What If Johnny Damon Were Derek Jeter

An article by posted on July 11, 2011

Earlier today, our very own Annie Savoy posted a piece on Derek Jeter after he reached a significant milestone yesterday.  While we’re on the topic of Derek Jeter, I felt the need to chime in on the matter.  Therefore…

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog on the Mets to bring you this PSA (pretty solid argument).  In case you’re that guy in the Geico commercial who lives under a rock, let me announce to you that Derek Jeter collected his 3,000th hit yesterday.  He became the second player to reach that milestone by hitting a home run (Wade Boggs was the other) and the second player to collect five hits in the same game (after Craig Biggio accomplished the feat in 2007).

We’re not trying to diminish the fact that Jeter got to 3,000 hits. It’s a fantastic lifetime achievement and he deserves to be congratulated for it. But there’s another player who’s approaching the milestone that doesn’t get nearly the love and the accolades reserved for a player of Jeter’s stature. He’s a contemporary of Jeter and has career numbers that are very similar to the Yankee shortstop. So tell me something. Why doesn’t Johnny Damon get the respect bestowed upon Derek Jeter?

Whether on the Royals, A’s, Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers or Rays, Johnny Damon has been as consistent a player as they come.

Both Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon made their major league debuts during the 1995 season, with Jeter playing his first game for the Yankees on May 29 and Damon collecting his first at-bat for the Kansas City Royals on August 12. The following season (1996), both became everyday players on their respective teams.

Let’s go through their career numbers to compare the two players.

As of July 9, Derek Jeter has 3,003 hits, which include 481 doubles, 62 triples and 237 HR. Johnny Damon has 2,663 hits, racking up 502 doubles, 104 triples and 224 HR.

Derek Jeter has scored 1,727 runs and has driven in 1,159 runs. Johnny Damon has crossed the plate 1,606 times and has 1,088 RBI.

Jeter has also reached base via the walk 972 times, while Damon has drawn 955 bases on balls. However, Jeter has struck out 1,605 times during his career, while Damon has fanned on 1,182 occasions.

In addition, Jeter has stolen 331 bases in 419 attempts (79.0% success rate), while Damon has stolen 392 bases in 493 attempts (79.5% success rate).

Derek Jeter’s career batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage are .313/.383/.450, respectively, while Johnny Damon holds a career .287/.354/.436 mark in those categories.

Jeter has grounded into 241 double plays in his career, while Damon has been victimized by a twin killing only 91 times.

If you look at the individual regular season numbers, their careers are very similar, with Jeter leading Damon in some categories, Damon leading Jeter in other categories, and the two of them having almost identical numbers in several others. Now let’s dissect those same numbers a little differently over their entire careers.

Derek Jeter has scored 100+ runs in 13 different seasons. Johnny Damon has accomplished that feat 10 times, with two other seasons in which he scored 93 and 95 runs. In those two seasons (2007 and 2008), Damon missed 21 games (93 runs in 141 games) and 19 games (95 runs in 143 games).

Jeter has had eight seasons with at least 30 doubles. Damon has 11 such seasons, including nine consecutive years in which he compiled 30 or more doubles (1998-2006).

Derek Jeter has never reached double digits in triples in any season (he hit a career-high nine triples in 1999). Damon has hit at least 10 triples in a season three times, including a league-leading 11 three-base hits in 2002.

Both Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon have hit at least 20 HR in a season three times, and both have career highs of 24 HR in a single season, with Jeter accomplishing his high mark in home runs in 1999 and Damon hitting his career-high in 2006 and again in 2009.

Although Derek Jeter’s career-high in RBI is 102, while Damon has never driven in more than 94 runs in a single season, Jeter has surpassed the 80 RBI mark in a season only three times, while Damon has done it four times.

In the patience category, Jeter has walked as many as 60 times in a season eight times. Damon has 11 such seasons. On the opposite extreme, Jeter has struck out at least 99 times in a dozen different campaigns. Why is 99 such an important number? Because Johnny Damon has never struck out that many times in a single season. His career high in strikeouts in 98, accomplished in 2009 as Jeter’s teammate with the Yankees.

Johnny Damon beat ‘em, then he joined ‘em.

Speaking of teammates, let’s look at those four years (2006-2009) when Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon shared the same clubhouse in the Bronx. During that time, these were Derek Jeter’s numbers, followed by Johnny Damon’s stats:

Derek Jeter: .325 batting average, .394 on-base percentage, .453 slugging percentage, 415 runs scored, 130 doubles, 11 triples, 55 HR, 305 RBI, 90 SB, 249 BB, 377 K.

