Monday, June 20, 2011

Johnny Damon, Milestones, and the Hall of Fame

As you may have heard, last week Johnny Damon collected his 500th double. In doing so, he became just the 11th player all-time to compile 500 doubles, 100 triples, 200 homers, and 2,500 hits, joining George Brett, Lou Gehrig, Goose Goslin, Rogers Hornsby, Willie Mays, Paul Molitor, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth, Al Simmons and Robin Yount. Those other 10 players are in the Hall of Fame, so there have been quite a few articles about how joining this group enhances Damon's Hall of Fame candidacy. What it really means is that Damon is the worst player all time with 500 doubles, 100 triples, 200 homers, and 2,500 hits. By a pretty good margin.

That shouldn't be taken as an insult, of course. None of the players on that list are of the "borderline" Hall of Fame variety. All of them were fantastic, all are among the greatest of all time. What makes this statistic sort of fluky is the fact that, on their own, none of these milestones are especially impressive. Ok, maybe that's not fair - all of them are extremely impressive in the grand scheme of baseball history. None of them, though, put you into the top 50 of all time in their category.

Furthermore, I feel very comfortable calling Damon the "worst" of these players, since he ranks 11 out of 11 in all four categories.


So, I suppose the analysis is that, while previously, only elite players had passed the determined threshold in all of the categories, Damon is the first player of his type to do so - a good player with a well rounded offensive game that was able to contribute in a variety of ways but was historically dominant in none.

To further illustrate the point, I've ranked each 11 player by what percentage they surpassed each mil

H% overHR% over2B% over3B% overTOTAL

This is, of course, a very crude way of calculating greatness. First of all it favors the home run hitters - four players on here more than doubled the 200 HR milestone, while nobody comes close to doubling Damon's total in another category. In general, taking a random milestone and finding out how much a player surpassed it by is going to favor the players who surpassed said milestone by a very significant margin. My counterargument to that is it's fairly crude analysis to consider Damon among these greats because he passed the same milestones. Damon is only more than 6% beyond one of these milestones. Every other players is at least 30% above in one of the categories with the exception of Robin Yount - who is 15% above in all four, and more than 25% higher in three of the four.

Yount, it seems, is the closest thing to a comparable player to Damon, in that he also didn't dominate any one way. He did, however, remain very productive well into his 30's, surpassing all of them significantly, getting to 3142 hits, 251 HR, 583 2B and 126 3B. So I think it's fair to consider Damon a poor man's Robin Yount, which is pretty darn good.

If Damon gets to 3000 hits, my guess is that he'll get to the Hall of Fame. He's never been one of the dominant players in the game, but he has been a very good player for a long time, and, at 350 hits away from 3000 with zero defensive value left, he's going to have to continue to be a useful hitter through 2013 to have a shot. While there are better players not in the Hall - Tim Raines specifically comes to mind - Damon would be far from the worst player to gain enshrinement.

As it is, even if he finishes short of 3000 hits and the Hall, being remembered as a lesser-value Robin Yount who played a crucial role on two World Series champions is a legacy I think most players would be happy with.

Credit: Table made using TABLEIZER as always.


Caleb said...

Hi, I found this post because I was watching the Rays vs. Red Sox and they posted a graphic about Damon being 1 of 11 players having accomplished this feat. I was going to write an article but you wrote just about the same thing I would have. Good job and I agree with all of your points.

James Dunne said...

Glad you enjoyed the post. I was actually listening to most of the game on the radio - what was the general commentary on TV regarding Damon? Did they give the simple "he's in a group with 10 Hall of Famers, ergo he is also a Hall of Famer" analysis or were they a bit more reasoned in their appraisal? A couple weeks back. McDonogh and Kurkjian were discussing it on a Monday night game, they they seemed to agree that it's an impressive achievement but not HOF worthy on its own.

Checked out your NL Central blog, good stuff indeed - I will be sure to follow.

Caleb said...

I unfortunately can't say about the commentary because the game was on mute. I just saw the graphic and assumed they were implying that Damon is a Hall of Famer and thought "dear god no."