Johnny Damon Is No Babe Ruth

The Rays' DH has joined an exclusive group, but maybe the group just is not exclusive enough.

In the Rays victory over the Florida Marlins on June 18th, Johnny Damon blooped a double into left field which pushed him into the following impressive chart:

Rk Player OPS+ 2B 3B HR H From To Age PA SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Babe Ruth 206 506 136 714 2873 1914 1935 19-40 10617 123 117 .342 .474 .690 1.164
2 Lou Gehrig 178 534 163 493 2721 1923 1939 20-36 9660 102 100 .340 .447 .632 1.080
3 Rogers Hornsby 175 541 169 301 2930 1915 1937 19-41 9475 135 64 .358 .434 .577 1.010
4 Stan Musial 159 725 177 475 3630 1941 1963 20-42 12712 78 31 .331 .417 .559 .976
5 Willie Mays 155 523 140 660 3283 1951 1973 20-42 12493 338 103 .302 .384 .557 .941
6 George Brett 135 665 137 317 3154 1973 1993 20-40 11624 201 97 .305 .369 .487 .857
7 Al Simmons 132 539 149 307 2927 1924 1944 22-42 9515 88 65 .334 .380 .535 .915
8 Goose Goslin 128 500 173 248 2735 1921 1938 20-37 9822 176 89 .316 .387 .500 .887
9 Paul Molitor 122 605 114 234 3319 1978 1998 21-41 12160 504 131 .306 .369 .448 .817
10 Robin Yount 115 583 126 251 3142 1974 1993 18-37 12249 271 105 .285 .342 .430 .772
11 Johnny Damon 105 500 102 223 2646 1995 2011 21-37 10342 392 101 .287 .354 .436 .790
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/20/2011.


All of the players listed here are in the Hall of Fame -- except, of course, the still active Johnny Damon. Only 11 players in the history of baseball (or at least since 1901) have accomplished what Damon did almost on accident last Saturday: 500 doubles, 100 triples, 200 homers, and 2500 hits.

The other 10 players above Damon on that list enjoy Hall of Fame busts in Cooperstown. This off-season, there was a fair amount of discussion circulating about whether or not Damon himself was Hall-bound. In general, most writers felt Damon's career was well above average, but not really Hall-worthy.

His latest feet, however, and the fact he is the only active player on that list, implies his chances grow greater with each passing day. The only problem is: Johnny Damon is still not spectacular. If he makes it into the Hall of Fame, it would be on the merit of his staying power, not his dominant abilities.

The above chart illustrates how disparate Damon is from the Hall Crowd. Sorted by OPS+ (on-base plus slugging plus), the chart puts Damon firmly in last place. OPS+ combines both elements of patience (the on-base part) and power (the slugging part) and then normalizes them according to the league.

For instance, the player nearest to Damon, Robin Yount, had an OPS+ of 115, meaning he was 15% above his average-hitting peers. Damon, for his career, has only been 5% above average. If he continues to hit as well as he has the last 5 years, though, that could reasonably increase to 7% or even 8%. It is very unlikely he would reach Yount's level though.

So only Yount really compares well to Damon. Yount stole far fewer bases than Damon, and Damon was much more efficient in his steals, but Yount's similarities to the Rays' DH look more like a knock on Yount than a feather in Damon's cap.

Consider the case of Babe Ruth, whose stats nearly break the chart. Playing through the end of the Dead Ball Era, Ruth dominated his peers, owning an OPS 106% higher than league average. The fact that Damon shares a chart with the great Ruth signifies the error in the chart: These milestones are completely arbitrary.

If we lop off just 15 doubles, suddenly Vada Pinson joins the chart. Pinson, the former Reds outfielder, had a fine career, but not a Hall of Fame one. If we slice off 25 triples (a not-insignificant amount of triples, mind you), then Al Olver and Dave Parker join the list -- two All-Stars, but not Hall of Famers.

The simple truth is this: Damon has had a great career, but has played in an era where doubles, triples, homers, and long careers are easier to find. If he wants a shot at the Hall, he needs to keep starting and producing for a few more years.

In the meantime, though, Damon's stats continue to push him ever closer to the coveted title of Best Rays DH Ever:

Rk Player WAR/pos From To Age G PA HR SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Jose Canseco 3.3 1999 2000 34-35 174 766 43 5 0 .272 .373 .525 .898
2 Johnny Damon 1.2 2011 2011 37-37 68 296 8 7 4 .274 .323 .423 .746
3 Cliff Floyd 0.7 2008 2008 35-35 80 284 11 1 0 .268 .349 .455 .804
4 Josh Phelps -0.1 2005 2005 27-27 47 177 5 0 0 .266 .328 .424 .752
5 Randall Simon -0.2 2004 2004 29-29 8 21 0 0 0 .118 .286 .118 .403
6 Manny Ramirez -0.3 2011 2011 39-39 5 17 0 0 0 .059 .059 .059 .118
7 Pat Burrell -1.2 2009 2010 32-33 146 572 16 2 0 .218 .311 .361 .672
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 6/20/2011.

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