Sounds Like It’s Up To Johnny

The New York Post is reporting that the Yankees are "close" to signing Nick Johnson with a deal that could be announced Friday. 

ESPN is reporting a similar thing, but they note that "a single call from the outfielder (Damon) could change everything."

In other words, it sounds like we are in the final standoff between Damon and the Yankees.  Unless Damon blinks and lowers his reported demands (three years and $13 million per) The Yankees are going to sign Nick Johnson. So, let’s take a closer look at Johnson.

The Good: Amazing patience, average 4.36 pitches per plate appearance and got on base at a .426 clip.  He fits right into the Yankees’ lineup from that standpoint and makes it even more of a grind for opposing pitchers.  

The Bad: Fragile doesn’t even begin to describe him.  He played 147 games in 2006, missed all of 2007 and only got into 38 games in 2008.  Last year he played in 133 games, the second-highest figure of his career.  In addition, he is a firstbaseman by trade, something the Yankees have no real use for and he is a statue on the bases.  The Bill James Handbook keeps some great baserunning stats and consider Johnson.  

In 2009, he went from 1st-to-3rd 14 times in 40 chances (35%)  Second-to-home 9 of 23 (39%) First-to-Home 1 of 9 (18%).  In addition, he grounded into a double play 15 times out of 114 chances (13%)

Now compare those numbers to Matsui, a guy we saw lumbering around the bases in 2009.   Matsui was 6 for 22 (27%) 8 for 15 (53%) and 4 for 7 (57%) and he only hit into a double play 4 of 96 (4%) of the time. 

Yes, you have to take into account things like ballparks, third base coaches, outfield and game compositions, but at least ont he surface, it looks like Matsui might be faster and that is a scary possibility.

The Unknown:   What happened to Johnson’s power?  In 2006 he hit 23 home runs.  In 2009 he hit 8.  His doubles also fell from 46 to 24.  All this happened with him hitting almost the same percentage of line drives (23% to 22%) yet his BABIP rose to .338 from .320.  Will the new place reinflate that power?  Your guess is as good as mine.

This all comes down to the contract for me.  If the Yankees passed on Matsui at $6.5 million and turned around and gave the same deal to Johnson, I think they made a mistake.  If Johnson comes in lower than that with a lot of incentives then it’s a deal I can live with.