Johnny Damon: .285 batting average, .363 on-base percentage, .458 slugging percentage, 410 runs scored, 125 doubles, 15 triples, 77 HR, 296 RBI, 93 SB, 268 BB, 344 K.

Jeter had a favorable edge (insert Jeter has an “Edge” joke here) in batting average and on-base percentage while they were in the same batting order and had a few more runs scored (five), doubles (five) and RBI (nine) than Damon. However, Damon had more triples, home runs, stolen bases and walks than Jeter, while striking out 33 fewer times.

Before you say “so what?”, let it be known that during the four years used in the above comparison, Jeter played in 47 more games than Damon (613 for Derek, 576 for Johnny) and had nearly 300 more plate appearances (2,813 for Jeter, 2,525 for Damon), meaning that Damon would more than likely have had far batter cumulative numbers than Jeter during the time they were teammates, and would also have surpassed him in doubles, runs scored and RBI, the three categories Jeter had a slight edge in.

In the two years since they stopped being teammates, Damon has surpassed Jeter in almost every offensive category, including batting average, on-base percentage and doubles, as shown below:

Derek Jeter: .270 batting average, .337 on-base percentage, .365 slugging percentage, 153 runs scored, 43 doubles, four triples, 13 HR, 91 RBI, 26 SB, 87 BB, 139 K.

Johnny Damon: .274 batting average, .344 on-base percentage, .412 slugging percentage, 123 runs scored, 51 doubles, nine triples, 17 HR, 92 RBI, 18 SB, 89 BB, 134 K.

Once again, Jeter had more plate appearances in those two seasons (1,056) than Damon (968), so the categories in which Damon trailed Jeter might be much closer if Damon had had the opportunities that Jeter was afforded, and of course, the categories in which Damon already had the edge over Jeter would have a much greater difference.

Derek Jeter has five World Series rings to Johnny Damon’s two. Jeter has also been selected to 12 All-Star teams to Damon’s two and has finished in the top 20 in the MVP voting nine times to Damon’s four. Jeter has accomplished these awards and accolades despite having very similar career numbers to Johnny Damon.

So why doesn’t Johnny Damon get the respect he apparently deserves? Derek Jeter has played his entire career in a powerful Yankee lineup. Johnny Damon played from 1995-2000 in Kansas City and played one season in Oakland. Those teams were not exactly known for being offensive juggernauts. Johnny Damon was one of the few bright spots on those teams. (Carlos Beltran was another on those late ’90s Royals teams. See, I was able to mention a Mets player after all.)

Yet, despite his success in Kansas City and Oakland, he did not receive any attention at all from a baseball standpoint until he became a self-proclaimed “idiot” in Boston. It was in Boston that he became an All-Star for the first time and it was with Boston that he won his first championship, hitting .467 in the 2004 ALCS and smacking the game-changing grand slam against Derek Jeter’s Yankees in the seventh and deciding game.

Johnny Damon will always be a legend in Boston, even if they think he’s an idiot for becoming a Yankee.

Derek Jeter is a future Hall-of-Famer, of that there is no doubt. But when the topic of Johnny Damon’s Hall of Fame candidacy comes up, all you hear is crickets or an occasional snicker. I’m not saying Johnny Damon is a better player than Derek Jeter. Both players are special in their own way.

But if you consider their entire careers, it would be difficult to say that Johnny Damon pales in comparison to the Yankee captain. Derek Jeter has had fantastic career numbers, both in the regular season and the post-season. But Johnny Damon is not that far behind. By the time both players call it a career, their numbers will be almost identical across the board.

At his current pace, Johnny Damon has a chance to reach the 3,000 hit plateau by the time he’s 39 (in two seasons). Ordinarily, that warrants an automatic call to Cooperstown, yet hardly anyone would mention Johnny Damon and Hall of Fame in the same sentence.

Perhaps it’s time for the people who have showered their love and respect upon Derek Jeter to take a look at one of his contemporaries. Johnny Damon might not have played his entire career in New York as Jeter has, but he’s been as big a star as the Yankees’ brightest player since 1995. Whether you agree or disagree with me, it’s time to recognize the achievements of Johnny Damon. He’s certainly earned it.

About the Author ()

Ed Leyro was hatched in the Bronx, but spent most of his youth in Queens at Shea Stadium. Apparently, all that time spent at Mets games paid off as Ed met his wife (The Coop) for the first time at Citi Field during its inaugural season. Guess the 2009 season was good for something after all. In addition to his work at Mets Merized Online, Ed also owns, operates and is head janitor at Studious Metsimus, where he shares blogging duties with Joey Beartran. For those not in the know, Joey is a teddy bear dressed in a Mets hoodie. Clearly, Studious Metsimus is not your typical Mets blog.

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