:

        Polance Fan,

        See the Caps Lock key? Stop pressing it. Secondly, learn the difference between you’re/you are and your. Sound advice? I think so.

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  2. Paul says:

    To be clear, I’m not speaking about lineup protection. That stuff is overrated. I’m simply talking about opportunities to score or drive guys in. There’s no doubt that when he comes up to the plate or is on base, there will be much fewer opportunities for him to do either.

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  3. Jon E says:

    I wonder if Comerica’s homer numbers for lefties appear less friendly to the lefties because Detroit hasn’t had any real lefthanded power threats the last few years.

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    • Matt C says:

      That’s the only explanation I can really think of, because it’s much shorter down the right field line than the left field. It’s 345FT down the left field line vs. 330 down the right, and they both get drastically deeper as they move towards center field. Plus there’s really no jet streams at the park so it plays pretty straight up. You figure Granderson and the switch hitting Guillen were really the only lefty bats in the Tigers lineup with any sorta pop the last few years vs. Cabrera, Ordonez, Inge, Sheffield, Guillen, Thames, Monroe and to a lesser extent Pudge Rodriguez from the right side so it would make sense for that to be the reason.

      To me it looks like it would favor a guy like Damon, it’s fairly short down the line so he can still put some out, and the gaps are huge so more balls will drop in for him there so his BABIP maybe pretty high, plus if you hit the gap in right center it often rolls all the way to the wall which is almost a guaranteed triple with anybody with decent speed. I expect his HRs to take a bit of a hit but I still think he can put up 15-20 and I think his .avg may actually improve slightly because of the size of Comerica Park. You can get quite a few more bloop singles or soft liners can find gaps because outfielders are so spread out because of the size of it.

      On the other hand though his RBIs should take a hit with Everett and Laird hitting infront of him, as will his SBs with a much more conservative Leyland coaching him(even though Damon’s were already way down last year). Leyland doesn’t really straight steal that often which is why Granderson’s SBs totals were pretty low considering his speed. That also should effect his run total but I still think he could be at around 90 or so if he gets enough PAs.

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  4. Paul says:

    Polanco,

    You can write up Magglio’s decline however you want, but the facts don’t change:

    In 167 second-half at-bats (August/Sept/October), Ordonez hit just four homers and drove in 18. In fact, his ISO was higher in July than Aug/Sept/Oct. I’d say he just got luckier in the second half, with BABIPs of .373 and.466 over the season’s final two months. If anything, he was lucky all year with a BABIP 18 points higher than his career mark, despite a LD% that remained virtually unchanged.

    I’m not saying he can’t hit .300 but it looks like the days of 25 HRs or 100 RBIs out of Magglio are over. Trust me. I like Magglio. I wish I were wrong.

    And yes, I am telling you his scoring opportunities will be fewer hitting in front of Miggy/Magglio as opposed to Tex/ARod. I’m not sure anybody can argue that. You’re looking at about a 20-25 HR, 50-60 RBI difference between those duos and that’s not even counting the gap between the Yanks 5-6-7-8-9 hitters vs. the Tigers five through nine.

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    • Matt C says:

      Yeah there’s no doubt that Miggy/Magglio at this point aren’t the offensive players Tex/A-Rod are but to Maggs defense he didn’t have the opportunities that those 2 had either. Last year he had 60 less ABs with RISP than Tex and 38 less than A-Rod. Plus I don’t have the numbers but I highly doubt that Ordonez had many instances where there were multiple guys in scoring position for him. But Maggs batted .292 with RISP vs. .264 and .261 for Tex and A-Rod respectively. So if he does get in scoring position there’s still a decent chance that Ordonez could drive him in, the problem lies though when he’s on first because with Ordonez fading power numbers it’s gonna be much harder for him to score. For the record Cabrera was over .290 too with RISP.

      Granted 100 some ABs that those numbers were taken from is a rather small sample size but I think both of them have proven throughout their careers that they can drive in runs if given the opportunities. Unfortunately for them the last couple years Granderson and Polanco have shown declining OBPs, lower steals and in Granderson’s case increased HRs numbers limiting their opportunities.

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      • Jason B says:

        Definitely agree that Maggs and Miggy aren’t A-rod and Big Tex. Then again, not many teams have two of the top 10(ish) hitters in the game hitting out of both the 3 and 4 holes, so that’s no slight against the Tigers. Cabrera fits the bill and is comparable enough to Teixeira. But Magglio? That ship’s sailed, as Paul indicated.

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  5. Paul says:

    Which speaks exactly to my point about Damon. It’s about lack of opportunity more than ballpark that will take its biggest toll on Damon’s numbers. Never mind an expected regression to the mean. As for Miggy I think he will put up his numbers regardless. He always does. Some of those florida offenses/lineups were bad and he still came through. I trust his numbers won’t tail off much with an inferior lineup, if at all.

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  6. wolverin119 says:

    if they lead off jackson.. and his projected 313wOba… miggy’s rbi’s may fall.. however.. if they lead off damon.. and hit sizemore second.. miggy and ordonez should have more men on-base than they did last year

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