Saturday, December 19, 2009

A comparison of DH's

The Yankees' addition of Curtis Granderson, a much-ballyhooed three-team trade that prompted outrage across Red Sox fandom and this call for torches and pitchforks from Dan Shaughnessy:

Storm the gates of Fenway Park. Cancel your NESN package. Stick your head out the window and say, "I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!"

As previously discussed in this space, the trade for Granderson made the Yankees only incrementally better -- unless, of course, the move was accompanied a companion move that could help Granderson replace the production of both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.

The Yankees have made their companion move. Nick Johnson spent seven seasons in the Yankees' organization before being dealt to Montreal in the Javier Vazquez trade in mid-December of 2003. After 4 1/2 seasons with the Expos/Nationals and half a season with the Florida Marlins, Johnson has signed a one-year deal with the Yankees with a team option for the 2011 season. With Mark Teixeira in place at first for the next generation or so, Johnson will take over for Matsui as the Yankees' full-time designated hitter.

George Steinbrenner's team now will open a season with the more productive designated hitter in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry for the first time since Terry Francona was Ken Macha's bench coach.

That's right: Johnson goes into next season as a more productive designated hitter than David Ortiz. Consider last year's numbers:

Johnson: .295 batting/.426 on-base/.405 slugging (.831 OPS)
Ortiz: .238 batting/.332 on-base/.462 slugging (.794 OPS)

(Johnson was one of just five players last season whose on-base percentage exceeded their slugging percentage -- and the only one of the group who still slugged .400. Only Chone Figgins' .395/.393 came close.)

Bill James' projections for 2010 give Big Papi a slight edge OPS-wise -- but those projections are predicated on a pretty big bounce-back year from the 34-year-old slugger:

Johnson: .277 batting/.414 on-base/.434 slugging (.848 OPS)
Ortiz: .264 batting/.369 on-base/.519 slugging (.888 OPS)

(If you're with those who believe on-base percentage is a more important facet of OPS than slugging, you don't see Big Papi as having an edge at all.)

Johnson and his career .402 on-base percentage will hit second in the Yankees' lineup, taking the place of Damon and his career .355 on-base percentage. His job will be to get on base in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez and let them drive him in.

Johnson is a miserable base-stealer -- he's 27 for 40 in his career and was caught four of the six times he tried to steal last season. But for those who believe he's going to clog the bases, whatever that means, in front of Rodriguez and Teixeira, consider James' compilation of baserunning numbers from last season. The idea is to track the number of times a player had a chance to take an extra base on a single or double -- and the number of times the player successfully took that extra base.

Here's how Johnson stacks up against the guy he's replacing:

First to third
Johnson: 14 for 40 (35 percent)
Damon: 13 for 32 (41 percent)

Second to home
Johnson: 9 for 23 (39 percent)
Damon: 14 for 21 (67 percent)

First to home
Johnson: 1 for 9 (11 percent)
Damon: 14 for 21 (56 percent)

Johnson isn't exactly a speed demon, especially when it comes to scoring from first base on a line drive to the gap. But he'll certainly hold his own going from first to third on a single, and he's not exactly the base-clogger some would have you believe he is. He even went first to third last season at a better rate than Derek Jeter.

Either way, though, the more he gets on base, the tougher it becomes to pitch through the Yankees' lineup. With Johnson on board, the Yankees don't miss a beat even though they're losing Damon from the top of their lineup. They might even be a little bit better.


chris said...

I think you underestimate two very important factors here:

1. Johnson is moving from the NL to the very competitive AL East (his career OPS against AL East teams is as follows - Bal .704, Bos .705, TB .789 and Tor .735).

2. Johnny Damon is one of the most durable players in baseball. Nick Johnson? Not so much.

Brian MacPherson said...

Fair points both. However:
1. Most of Johnson's previous numbers against the American League came during his first stint with the Yankees. He has all of 10 plate appearances against the Red Sox since 2003. It's tough to draw too many broad conclusions that way -- especially since he was hitting in the middle of the Nationals' lineup and didn't have Teixeira hitting behind him.

2. Johnson just turned 31. Damon just turned 36. On top of that, DH'ing full-time might do Johnson's durability some good.

(By the way, for what it's worth, he's played at least 130 games in three of his last four seasons.)

chris said...

Brian - I'm just saying that the pitching in the AL East should dampen Johnson's projections a bit. That has to be recognized. He's basically a Lyle Overbay who tends to get injured. As patient as he is - he just doesn't scare me.

The Bottom Line said...

Good points all around guys.

One other thought: Damon is not Jacoby, but he does force pitchers to pay attention when he's on base... Jonson will not. This may allow opposing to focus in on Tex and Arod more - regardless of whether or not Johnson reaches bases.

A minor point, but there it is.