Looks like the only thing left bringing DH/1B Nick Johnson back to New York is the dotting of the I’s. The $5.5 million price tag has left many wondering why the accident prone Johnson and not the gimpy-legged Matsui?
Nick Johnson has the potential to thrive hitting in the #2 spot behind Jeter, ahead of Teixeira and ARod. Sure, he’s not gonna run, but then again, Damon batted #2 in 2009 and stole only 12 bases. Was that because of Damon or because Girardi didn’t want to run himself out of an inning with the horses up behind Damon?
Johnson, assuming he can remain healthy, will be a nice fit for this team. He doesn’t have to play every game. Will he quickly adjust to playing only half the game, and after that, only 4-5 times a week instead of 6-7?
Like I said up top: I like Nick. I like what he could bring this team. I just don’t get why, if Cashman wanted a “pure” DH, he didn’t re-sign the one he had for the last seven years, the consummate professional, the one who is the reigning World Series MVP.
Jason and I tweeted back and forth a bit about this last night and our opinions are actually closer on the subject than they’re about to appear.
There’s a few X factors here that we are not aware of, the biggest being Matsui’s desire to play the outfield at least part time. The Los Angeles California Angels of Anaheim California rather unwisely think that they may be better off if Matsui could play the outfield a few days a week:
Matsui played all 142 of his games last season at designated hitter, and though Scioscia would prefer to rotate his other three outfielders — Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera — through the DH spot and give Matsui an occasional start in left field, he will not force the issue.
“It’s much more important for us to have him in the lineup swinging the bat every day rather than forcing him to play the outfield,” Scioscia said. “That being said, it would make us deeper if he could play the outfield two or three times a week.”
Some sources have said that “logic” was part of the reason Matsui jumped at the Angels offer. Brian Cashman may have been considering Matsui but, given the fact that Matsui never touched a glove in 2009, it was pretty apparent his only role would be that of designated hitter.
Given the Yankees needs and Matsui’s wants, the Yankees may not have been a match to re-sign Hideki at this stage.
Comparing Matsui and Nick Johnson head to head, we find these numbers:
And their career splits:
The big question mark with both players is health. The Yankees had to drain Matsui’s knees a few times last year even though he never played the field. Nick the Stick has been an injury magnet for most of his career, the zenith being a broken leg at the end of the 2006 season that forced him to sit out 2007.
If I were a gambling man, I’d have to bet on the guy who is five years younger when it comes to health risk. The Yankees have been closer to Matsui than anybody since he entered the majors and know more about the day to day pain and treatment his ailing legs needed. They obviously have some doubts about whether Matsui could sustain his 2009 performance for another season.
Likewise, Matsui broke 140+ games for only the second time in four years in 2009, most likely due to the fact that he wasn’t playing the field. The Yankees must hope that the same tactic as applied to Nick Johnson will improve his durability over the course of the season.
Looking at the numbers above, the big discrepancies between the two players lay in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Nick has always been an on-base machine. Matsui has put up good OBP numbers while slugging much better than Johnson.
Again, we look at these numbers through the health microscope. If Matsui does take a sharp decline in 2010, his power will go right along with it. Johnson is 31 this year and figures to have at least a couple of effective seasons left in him. Chances are, his OBP will maintain. His SLG has never been great and could see a boost from the new Yankee Stadium. If it stays where it is, the Yankees will still be happy to collect his walks.
Of the two players, then, Johnson is probably the lower risk. The five year age difference alone is a big sticking point, one that could lead Matsui to other health issues besides just his knees.
The question remains: where does Johnson fit on this team?
There has been a lot of talk about Johnson being the #2 hitter behind Jeter. That’s a possibility. His OBP certainly makes him a guy you would like hitting in from of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. That would push newly acquired Curtis Granderson toward the back of the lineup, possibly dropping into the two spot when Johnson isn’t playing. Chances are, the Yankees aren’t looking at Johnson to play 145 games this year as they want to get more rest for Jorge Posada and others while keeping their bats in the lineup.
The reaction to these moves, picking up Granderson and Johnson, has left some Yankee fans a little befuddled, thinking their team has taken a step backwards.
Well, I think the case can be made that Johnson proves a better risk for this season than Matsui and possibly shows a bit of upside if the new stadium helps his swing. What about the trade-off of Damon for Granderson?
Another chart, this one Damon and Grandersons last three years:
It’s worth noting that Granderson put up these numbers as a centerfielder with above average UZR numbers over three years while Damon posted average to bad UZR numbers in left field.*
* Damon’s 2007 and 2008 seasons showed positive UZR ratings in left but only covered a combined 119 games over the two seasons. His first full season in left, 2009, Damon posted a -9.2 UZR and -12.1 UZR/150.
With these two moves, the Yankees have improved their lineup but they’ve also improved their defense, a concept that has been lost in some of the talk. Last season, the Yankees didn’t feature the greatest outfield with Nick Swisher in right, Melky Cabrera in center, nad Johnny Damon in left. Melky and Swish are both adequate, but Damon was horrible. By shifting Melky and Gardner to left and depositing Granderson in center, their defense should benefit greatly which only adds to the upgrade in offense.
Everyone says this is the end of Johnny Damon in New York and that’s probably true. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Damon could still return under the right terms. I don’t understand speculation that Matt Holliday and Jason Bay are still possibilities and not Damon. I find Damon to be a much better risk at two years around $20 million than four years for Bay or possibly six for Holliday. Holliday is a very good player with very good defense, but his stats while playing at Coors Field were greatly inflated.
Here’s Holliday’s home and road splits during his tenure in Colorado:
Holliday’s road numbers steadily improved towards the end of his stay in Colorado, but look at that BAbip! That type of consistency goes a bit beyond luck and seems to indicate that Holliday hits the ball hard. Can that type of high BAbip continue? It has to this point but if it dropped anywhere close to .300, his numbers would take a steep hit. I don’t know that Holliday warrants the supposed six years he’s hoping to get.
Could the Yankees benefit from Matt Holliday? Of course they could. But right now, the Yankees have built a lineup that is probably better than last year’s while improving their outfield defense. That team scored 915 runs, took the AL East by 8 games and won the World Series. Adding Holliday is probably not necessary and a bit greedy.