Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Johnson and Granderson Versus Matsui and Damon

In 2009 the Yankees benefitted from nearly miraculously productive seasons from Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon. Matsui in particular had detoriated to the point where if somebody had picked him for World Series MVP back in March, they would have been laughed at. Coming off a major surgery expectations for the longtime Yankee were very low. Damon was also seen as a broken down former centerfielder who was now a liability in the field.

In reality, the two were huge bats for the Yanks. Although Damon's defense continued to fall apart, he had the best offensive year of his career and hit homerun after homerun into the right field seats. Matsui surprised everybody with his .509 SLG% and was a much needed power threat in the middle of the lineup. Altogether the two combined for 52 home runs and 172 RBI's. They were worth 47.4 offensive runs and a 5.4 WAR if you prefer more sophisticated stats. That's a lot of offense no matter how you look at it.

In the aftermath of the Nick Johnson signing and the Curtis Granderson trade their were a lot of people claiming that the chances of those two replicating the 2009 performances of Damon and Matsui were slim. My intial reaction to this claim was to note that the chances of Damon and Matsui replicating their 2009 performances were ever lower. However, it ocurred to me to wonder whether or not this claim was true and I don't think it is at all.

First a look at Damon and Granderson. Although Granderson is not directly replacing Damon in left field, he is the guy that ultimately made Damon expendable by allowing Gardner to slide over to left. Over the past three years their average offensive numbers are pretty close with Damon providing the more consistent number. Granderson has ranged from a .395 wOBA. I would say his true talent level is probably around what he did in 2008. Damon's 2009 was a pretty good year for him. He put up a line of .282/.365/.489 with a .376 wOBA. Offensively, it wouldn't really be a surprise if Granderson pulled off a season like that, after all he did essentially that in 2008 and was worlds better in 2007. Besides that, Granderson will now have the benefit of that short porch in right that Damon used so well to his advantage in '09. Granderson is coming off of the worst year of his career though and I think its fair to call them a wash in this area.

What really makes the difference between Damon and Granderson is their defense. Granderson contributed 14.2 runs to his team on defense in 2007, -8.9 in 2008, and 1.6 in 2009. Not spectacular but all signs indicate that he plays a solid centerfield. On the other hand, Damon is a major liability in the field. His defensive value has declined steadily from contributing 4.8 runs in the field in 2007, to costing the Yanks 1.1 in 2008 and 9.2 in 2009. He's gone from a solid centerfielder to a leftfielder who should really be DH'ing at this point. Its not even close, Granderson has a huge edge defensively that will push him over the top. Again, the age factor comes into play and its pretty safe to say that Damon's range will probably decline even further in 2010.

Nick Johnson should be directly replacing Hideki Matsui in the DH hole. However, this comparison is quite a s straightforward. I think its pretty easy to say that Johnson is a better hitter than Matsui. Nick doesn't have quite as much power as Matsui and won't fit into his old #5 spot in the lineup. However, he's an on base machine. To pull out the stats is almost meaningless as he barely played in 2007 or 2008. However, in 2009 he put up a line of .291/.426/.405 while playing hurt. That all adds up to a wOBA of .373. Matsui did manage to match it though. His line was .274/.367/.509 with a wOBA of .378. If healthy, Johnson likely could have topped that though. The big question is will the DH spot and regular days off keep Johnson healthy, much the same way it did for Matsui last year.

Over at they have Johnson and Granderson projected for a combined 5.8 WAR in 2010. Its an admittedly unscientific projection made by the fans. However, its worth a glance at least. Matsui and Damon combined for a 5.4 WAR. A lot depends on Nick Johnson staying healthy but the idea of the two new Yankees replacing the production of Damon and Matsui isn't nearly as ridiculous as some of you may think.

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