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February 14, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Johnny Damon
by SG

I pray this is not true. My happiness about the Dotel signing will be turned to furious anger if this turns out to be more than just idle speculation.

-Me, after hearing that the Yankees had signed Johnny Damon

Sometimes, it feels good to be so completely wrong about something.

Damon of course came from the arch-rival Red Sox last season, in a move that was difficult to accept emotionally for many of us. Baseball-wise, it was a sound move, at least in the near-term, as the Yankees upgraded a trouble spot significantly. We'll see how well the signing holds up for the next three years, but for 2006 it was a pretty clear win for Brian Cashman.

How much did Damon help in 2006?

Here's a comparison of every AB and defensive inning played by the Yankees' CF in 2005 and 2006.

Here's what all that means in terms of runs. BR in the chart below is batting runs using linear weights, and DR are the defensive runs saved above below average using Zone Rating converted to runs.

So Damon's signing made the 2006 Yankees fifty runs better in CF on offense and defense, about a five win upgrade.

Here are Damon's 2007 projections on offense.

The projection systems generally agree that Damon should still be above average in 2007, although down a fair amount from 2006. Damon's projections heading into 2006 were similarly pessmistic, so I am a bit more skeptical about these. Also, faster players tend to decline more gradually than slower players, which should be an advantage for Damon.

And here is his defense over the last five seasons and his 2007 projection.

So he projects about average as far as catching fly balls.

Damon does have a very weak arm, which impacts his defensive value somewhat. To look at how much, I looked at the MLB averages from 2000-2006 for two specific situations.

Extra bases taken by a runner on first on a single.
Extra bases taken by a runner on first on a double.

For scenario 1, the average runner advanced 1.27 bases on a single. For scenario two, they advanced 2.05 bases on a double. Against Damon, they advanced 1.3 and 2.05 respectively. So Damon allowed 8 bases more than average in these situations. The average value of an extra base is about .25 runs, so Damon's arm in these situations cost the Yankees about two runs in 2006. There are probably other situations that I can add in here, but I don't think they'll make a ton of difference. Maybe another run or two.

And here's something completely random. Derek Jeter had 139 plate appearances with Damon on first base. In those PA, he hit .385/.482/.521.

Over the season, I grew to respect Damon and his game. He seems like a good guy in the clubhouse and he gives it his all on the field. It made me feel a little hypocritical, but we root for laundry in the end.

In an unrelated roster move, the Yankees have re-signed Ron Villone to a minor league deal. He gets $2.5 million if he makes the team. If I were a betting man, which I used to be, but no longer am, I'd guess he makes the team along with Mike Myers. I can't see a scenario where the Yankees don't take two lefties in the pen, especially with 19 games against Boston. It's probably bad news for one of Chris Britton or Brian Bruney.