Monday, January 11, 2010

Dissecting The DH Signings

So far this offseason, free-swinging goat roaster Vladimir Guerrero, World Series Hero and spousal sketch artist Hideki Matsui, and injury-prone on-base messiah Nick Johnson have all been signed as DHs for elite offensive teams.

According to the Dallas News Vlad's deal is for $5M with incentives making comparable to the $5.5M deal Johnson got from the Yankees and the $6M one Matsui received from the Angels. Johnson's contract includes bonuses for every 25 plate appearances over 400 and mutual option or buyout for 2011, giving it the largest possible value of the three. But for this coming year, the values are likely to be quite similar.

While Johnson is more than 5 years younger than either Matsui or Guerrero, he carries similar risk of injury, having spent far more than his fair share of time on the DL over the course of his career. Johnson may be capable of playing first base and Matsui may want to play the outfield, but all three figure to DH almost exclusively in 2010.

Offensively, each has a unique profile. By getting on base at a .400 clip, Johnson offers something much different than either of the other two aging sluggers, but when healthy each provides similar overall value to a lineup.

The biggest difference between Matsui and Guerrero is that Matsui is coming off one of the best years of his career (not to mention the World Series MVP), while Vlad just completed one of his worst, both in terms of games played and at bat for at bat production. Johnson, meanwhile, came to the plate 574 times, the second most in his career and got on base quite often, but his slugging percentage was the lowest of the three.

However, the Yankees would gladly trade points in SLG for OBP considering he's going to be hitting in front of Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. Matsui and Guerrero are going to hit more towards the middle of the order and their higher slugging percentages will be more useful in driving in runs. In terms of a fit for the line up, it seems that Johnson and the Yankees are a perfect match.

So between Matsui and Guerrero, who figures to provide more value for their team next year?

The chart below shows Vlad's numbers since he came to Anaheim back in 2004 (darker numbers are better).

While it hasn't been an even decline across the board, it's easy to see that he's fallen a long way in every category listed above in the last six years. Conversely, Matsui's 2009 line (.274/.367/.509) was very similar to his career marks (.292/.370/.482) with the exception of his batting average being slightly lower and his slugging percentage slightly higher. While Guerrero is still (supposedly) younger than Matsui and had a higher, longer career peak, it seems as though Vlad is further into his decline phase.

Plate discipline has a way insulating a batter from the effects of aging and that is one category Matsui owns Vlad in. Vlad walked in only 4.7% of his plate appearances last year, the lowest of his career, while Matsui walked in 12.3%, sightly above his career average.

Was luck a factor? Matsui had a BABIP of .275, which was .23 lower than his career mark. Guerrero was down slightly to .314 from his mean of .322. Vlad hit more fly balls in 2009 than in previous years, particularly infield fly balls. His line drive percentage was actually up last year, but he saw a dive in his HR/FB rate (-4.6%). Matsui had the same underlying factors ( increases in FB, IFFB, LD%), but his HR/FB rate nearly doubled to 17.9%. You can chalk some of the difference up to the New Yankee Stadium, but it appears he was fortunate with his results as well.

In 2010, Matsui will be moving to a less favorable hitter's park while Vlad will be moving to a more favorable one. As Jack Moore points out over at FanGraphs today, Vlad has excellent numbers at the Ballpark in Arlington, but "the data from the last few years in Anaheim far outweighs the fact that he’s killed the Rangers at home over the last six."

If I were a GM, I would be worried about Vlad's slow downward spiral over the past couple of years. While he had a higher, more sustained peak than Matsui, he seems to be more susceptible to the aging process than Godzilla. His bat speed has already started to leave him and the results have not been good. This isn't to say that Matsui is a sure bet either with his balky knees and all, but his patient approach at the plate and solid production last year seem to make him a better value in 2010.


  1. it'll be interesting to see how both perform in 2010!

  2. how do we replace the 60 homers from Matsui and Daymon?

  3. It's not quite 60; the two combined for 52 HRs last year. And it's not a sure thing yet that Johnny Damon isn't coming back, though it is highly unlikely.

    That said, it's not just HRs that need replacing, it's all around production - both offensive and defensive. And Granderson and Johnson figure to be about the same, give or take a few runs, as Damon and Matsui. Granderson was a 30 HR guy in cavernous Comerica Park; I'd imagine he can at least repilcate that at Yankee Stadium.

    Johnson will get on base more often from the #2 spot in the line up than Damon did - this will lead to more run scoring opportunities. Plus, the combination of being a left handed hitter in YS and being further removed from wrist surgery could result in Johnson putting up a 20 HR season.

