May 092010

Over the offseason the Yankees swapped out Melky Cabrera, Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui for Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Nick Johnson.  As a fan of the move, I looked forward to seeing Granderson’s bat in Yankee Stadium, Gardner’s speed and defense in a lineup dominated by heavy hitters, and watching Nick Johnson get on base 38% of the time ahead of two of the best hitters in baseball.  Granderson and Johnson are now both on the disabled list, and while Granderson’s injury was more of the fluke kind, Johnson’s may be similar to a past wrist injury that caused him to miss significant time in 2008. This may have some fans pining for the days of Matsui and Damon, and so while we wait for tonight’s nightcap against Boston, I thought it would be interesting to check in on Damon and Matsui a month into the year, especially as the Yankees prepare to go to Detroit tomorrow to face the Tigers.

Through 30 games, Johnny Damon is hitting .302/.409/.443 with a .384 wOBA.  While he is sporting an unusually high BABIP of .356, he has also increased his walk rate from his 2009 level of 11.3% to 15%.  Unfortunately for Damon, he isn’t finding the same power stroke that he had in 2009 and his ISO has dropped from .209 to .142.  Some might be quick to attribute this decline in power to his move from Yankee Stadium to Comerica Park, but Damon is actually hitting for more power at home than on the road, with a line of .302/.392/.512 at home in 18 games and line of .302/.421/.397 on the road.  Despite the decent tripleslash though, Damon has only hit one home run.  We are only a month into the year, and so we should be slow to draw any conclusions about how Damon will fare in 2010.  If his walk rate drops back to career norms, then he may struggle to have an OPS above .800.  Despite that, Damon has gotten off to a very good start and the Tigers have to be pleased.

Hideki Matsui hasn’t fared so well in Los Angeles.  In 32 games, he is only hitting .237/.311/.390 with 4 home runs and 14 RBIs. While Matsui has never been an on-base machine, his walk rate has dropped in 2010 to a career low of 9.8%, down from his career average of 10.9% and his 2009 mark of 21.2%.  At the same time, Matsui is striking out more than ever.  His K rate in 2010 is 21.2%, 5% higher than his 2009 campaign.  His ISO has dropped to .153, down from his career mark of .189.  Matsui’s BABIP is .267, 40 points off his career average.  Last year’s BABIP was .273, and wasn’t accompanied by a decrease in any important peripheral like LD%.  The same holds true for this year, as his LD% is almost identical to his career average.  Matsui should see some of those line drives fall in for hits, but he’ll need to cut down on the strikeouts and take some walks if he wants to see a true improvement.  I will also note that the Angels’ decision to let Matsui play the field has resulted, thus far, in a UZR of -1.2.  Small samples size warnings apply here, obviously, but I can’t imagine the Matsui-in-LF experiment will result in anything good.

At the end of the day, I fall in the “judge the process, not the result” camp, and so I still support Cashman’s decision to let Damon and Matsui walk and bring in Granderson and Johnson because I trusted the reasoning behind it.  I’m hopeful that Granderson and Johnson will be able to get healthy and return as solid contributors.  I have nothing but respect for Hideki and Johnny, though.  They were solid contributors to our team last year and helped us win a title, and so I’ll be rooting for them all year long. Except when they’re playing us.

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