by Harold Friend
There have been many outlandish claims made when comparing the relative merits of baseball players, but to conclude that Johnny Damon is in the same league as Derek Jeter is as graphic an example of specious reasoning as baseball fans have ever heard. The only way to accept the claim is to facetiously state that they are in the same league because they are both American Leaguers.
It Hurts Johnny Damon's Case
To give Johnny Damon a long-term contract borders on insanity. Comparing Johnny to Derek Jeter only weakens his position. Jeter is a more effective offensive player. The second greatest shortstop in baseball history (see Honus Wagner, Pittsburgh Pirates) had a better batting average and a better on base percentage, while Johnny hit more home runs and out slugged Jeter.
Comparing Offensive Production
This past season Derek Jeter batted .334, which was the third best average in the American League, behind Ichiro Suzuki's .352 and Joe Mauer's .365. Johnny Damon batted .282, which was 41st best in the league.
Johnny Damon hit 24 home runs, which was 32nd best in the league, while Derek Jeter hit 18 home runs, which was 50th best in the league.
Derek Jeter's .406 on base average was third best in the league. Johnny Damon finished 26th with a .365 on base average.
Johnny Damon finished 16th in slugging with a .489 mark. Derek Jeter finished 34th in slugging with a .465 average.
Shortstops and Outfielders
It is much more difficult to find a great or even a good offensive shortstop than it is to find a great or good offensive outfielder.
Among major league shortstops, only Hanley Ramirez, who batted .342, out hit Derek Jeter.
Among major league outfielders, almost 50 had a better batting average than Johnny Damon.
Among shortstops, only National Leaguers Troy Tulowitzski (32), Hanley Ramirez (24), and Jimmy Rollins ( 21) hit more home runs than Derek Jeter.
Sixteen major league outfielders topped Damon's 24 home runs.
Hanley Ramirez (.410) was the only shortstop with a better on base percentage than Derek Jeter.
More than 30 outfielders had a better on base average than Johnny Damon.
Troy Tulowitzki (.552), Hanley Ramirez (.543) and Jason Bartlett (.490) out-slugged Derek Jeter.
More than 30 outfielders had a higher slugging average than Johnny Damon.
Jeter and Damon Defensively
Neither Jeter nor Damon is a great defensive player, but Jeter has won four gold gloves and is a steady defender who has good range to his right, with limited range to his left. In the glory days of the late 1990s, third baseman Scott Brosius often shaded to his left so Derek could play closer to second base.
The young Johnny Damon used to be a fine center fielder with great range and an average arm, but Johnny has bulked up as he aged, and it is with great trepidation that manager Joe Girardi sends him to left field.
There were outfielders whose combination of offensive and defensive skills made them more valuable than even a shortstop of Derek Jeter's skills, but Johnny Damon is not named Willie Mays.