One of the most controversial moves Brian Cashman made this off season was the decision to let Johnny Damon go, and the trade for Curtis Granderson was viewed at the time as being a huge dagger in the hearts of fans hoping to bring Johnny back. Since then Curtis and Johnny have been forever linked, and Grandy’s sub-par offensive season has some fans and columnists declaring the move a bust. So I’d like to delve into this and see what the facts really are.
First, the Damon and Granderson moves were not as interconnected as they’re made out to be. Curtis was acquired to play Centerfield, Johnny was a LF/DH with the Yanks in 2009. If you’re going looking at Cashman’s offseason moves position by position, you should compare the production of Curtis Granderson vs Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner vs Johnny Damon. But I know, that ruins all the fun. Nobody’s pining to bring Melky back.
Next, is Damon really having such a better year than Granderson? Not when you look at their entire game. At first blush, you could look at Johnny’s .278/.365/.422 triple slash against Granderson’s .239/.306/.415 line and conclude Johnny’s been much better this year. But factoring in Johnny’s fielding and adding Curtis’ plus glove at a premium position, the gap narrows substantially. Overall, Johnny’s been a 1.7 WAR player this season and Curtis has been a 1.6 WAR . Considering that Curtis missed a month, that’s a wash.
I don’t mean to suggest that I’m not concerned with what I’ve seen out of Granderson this season. His past four year OPS+ numbers have declined steadily (135, 123, 100 and 97) and he has never shown the kind of plate discipline (148 K/65 BB per 162) that you’d like to see throughout his career. There’s a good chance that he simply is who he is, and that first big year in Detroit will never be repeated. But his struggles against Lefties may not matter and could be something that is getting too much focus from both fans and the Yanks. Here’s his annual platoon split numbers:
vs RHP .337/.393/.621
vs LHP .160/.225/.269
vs RHP .288/.383/.517
vs LHP .259/.310/.429
vs RHP .275/.358/.539
vs LHP .183/.245/.239
vs RHP .258/.338/.490
vs LHP .206/.243/.275
2007 was by far his best season, and it’s the year he suffered the widest gap in his platoon split. Maybe the league has just caught up with him as a Righty hitter, or maybe he’s gotten away from his strengths trying to narrow the gap. He’s always been a dead red fastball hitter, with good power to both gaps. That should be a good fit for Yankee stadium. The Yanks may want to sit him against the tough lefty in a playoff game, but could be better served learning to live with his platoon splits day in and day out.
We should put all of these numbers in some context as well. Offense is down all across Baseball this year. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are both having among the worst seasons of their career and Jorge Posada is so banged up that Francisco Cervelli is getting most of the starts at Catcher. Despite this, the Yanks are leading all of Baseball in Runs Scored and OPS+ with 115.
Finally, you can’t run a Baseball team and be nostalgic. Even when you make mistakes, your bias as a GM has to be toward getting younger and more athletic. Rob Neyer summed this up nicely the other day:
I suppose there’s a larger point to be made here, about spending real money on non-elite older players. I’ll bet you can find columns last winter complaining that the Yankees should have kept Matsui and Johnny Damon, because by golly they were still pretty good hitters and what’s a few more million dollars to the Yankees, anyway?
It was never about the money. It was about getting younger and (perhaps) better. Granted, Damon’s and Matsui’s replacements — Curtis Granderson and Nick Johnson — haven’t exactly hit their projections, and the Yankees might have won about as many games if they had kept the older guys. But the get-younger impulse will serve the organization well in coming years.
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