Under the microscope: Johnny Damon

Taking a quick look at Damon’s numbers shows that he’s not doing anything insanely lucky this season. His batting average is normal and his batting average on balls in play is, if anything, a little lower than usual. He is walking a little more this season, but is not on pace to set a career high in that category. The one thing that has changed about Damon’s game this season is that he is hitting way more fly balls than he usually does; he’s currently putting over 40% of balls in play in the air. Damon has timed this shift in contact pattern with the Yankees relocation to their new, hitter friendly stadium. Damon’s year appears to be a creation of the new park. On the road, he’s a pedestrian .273/.346/.459 hitter. At home, though, he’s a monster. Fans in the Bronx have seen him hit .289/.386/.579 with fourteen of his twenty-one home runs coming at the new digs. Essentially, he’s Mark Teixeira at home and a watered down Melky Cabrera on the road. His performance is fairly sustainable for this season, as the only change he’s made to his game is hitting more fly balls. As long as he continues to put the ball in the air, we should not expect a regression in his power numbers.

Going forward though, I’m not too optimistic. His contract is up at the end of the season, and it would be unwise to invest too much in this aging outfielder. His offensive performance has picked up, but it could vanish at any time. At thirty-five years old, Damon is no spring chicken anymore. Losing even 20% of his home run total this season would give his value a serious hit. And though he’s shown offensive improvement, defensively he’s only getting worse. Last season, his UZR/150 in the outfield was -1.8, and this season has seen that number drop all the way to -12.2. With his defensive falling and his offense due to decline in the next few years, the Yankees would be ill advised to try and lock Damon up long term this winter. I’d welcome him back for a year or two, but anything longer than that would be a huge gamble.

SOURCES:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/teams/NYY/2009.shtml
http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/players/5484/splits
http://mlbcontracts.blogspot.com/2005/01/new-york-yankees_111398168678860040.html
http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=185&position=OF

Will is a lifelong New Yorker and Yankees fan who splits his time between finance, music, and baseball. He was one of the early contributors to IIATMS, though life took him away for some time. He is very excited to be back.