• Jeter & Damon

    Posted by on December 21st, 2005 · Comments (11)

    Just three weeks ago, I said that it would not shock me to see Johnny Damon only have three more productive seasons left in his career.

    Today, I saw something – outside of the news that Damon signed with the Yankees – that makes me hope that I’m very wrong with those findings from three weeks ago.

    I was running some sorts on the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia to see what batters in history have had seasons like Damon’s in 2005 – at the same age (31) he was last season. And, I found this pairing:

    000jeterdamon.jpg

    Yes, both Jeter and Damon were 31-years-old in 2005. And, as the relative batting metrics show, they had just about the same season with the bat last year (in terms of effectiveness).

    So, then, do all those Yankees fans out there (like me, three weeks ago) who think that Damon is the type to start sliding downward with the bat over the next few years also think that Derek Jeter is going to be toast at the plate come 2008?

    Now, granted, if you compare Jeter and Damon coming into 2005, say, from 1996 through 2004, you see that Derek has been a much better performer than Johnny:

    000johnderek96.jpg

    And, that’s the reason why many would say that Jeter has a higher chance at starring longer than Damon – because his resume is richer.

    Still, think of it this way: If you were a doctor, and you had two patients of the same age – one with a very healthy childhood and the other who was not so lucky as him (but generally OK) – and, on one given day (the same day) you found them to be exact mirror images of each other (in terms of conditioning), could you say (with confidence) on that given day that one patient would out-live the other because the other guy had the chicken pox when he was six and a broken arm when he was ten?

    It would not make sense to say that – because, at the moment, the patients are equal. What happened in the past is history and has no bearing on their condition today. You need to look at them now to make a projection.

    Therefore, before anyone (including me) decides today that Johnny’s life as an effective batter is going to be short one, we need to also consider where Damon is now, in 2005, and see if there’s any signs of concern.

    And, if you think Derek Jeter was a good lead-off hitter in 2005, then so was Johnny Damon. And, the Johnny Damon from 2005 was pretty much the same Damon as every year since 1999 (sans 2001 and 2003 when he slumped). Johnny’s usually good for an OPS about 50-80 points above average and around 1.5 runs created per game above average – and that’s what he’s been 5 of the last 7 years. And, that’s pretty much what Jeter has done the last 5 years as well.

    I have to say, now, there’s just a good of a chance of Damon to keep doing his thing going forward as there is for Derek Jeter. And, if you believe that Jeter is going to stay an effective batter for a while – then you should think the same about Damon.

    Comments on Jeter & Damon

    1. December 21st, 2005 | 1:53 pm

      I don’t quite agree with your premise that it only matters if they are equal now. As you well know, one of the key questions in baseball projection is how does a particular season compare to a batter’s career norm? Jeter’s and Damon’s 2005 may appear similar, but as you point out Jeter’s norm is considerably better.

      Both are good well-conditioned athletes, and neither has a particularly troubling history of injury. I don’t think either is due for a fall-off-the-table type of decline. Indeed, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Jeter’s power numbers creep back up (toward 1999 levels if we’re lucky) once he’s hitting in the 2-hole with a real on-base guy in front of him.

    2. December 21st, 2005 | 2:05 pm

      Carla – But, you have to go back to 1999 to have the year where Derek’s “norm” was better than Damon. Since 2000, sans the two seasons where Damon slumped, they’re both usually around 25-30 RCAA a year. (And, FWIW, Jeter slumped somewhat – for him – in 2004.)

    3. Jason O.
      December 21st, 2005 | 2:39 pm

      I recommend Carla to the Bill James cult, it’s less expensive than Scientology and unlike Jonestown/Heaven’s Gate no one will make you commit suicide.

      One of his founding principles for player performance is that, by and large, offensive skills begin to decline at age 29.

      There are exceptions, of course, but you never know whether a guy is an exception to James’s maxim until he gets to the years that Damon is currently in….hence the risk of signing him.

    4. December 21st, 2005 | 2:45 pm

      If 29 is the cut-off, then the whole Yankees team, sans Cano and Wang, is in trouble.

    5. Jason O.
      December 21st, 2005 | 2:49 pm

      LOL…We haven’t talked about exceptions and/or the delta of the decline for genetic mutants like Sheff and Clemens.

    6. December 21st, 2005 | 3:02 pm

      Better living through chemistry?

    7. Raf
      December 21st, 2005 | 4:09 pm

      Better living through chemistry?
      ========
      Could be… No way players like Fred Patek, Phil Rizzuto, Frank White and Bill Mazerowski survive in today’s game.

    8. December 21st, 2005 | 4:23 pm

      I recommend Carla to the Bill James cult, it’s less expensive than Scientology and unlike Jonestown/Heaven’s Gate no one will make you commit suicide.
      ======= :-) Okay, okay, I don’t think either player is going to get *better* over the next couple of years. But I don’t see any particular reason to think, as I said, that they are due for extraordinary decreases in performance either. And if any player can extend the quality years and stave off the inevitable decline, it’s an athletic, well-conditioned player without a particularly troubling injury history.

    9. December 21st, 2005 | 4:44 pm

      I think, IIRC, Bill James once stated that “speed” guys – like a Brett Butler and Otis Nixon – actually age better than power/walk guys (like Bernie Williams). That has to work in Damon’s favor.

    10. JohnnyC
      December 21st, 2005 | 9:29 pm

      If 29 is truly the cutoff, why are so many of you such acolytes of Bubba Crosby and Andy Phillips? They’re 29 (give or take a few months) and they’re headed for a sure decline (while never having reached a zenith). BTW, given this actuarial truism, why wouldn’t the owners reduce the free agency term to, say 4 years, so that they could insure getting more of a player’s true prime years rather than the beginning of his decline? You end up paying guys more, earlier, but you’ll inevitably recoup those dollars when you’re not stuck with paying through the nose for someone’s sunshine years.

    11. Raf
      December 22nd, 2005 | 7:52 am

      BTW, given this actuarial truism, why wouldn’t the owners reduce the free agency term to, say 4 years, so that they could insure getting more of a player’s true prime years rather than the beginning of his decline?
      ========================

      The smaller market teams won’t go for it.

    Leave a reply

    You must be logged in to post a comment.