A commentary about sports, media, and interpersonal relationships encountered throughout everyday life.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Why Does Everyone Hate Johnny Damon?

Why doesn’t anyone love Johnny Damon anymore? In every draft that I’ve participated in (three to date, one more to come next week), there have been a number of outfielders who are over-hyped and therefore over-drafted. This hype machine results in reliable late number-two/early number-three outfielders falling further than usual. One such outfielder is New York Yankee left-fielder, Johnny Damon.

Now, last I checked, Damon is still batting lead-off for the most high-powered offense in the American League. Whether you’re in a Rotisserie League or a Points league, 100 runs scored is 100 runs scored. I’ve yet to see a fantasy squad that can do without production like that. However, in my research this offseason, I’ve seen a number of talking-heads who think that Damon is free-falling from the numbers he has posted in the past. One indicator, for instance, is Damon's failing to reach 100 runs scored, despite batting atop the Yankees’ order.

The Fantasy Baseball Guide: Professional Edition 2008 says of Damon that “when a player relies on his legs as much as someone like Damon, the decline is usually swift and absolute. Yes he’s still stealing bases, but his average is on the decline.” For RotoWire, the presence of Melky Cabrera in center field, combined with the huge contracts of Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui have turned Damon “into a part-time player.” And for FanBall’s Guide to Winning Fantasy Baseball, it is “tough to expect Damon to reach any digits he hasn’t already achieved.”

To these three periodicals, I say… “Thank You.” I am sure your words of wisdom/warning influenced a majority of the guys I’m competing against (as they should). I, however, have a few problems with the damnation of Damon for 2008:

1. The Guide tears on Damon’s legs despite his 27 stolen bases in an injury plagued 2007. For those of you keeping score, 2007’s 27 SBs were the most for Damon since 2003’s 30 stolen bases for the Red Sox. The Guide also has a problem with Damon’s “declining average,” but a look at the numbers reveals something different. For his major league career, Damon is a .287 hitter. Last year’s .270 BA is, admittedly, nearly twenty-points lower than his career average. However, Damon’s second-half numbers are more in line with his career: .289 average, 15 stolen bases, 57 runs, and a .365 OBP (a thirty-point increase from his first-half numbers!).

2. To their credit, I’m sure RotoWire projected Damon as a part-time player months before Spring Training was even though of (and if they didn’t head’s would roll in the fantasy world). As it stands now, Damon is the Yankees’ starting left fielder and leadoff hitter. The contracts of Giambi and Matsui, as many Yankee fans are already aware, mean nothing. Evidencing this point, Giambi made nearly 20 million dollars as a pinch hitter last year! So, while the huge contracts do exist, it seems that Joe Girardi is going to put the best possible line-up out on the field every night. If money outweighed potential, do you really think Melky “Major-League-Minimum” Cabrera would be starting in center for the bombers?

3. FanBall’s encrypted projection, to me, translates: “Johnny Damon will not put up big fantasy numbers again at this point in his career.” Again, I cite his second half numbers in 2007, when he was actually quasi-healthy, to refute that position. To date, Damon has reported to Spring Training in the great playing shape. His reason: "I've been pretty consistent over my career but ... when you talk about good players in the league, you know, my name hardly comes up and I don't think that's right. I think I really need to go out there and show them." Maybe it’s just me, but nothing is better than a former All-Star with a chip on his shoulder.

Ron Shandler refers to Damon as a “gracefully aging ‘idiot’,” which, in my opinion, is the most accurate description for the Yanks’ lead-off hitter. Not only do I expect 100 runs scored for Damon in 2008, but I would not be surprised at all to see him once again reach double-digit home runs (10-12) and 30 steals (you heard it here first). In fantasy baseball, like all fantasy sports, there’s a constant game of buying low and selling high. Right now, Johnny Damon cannot be further from his peak and is a perfect candidate for buying-low before he redeems himself in 2008 for the Yankees.

1 comment:

Mike Plugh said...

Great piece Brian.

I agree with you that he's being tremendously undervalued by most fantasy GMs. In my opinion, most fantasy GMs don't do a very good job understanding that fantasy baseball isn't baseball....it's fantasy baseball. It's purely a numbers game. The wisest strategy in evaluating fantasy baseball players is to never look at their names.

Johnny Damon shouldn't be hitting leadoff for the Yankees anymore. He's a streaky hitter, who's greatest value at the top of the order is his ability to foul off 10 pitches seemingly at will. The Yankees have better table setters and more consistently good OBP guys on the team that he's taking at bats from. Jeter is a better leadoff hitter as would be Bobby Abreu. If you ask me, the ideal Yankee batting order would be:


I know that Damon is too good to hit 8 or 9 in most lineups, but it accomplishes a number of things for the Yankees. It keeps the teams top hitters and OBP guys at the top of the lineup where they will each get an additional 100+ plate appearances over the course of the season. That turns into a lot more runs, which is the point of the game after all. It also makes the lineup more circular when Damon gets to bat leadoff in front of Abreu, Jeter, Cano, and A-Rod when the inning lines up that way.

That's my baseball perspective. My fantasy perspective recognizes that this is a player who will get 100 runs and the potential for around 20 homers in an outfield slot. That's a plus when you consider the SBs. The problem is that he might be a part time player, as you noted in #2, and he is also in serious decline as his PECOTA card shows. The weighted mean only gives him 76 runs scored, 11 HRs, and 15 SBs. I think that's a likely outcome.

When I consider the likely numbers I take a pass. The upside is very good as we've mentioned (100 runs, 20 HRs, 25 SBs) but the likely outcome is unacceptable for a fantasy outfielder considering the deep field of guys who can put up similar runs and stolen bases with a lot more pop. Outfield is a position in fantasy that you need to get at least 25 homers, UNLESS you know you're going to get the big runs and steals. Damon isn't guaranteed to do any of those things.