This morning, an e-mail from Sports Illustrated landed in my inbox. This week’s issue of the magazine, appearing on newsstands tomorrow, features one of SI’s frequent player polls. The topic is worst outfield arms, and the winner is someone near and dear to our hearts.
Of the 380 MLB players polled, a whopping 54 percent of them fingered Johnny Damon as the one with the worst arm. Juan Pierre came in a distant second with 23 percent of the vote, and Coco Crisp was third with 11 percent. Players could not vote for their teammates.
Now, generally, I don’t give much credence to anything Major League Baseball players have to say. Being a baseball player doesn’t give anyone particularly insightful glimpses into most arguments. (See, for example, Goose Gossage and the Joba Chamberlain debate.) This time, however, the players’ views count. After all, if they think that Damon has the worst arm and know he’s in left field, they are far more apt to challenge Damon when facing the Yanks.
Beyond the players’ opinions, though, the numbers bear them out. Johnny Damon has been absolutely horrible in the outfield this year. Take a look at his defensive metrics. He has a negative arm factor, a negative range runs above average, a UZR of -9.6 and a UZR/150 of -15.6. Among all left fielders, he is fourth worst in fielding runs above average with a -9.6 in that category.
From the perspective of someone who watches every single game, though, we don’t need these numbers to tell us that Johnny Damon is bad at fielding. We can see him take poor routes to the ball. We can see him misplay or just flat-out miss easy fly balls. We can see him weakly heave the ball toward the infield. We can see Joe Girardi opt to use Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner in the outfield in the late innings of close games. All in all, Damon’s defense has quickly become a liability.
In one regard, it’s really too bad that Damon has gone from an above-average left fielder to a defensive problem. On the other side of the ball, he is having one of his finest seasons ever. His weighted runs above average is now at 17.3, and he projects to a 25.7 wRAA, good for second best in his career. Damon is hitting .294/.398/.589 at Yankee Stadium with 12 of his 16 home runs coming in the new park. Those numbers a masking a .263/.331/.431 road split which is somewhat more indicative of a decline.
So where does this leave us with regard to Johnny Damon? Well, earlier this year, Damon reiterated his desire to stay in the Bronx, and at the time, we figured a two-year deal might not be the worst thing the Yanks could do. Yet as we’ve seen, defense is important, and Damon’s hitting outside of the Bronx has been underwhelming at best. As the Yanks come to grips with Damon’s lack of left field defense, they may be better off letting him walk after this year. That terrible, horrible, no good, very bad defense can be another team’s problem.