Johnny Damon back to the A's?

By Jason Wojciechowski on January 25, 2010 at 11:50 AM

Buster Olney reported on Twitter that the A's are looking at Johnny Damon if they can't sign Ben Sheets. The snarky response is "what, is Damon learning a sinker?" But put that aside. With Jack Cust and Jake Fox already in the fold, Damon is presumably not being looked at for DH at-bats (or at least not more than occasional ones).

Damon's been a good hitter the last few years, putting up offensive numbers about 30% above the league average. He is 36, though, so you can't expect that to keep up forever. CHONE has him putting up 11.5 batting runs in 137 games. That seems fair. On the defensive side, this isn't the same Damon who patroled center field so effectively (a +14 rate per Total Zone) in 2001. His UZR/150 in LF over the last three years comes out to 2.9 runs above average, with his good range making up for his terrible arm, but the trend line isn't good: 37.4 in 271 innings in 2007; 11.6 in 659 innings in 2008; and -12.1 in 1117 innings last year. Still, Damon hasn't really amassed enough playing time in left to get a great read on what he's going to do next year, so let's just call it +5. Damon's non-stealing baserunning numbers (his base-stealing exploits are built into batting runs) are pretty solid, in the range of +1.5 a year the past three years, so if you throw that in, you're looking at a +18 player over the course of a season in left.

Coco Crisp, given his injury troubles, is only projected by CHONE to play 110 games, in which he'll put up a -3.5 batting line. I think that's reasonable, because if he plays more games than that, it's probably because he's healthy enough to hit better on a per-PA level, so let's call it -3.5 even for the full season. Crisp has been an absurdly good left fielder, to the tune of a career +23.5 UZR/150, but the last time he played in left was 2005. In center, he's been slightly above average when you aggregate the last three years. Let's say he'd be +10 in left. Crisp has added real value on the bases his last three years: +6 in 2007, +1 in 2008, and +1.5 in his abbreviated 2009. I'll give him +2 for 2010. So all told, I think we can call Crisp +8.5 in left.

Rajai Davis is problematic because of his age, his 2009 flukiness, and the question of what his performance would look like if he got to play every day, day in and day out, instead of the bounce-around role he's had for the last year and a half. Rajai is not a good hitter, despite his +10.4 last year. CHONE's projection of -3 (i.e. Coco Crisp Redux) looks right to me. CHONE is wierdly pessimistic about his defense, though. For his career (1723 innings), Rajai is +12 UZR/150 in center. CHONE regresses that all the way down to a -1 in 2010. I'd give Rajai a +8 in center, although I could be accused of optimism on that point. Rajai also added 5.5 runs on the bases last year, although being used as a pinch-runner might have had something to do with that. If he has to earn his own way on base, he won't get as many opportunities as he has in the past. So let's call him +3 over the course of the season. That adds up to a +8 center fielder.

Crisp and Davis basically having the same pre-position-adjustment value, and Damon's left-field value being ten runs more than Davis's in center, is a nice set of coincidences, since the LF->CF adjustment is said to be about ten runs. If you take these numbers as gospel, or at least as close enough for government work, then regardless of whether Crisp or Davis is in center or left, the upgrade from Crisp to Damon is on the order of one win, but a move from Davis to Damon is basically a wash. It's impossible to say how much money Damon would be getting in a potential deal with the A's, but any more than a handful of millions would probably be a waste.

Also, in case you're wondering, as much as Jack Cust struggled in 2009, his CHONE hitting projection is in the range of +20, about double Damon's, so signing Damon with the intention of making Cust a bench hitter seems counterproductive.