Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Move Damon Down

I've been chattering behind the scenes since the end of last season that the Yankees should move Johnny Damon to the bottom of the order. It's not that he's a bad player. Far from it. I simply believe that his best days are behind him and more importantly that the best strategy is to put your best hitters in a position to get more at bats during each game and during the season. Better hitters getting more at bats means more runs means more wins. Every win is precious.

I had a nice back and forth with a friend who believes in Damon at the top of the order, citing his ability to take pitches and foul others off. I suppose the thinking there is that the following hitters will see more pitches prior to their plate appearances. I think that's a secondary consideration at best. The most precious commodity in baseball is outs. You get 27 per game and 3 per inning. Your best players are the guys that make less outs. There's more to it than that of course, but it's a great starting point. Your leadoff hitter's most important job is to not make an out. It may only come up once per game that the inning starts with him, but he will get at least an extra at bat in most contests. If that player ends up making less outs per plate appearance, it follows that your team will score more runs. To that end, I looked at the 2007 Yankees and ranked them according to their Total Outs/PA. Here's how it shook out for the regulars, which excludes any of the first basemen.

Posada .604
A-Rod .605
Matsui .650
Jeter .654
Abreu .658
Damon .662
Cano .683
Melky .709

Noteworthy is Jorge Posada's historical season last year. The only catcher in MLB history to hit over .330 with 20 home runs, 40 doubles, and 90 RBI at the age of 35+. He was the toughest out among Yankee regulars by a thousandth of a point over the MVP. If you project these numbers, or some representative version of them, to 2008 it's hard to argue for Damon getting more plate appearances than the top 5. I think the ideal Yankee lineup, and I've said this before, is:

Derek Jeter
Bobby Abreu
Alex Rodriguez
Hideki Matsui
Jorge Posada
Jason Giambi
Robinson Cano
Melky Cabrera
Johnny Damon

Alternatively:

Bobby Abreu
Derek Jeter
Robinson Cano
Alex Rodriguez
Hideki Matsui
Jorge Posada
Jason Giambi
Melky Cabrera
Johnny Damon

The 2nd lineup is my preferred configuration because it sorts out lefty-righty better and puts Cano in a better RBI position, but the 1st lineup gets A-Rod more at bats and puts Posada and Giambi in front of Cano for those same RBI chances. The point, either way, is that Johnny Damon's combination of greater out potential and lower isolated power (.126 to Cano's .182 in 2007) is better suited for the bottom of the lineup. As a #9 hitter (or #8 at best), Damon would still put tremendous pressure on opposing pitchers who have been worked over by the better hitters. By the time they get to the point where there's supposed to be an easy out there's a guy that sees 4+ pitches per at bat and can beat you with a little speed. He's no slouch down there and would probably be the best #9 hitter in the sport. At #1 he's league average at best, and possibly worse.

Bill James has famously noted that batting order makes no difference, but I'd rather have a lineup where the tougher outs get more at bats. Just my opinion.

6 comments:

RollingWave said...

I'd agree with this. though I guess in the larger theme it matters little. and might as well just ride hot bats and/or keep the team comfortable instead of forcing some issues.

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