Johnny Damon

People who regularly read this site know that while Benjamin is a Yankee fan, I’m a Sox supporter, so we’ll often come in on different sides of a debate. But because we’re talking about statistics, the evidence is in the numbers, and we both have access to the same exact statistics, so I’m surprised our takes are so different. (This isn’t really foreshadowing my eventual conclusion so much as me telling you where my opinion will lie).
Here’s the method I chose to evaluate Damon: I looked up his ten most similar players through age 31 on, and then looked at their numbers between ages 32-35. Don’t worry about park or era adjustments — because players are compared based on raw numbers, those are unimportant. In other words, since Damon plays in such a high-scoring era, and for the last few years has been in a great hitter’s park, he’ll probably end up being compared to slightly better players, though they’ll have similar raw numbers. Anyways, this was my basis for comparison, that is, I assumed that their numbers would be a good predictor of Damon’s stats over the next four years.
Then, I calculated the linear weights for his Damon’s projection — his runs above average. I projected him to post 19.2 runs above average over the next four years, or 5.3/year. You’ll notice that 5.3 multiplied by 4 is considerably more than 19.2. The reason is that Damon’s chance of playing in each of the next four seasons is 90%, or that he has a 10% chance of dropping out of the major leagues within the next four years. Baseball Prospectus calls this “drop rate” in its projections. So Damon is projected to only play 3.6 seasons over the next four years.
Linear Weights are great, but for the purpose of doing salary stuff, especially for batters, I think introducing replacement level is a good choice. So I converted my linear weights into a value over replacement level using the replacement level of -17 runs per 150 games. Damon’s four-year projected VORP was 64.5.
Then I decided to add in defense. That’s definitely the toughest part of doing this projection, and will probably be the most derided. Basically, based on his UZR numbers in 2003 and Range numbers for 2004 and 2005, Damon’s established defensive performance level is +10 runs per 150 games. I expect him to decline by about 5 runs per year, but you have to factor in that he’ll play less and less games over the four years. So here’s what I did: Since my projection said that Damon would play 400 games over four years, I decided to say that he would play 130 games in 2006, 110 in 2007, 90 in 2008, and 70 in 2009. Accordingly, I placed him at +5, 0, -5, and -10 runs in each year respectively. He came out at -3.3 runs over those four years. Based on his UZR arm rating of -1/162 games from 2000-03, I also subtracted 2.5 runs over those four years (my assumption, right or wrong, being that arm strength doesn’t really change compared to range), making Damon a -5.8 run defender.
Adding together his offense and defense, Damon’s projected value of replacement is 58.7. The reason I’m adding together batting runs above replacement and fielding runs above average is that replacement-level batters tend to be average fielders. So how much is 58.7 runs above replacement worth?
Well, the a replacement-level player would get about $1.2 million over those four years, and with a value of about $330 K per marginal run on the free agent market, I’d say Damon is expected to be worth $20.6 million over the next four years. Even factoring a 10% rate of inflation each year, Damon is worth about only about $27.4 million. The Yankees paid double that.
Now if Damon helps New York win a World Series that they would not have with Bubba Crosby/Torii Hunter/Whoever in center, maybe he’s worth it. Otherwise, the Yankees didn’t end up with a savior — they ended up with a just-shaven bum.
Edit: Discussion on Baseball Primer


6 Responses to Johnny Damon

  1. I don’t think it’s at all reasonable to say that Damon is going to play 130 games in 2006 followed by 110, 90, and 70. You’re talking about a player who consistently averages 150 games a season. To say that he’ll see a 20-game dropoff immediately is absurd. To say that he’ll play just 70 games at age 36 when tons of players are playing WAY more than 70 games at that age is crazy. Just because Bernie Williams didn’t do well aging doesn’t mean every centerfield doesn’t age well (or at least better than Bernie). I think your projection undervalues Damon. While I’m sure Damon would have been overpaid on LA, New York or Boston, to say he’s worth $20 million seems a tad bit, well, bitter to me.

  2. Damon’s value is going to be worth more to the MFY than the Red Sox or other clubs. Damon will bring in more revenue for the MFY than any other team. Thus, the MFY can overpay for Damon.
    The thought process in the Bronx may have been that our CF put up a VORP of 5 last season. Damon is good for 45 next season or about four wins giving us a projected 94 wins. Going from 90 to 94, provides us with an extra $2.5 mil. to overpay assuming the Sox offer and MFY budget for a CF is 10 mil. Plus, it damages our biggest rival giving us a better shot at the post season gives us some additional value. Folks can certainly find holes in the specifics but I think this may have been the general thinking.

  3. David Gassko says:

    That’s just based on his most similar players. There’s a good chance he drops off in terms of games played. His ten most similar players through age 31 averaged 400 games played between 32-35. Even if he plays 150 games each year, his projected four-year VORP would be 83. Counting inflation, that’s worth $38 million. $14 million less than he got paid. I don’t see how you can call this a good contract — UNLESS you believe it will add huge new revenue streams to the Yankees, which I don’t see happening. Certainly, if it guarantees them a playoff spot this year (which I don’t think it does), and they wouldn’t have made the playoffs without him, that does add considerable value. I’m just not sure that’s the case. And three years from now, Yankee fans will be regretting this contract.

  4. skipaway says:

    How did you come up with your marginal salary/marginal win number?
    The baseball economy is changing rapidly with huge influx with new revenue. All teams got additional 15 mil to spend starting this season, and maybe even more when the Fox TV deal is up.
    That kind of money supply influx is the thing you should count for, not an in the vacuum 10% inflation rate.

  5. David Gassko says:

    The marginal $/win numbers come from Dave Studeman’s spectacular work with Net Win Share value. You’ll be surprised how stable that 10% figure is, over a number of years.

  6. skipaway says:

    Well, and I will not be surprised if the 10% is not stable from this point on, and not stable for the life of this contract!
    It’s evidently that a huge boost in budget happened just this year. You hear teams, even the Royals, talking about how they suddenly got to increase the payroll for over 10 mil.
    The fact is every team got about 15m additional annual income this year through various media and game deals that doesn’t really require additional spending.
    So there should be a huge jump in the salary/win baseline, and we are definitely seeing that this offseason.
    Therefore, even if the long term baseline is 10%, just maybe the figure we should use for this specific year should be something closer to 20%.
    And as I said, with the Fox deal expiring soon, we might see another big shift again.

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