Thursday, November 10, 2011

Big Mouth, Big Performance

The first post of substance (and something that I had actually written for another blog three months before Pat and I signed up for this gig) on How Youz Doin Baseball was about Johnny Damon.  I wrote that Damon's four-year contract with the Yankees (signed in December 2005) was paying double for two years' performance and two years of crap.  I compared paying a premium for Damon, which the Yankees did, with paying a premium for a Slurpee at 7-Eleven, which I do with some sort of regularity.  I was happy the Red Sox didn't sign him, because I was convinced that after being in the majors since age 21 and after never having played less than 145 games since age 22, Damon was going to crap out sooner than most.

I was wrong.

Damon played for New York at the ages of 32, 33, 34, and 35, and he did a really good job.  I will continue to generally crush him for his overall demeanor regarding a business decision the Red Sox made, jumping at a series of microphones nonstop for the past six years so he could talk about how much he was disrespected.  But I cannot crush him for performance.  Formulating a criticism of the Red Sox' acquisition of Carl Crawford in 2010, I researched a lot of players who featured speed and/or stolen bases as a major part of their game.  While most players really fell off a cliff after age 31 (including Rickey Henderson, by the way), Damon wasn't like that.  He stole 95 bases with New York after having stolen only three more in four years with Boston.  He developed more power, which was certainly helped by the stadium he was in, but posted arguably his best offensive season in 2009.  Gotta give it to him.

You also gotta give it to him after the way his 2007 season started.  At that point, I was riding high on my brand new blog, talking about how smart I was and how dumb Brian Cashman was and how much Damon sucked in the work ethic department (he got fat, ate cheeseburgers, and contemplated retirement all winter).  In the second half of that season and in the entirety of the next two, he came back.  He never played less than 141 as a Yankee, which is particularly amazing considering the way he plays baseball.  Let's not make him out to be an Aaron Rowand or Kevin Youkilis, playing so hard that he breaks himself every year.  But he's not exactly 46 or JD Drew out there either.  Guy plays hard but still manages to stay on the field.  Even this year, his seventeenth in the majors, he played over 140 games for the sixteenth straight year.  He now seems like a lock to be in the 3,000 hit club before the age of forty.

A final thing I want to say about this player is that, contrary to what you'd think about a tried-and-true Scott Boras guy, he's a team guy.  He's big into the clubhouse thing, he's big into developing relationships with his teammates instead of his private bankers, and (I hate this word) he does have some kind of intangible, veteran value.  You saw it in Boston, New York, to an extent in Detroit, and especially this year in Tampa.  Tampa was supposed to have the dream die this year, but that didn't happen.  And that's not all Joe Maddon's doing.

So here we are, heading into the 2012 season, and while Damon is certainly becoming the icy, crummy matrix of what he used to be, even if this year is indeed the beginning of the end, it's coming four years and 600 (!) games after I - and the Red Sox organization - expected.

5 comments:

The GM said...

Fun fact: Johnny Damon has played exactly 600 games in the last four years including playoff games. This amounts to 38.3% of the duration of JD Drew's regular season career.

Anonymous said...

Great post GM. I agree with pretty much everything you say, and I'd add that I absolutely loved having Damon in New York for 4 years, and wish it was for a few years longer. He was talented, he played hard, he was tough, and he was great in the clubhouse. He was a big part of transforming the yankees from talented and majority unwilling to do the dirty work to both talented and willing to do the dirty work. He did this with both his play on the field and personality in the clubhouse, both of which you reference. I always got the sense that Jeter, Posada, and Rivera were THRILLED when this guy came aboard, because they were becoming the minority as guys with talent also willing to do the dirty work to win. Damon was like them, and his signing represented a shift towards making those type of guys (CC, Swisher, Martin, etc. Etc.) The majority instead of the minority. I felt damon at 2/52 was worth it. Not only did he end up being worth 4/52 he signed, I would have been willing to pay him more than that for the production he provided. He was just that good, worth every penny.

One thing I disagree with you on is that he isn't Rowand or Youkilis. He absolutely is. No, he doesn't break like them. That is accurate. But that doesn't mean he isn't playing as hard as them. The reasons they break and he doesn't are unknown. Some guys are more injury prone, some guys can find a way to play through more, sometimes injuries are bad luck flukes, etc. But Johnny Damnon played as hard as I've ever seen anyone play shy of Paul O'Neil. He's on that Derek Jeter level. I've also seen few players not just willing to play, but figuring out a way to play effeftively when banged up more than Damon. There were times I'd watch him hobbling around and have no idea how he was on the field. 2 innings later he'd wrap a line drive into the right field corner and go crashing into second on a bang bang play for a double.

He was a throw back to a different era in a lot of ways. He scrapped for every last bit, and that's why he's still experiencing the success he is today. Johnny Damon was an absolute pleasure for 4 years in New York, and a somewhat overshadowed/unsung hero of the 2009 Championship. He posted huge numbers and had some MASSIVE hits in the ALCS/World Series.

PF

Anonymous said...

DV

No matter how annoying it was to see a key member of the 2004 Red Sox play for the Yankees, I never really hated the guy because of his Game 7 in the 2004 ALCS. That grand slam allowed every Sox fan to breathe easily. It was the first time I remember really believing that they were going to beat the Yankees.

But probably the best point about Johnny Damon is the one that you made--he is a great clubhouse guy. No matter how much Sox fans want to hate him, you always hear what a great teammate he is. And there IS value in that. As we've discussed on many, many occasions, sabermetics doesn't account for everything. The 2011 Red Sox could have used some of those intangibles that so many GM's thumb their noses at these days. And Johnny Damon was the type of person who could have provided them.

--the Gunn

Ross Kaplan said...

Gunn, our feelings on Damon mirror each other exactly. Just as you loved him for his 2004 performance, I despised him for that very same reason, but his performance in the Pinstripes forced me to appreciate him. And it wasn't just for being an integral part of the 2009 championship win team. I will always remember him being the kind of player who you wanted on your team.

the gm on vacation said...

Pat,

In the spirit of a popular Boston radio show host, the compete level for Rowand and Youkilis is 11. I'm okay with one's compete level being 10. Damon's at compete level 10.

Gunn and Tank (never realized before that you guys are both named after artillery),

As you both know, the way he has conducted himself since the Red Sox lost Game 3 of the 2005 ALCS has soured me on Damon, probably irrevocably because, as has been evidenced here, I don't get over stuff. I'm not going to put too much stock into people saying to the media that so-and-so is a great clubhouse guy because people used to say that crap about the phony captain of the Red Sox. Damon, however, has his case backed up by results. Everything he touches turns to gold. Again, good for him.