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.