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:
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:
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.