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March 2, 2006

Looking Ahead to 2006 - Center Field
by SG

All off-season, I tried to tell myself that the Yankees would not be stupid and sign Johnny Damon. A lot of this was based on his original demands for a seven year contract, but most of it was just an emotional response to one of the key faces of the Red Sox coming to the Yankees.

What's done is done, and although I'm still having some trouble accepting Damon as a Yankee, it was a good move for 2006.

For comparison's sake, here are Bernie Williams's defensive ratings from 2001-2005 using the ZR conversion method that I described in my last entry. Again, these are pro-rated over 150 games.

For all my fond memories of Bernie, his defense in center over the last five years will not be a part of them. The interesting thing was his apparent improvement last year. It's probably the smaller sample size, but I can't help but think that if he isn't playing in the OF every day he has a little more spring in his step. The early stories out of spring training seem to indicate Bernie getting some time in RF to spell Gary Sheffield, who was worse than Bernie last year. As bad as Bernie's arm is, Sheffield's arm was actually rated as worth -2 runs in 2005. Even if Bernie's arm is worth -5 in limited playing time, he could very well make up for that with greater field coverage. I am also still holding out hope that part-time duty will help Bernie hit better. A lot of this is wishful thinking on my part, but Bernie's one of my favorite players and I'd love to see him go out as a useful role player.

With Bernie's poor offense and defense last year, he was eventually moved into a part-time role. Unfortunately, his playing time was cut for mostly Tony Womack. Taking away Womack's time as a 2B and combining his "contributions" with Bernie in CF made the Yankees 2005 CF worth -2.4 WARP. All at the bargain price of $15 million. For the purpose of this exercise I've credited Matsui's time in CF to LF and Womack's in LF to CF.

In 2006, things look to be a little different now that Damon is in the fold. First, a look at Damon's defense from 2001-2005.

Not a particularly encouraging defensive year last year, although his past performance gives some hope for a rebound. Damon's defensive projection is -4 next year, which, while not great, is about a 10 run upgrade over what the Yankees got last year on defense. Of course, Damon was also signed for his offense.

ZiPS predicts a .292/.363/.421 line from Damon next year, with 13 HRs. This would make him worth 25 RARP (offensive runs over a replacement center fielder).

Marcel says .292/.352/.430. A little less OBP, a little more SLG, and a decrease in playing time, meaning Damon would be worth 19 RARP.

PECOTA says Damon will be worth 20 RARP.

Combining his 20-25 RARP offense with his -4 FRAA defense makes Damon a 2-3 WARP player. I'll split the difference, and assume he'll be worth in the neighborhood of 2.5 WARP. This makes CF close to a 5 win upgrade relative to 2005.

When you look at in those terms, the contract really doesn't seem too bad, at least in 2006. Damon may be overpaid relative to his value compared to the league, but I am adament in the belief that players are worth different amounts to different teams. In this instance, with no viable options on the farm right now, the Yankees paid for a 5 win upgrade.

Hopefully he can stay healthy, play close to average defense, and we can forget from whence he came.

Update: It looks like Sam Horn has a new sponsor on Baseball Reference.