    Defensively, an OF of Gardner and Granderson will likely prevent far more runs than last year's Damon/Melky combination. Overall, I'm not very concerned about any dropoff from replacing Matsui and Damon with Granderson and Johnson.

  4. Good analysis. I don't think enough people consider lineup construction when evaluating who to sign.

  5. To continue on Ross' point, the Yanks acquisitions have changed production by position rather than overall production. They signed Curtis for CF. Curtis will be more productive than Melky, who for all intesive purposes, was their starting CF most of last year. Seeing as though the Melk-man should be a rotational guy rather than a starter, it should be quite the upgrade to have an all-star. Matsui has had more pop in his bat historically than Johnson (especially given the injuries). However, the OBS for Johnson is outstanding and fits well for the offensive needs of the Yanks. Overall, I'd say that swap is a wash. That really leaves Damon's replacement Gardiner. Damon is a superiod hitter to Gardiner (especially in the Yank park), but Gardiner's UZR rating (albeit it is a small sample size) is so far beyond Damon, it might not matter that he bats in the 9 hole at a .265. He'll give us great defense and 30 SB a year. I say take your chances and save the money for Crawford's free agency bidding wars.

  6. One other thing to consider with Vlad's production in was all against Texas teams with pretty weak pitching staffs. I would say that the pitcher on the mound has more to do with a hitter's production than the building they are in. Not sure where to find the info, but I would guess that Vlad had similarly obscene numbers against Texas when the games were played in Anaheim.

  7. Damon's speed over Johnson is the kicker hitting out of the #2 spot. Johnson's too fat to run and the GIDP numbers for Tex and Arod will spike.

  8. Dear Santa,

    Christmas 2010 wish list:

    Crawford (LF)
    Dunn (DH...emergency LF/1B)

  9. I'm trying to figure out if the misguided, pro-Damon, anonymous comment above was placed by Scott Boras directly or by Boras-lackey Jon Heyman?

    You know why else Teix and A-Rod may ground into more double plays this year? Because Nick Johnson's OBP last season was 61 points better than Johnny Damon's. Because Johnny Damon's career high OBP (from ten years ago) is 20 points lower than Nick Johnson's career average OBP. Because Johnny Damon's career high OBP is 26 points lower than Nick Johnson's single lowest OBP over the past five seasons.

    There are going to be far, far more opportunities for Tex and A-Rod to hit a two ball because there's going to be more runners on base when they come up. And that's a good thing because runners on lead to runs scored.

    If you're going to be concerned about DPs, worry about how many Johnson will hit into relative to Damon. Last year Johnson had 15 even though he didn't have a high OBP guy like Jeter in front of him. Damon had only 9, despite having a high OBP guy like Jeter in front of him. That might be a concern for 2010, but not nearly enough to outweigh the benefit of anywhere from a 40 to 60 point gain in OBP.

  10. I think Damon's baserunning is over-played. Yes that was a great double steal in the series. But while Johnny has great straightline speed he doesn't have great instincts and made some bonehead plays.
    I don't think Johnsonis automatically going to be given the two spot though. We point to Granderson's poor OBP as a failingbut he took plenty of walks. If he can raise his BA from the lackluster .249 of last year (which hitting with Jeter in front and Tex and A-Rod behind should help). He could have a BA and OBP almost identical to Damon's 09 numbers while giving improved power, baserunning and fielding.

  11. Dear Anonymous,

    While Johnson is slower than Damon, the Yankees upgraded team speed overall...Granderson is certainly faster than Matsui and Gardner is faster than Melky.

    Johnson's lack of speed would cause him to hit into DPs much more than it would affect the guys behind him. Last year, Damon hit into 9 DPs to Johnson's 15, for a total of 6 additional outs.

    However, Johnson's .061 advantage in OBP over Damon last season (.426 to .365)should more than compensate for any extra DPs caused by his lesser speed. Comparing their # of Plate Appearances to OBP would indicate that Damon made about 397 outs in 626 PAs, while Johnson made about 329 out in 574 PA. So Damon made about 68 more outs than Nick. Conversely, Damon had 50 more PAsthan Johnson, but Johnson still had 16 more PAs than Damon that DIDN'T result in outs.

    Sounds like a fair trade for a few extra DPs.

  12. How are we going to replace 52 Hrs? Easily Granderson is going to hit most likely 30-35. And did we forget that Arod only hit 30 last year. He's more than capable to hit between 40-50 next year. Johnson if heathly will hit 20. The offseason moves have made us younger, more talented, faster, and only really taking away bad knees and a bad throwing arm.

  13. i think the yanks should have stuck with damon. sure his on base percentage was lower than johnsons but he saved the yankees when in tight spots many times in the 2009 season. can nick johnson do that???