Monday, June 9, 2014

Vada Damon or Johnny Pinson?

Pinson (left) pictured with Reds teammates Gus Bell and Frank Robinson
While researching an upcoming post about Vada Pinson's Hall of Fame case, I was astonished to discover how much his career resembled Johnny Damon's. They compiled remarkably similar numbers in their major league careers, both of which lasted 18 seasons:

Pinson:  2,469 G, 9,645 AB, 2,757 H, 485 2B, 127 3B, 256 HR, 1,169 RBI, 4,264 TB, 54.1 bWAR
Damon: 2,490 G, 9,736 AB, 2,769 H, 522 2B, 109 3B, 235 HR, 1,139 RBI, 4,214 TB, 56 bWAR

Then there are their batting lines, which mirror each other almost perfectly. Pinson batted .286/.327/.442, good for a .769 OPS and 111 OPS+. Damon batted .284/.352/.433, compiling a .785 OPS and 104 OPS+. Pinson was worth 54.7 oWAR, less than one win behind Damon's 55.4 oWAR. FanGraphs also has their career offensive values nearly even, with scores of 144.4 for Pinson and 131.7 for Damon.

Here are some more similarities:
  • Both were talented all-around centerfielders who threw lefthanded and batted from the left side.
  • Both wore uniforms that were red and white. They also donned Pinstripes. 
  • Both spent time with the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals. They also played for an American League team based in California; Pinson with the Angels and Damon with the A's.
  • Both played partial seasons in their rookie years, then became regulars in their second seasons.
  • Both were exceptionally durable. Damon played at least 140 games in 16 straight seasons, while Pinson eclipsed 130 in 14 consecutive seasons.
  • Both had a dozen seasons with double digit home run totals, topping out at 24. Though they had good power, they were destined to be overshadowed by slugging teammates such as Frank Robinson, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Alex Rodriguez.
  • Both had one season with more than 40 doubles.
  • Both were fast runners and great basestealers, with Damon swiping over 400 and Pinson exceeding 300. Damon had 10 seasons with at least 20 steals, Pinson had nine. Pinson was caught 122 times to Damon's 103.
  • Neither walked all that much, and so neither one attained an OBP higher than .390 in any season.
  • Pinson was punked 54 times, Damon was hit by 50 pitches. 
  • Damon dropped 57 sacrifice hits, Pinson laid down 52. Pinson had 78 sacrifice flies, Damon had 71.
  • Both players led the major leagues in runs one time each; Pinson with 131 in 1959 and Damon with 136 in 2000 (narrowly beating out Alex Rodriguez's 134). Since both spent the bulk of their careers batting at or near the top of the order, they scored lots of runs (1,365 for Pinson, 1,668 for Damon).
  • Pinson drew MVP votes five times, Damon four. 
  • Damon batted better than .300 five times, Pinson four.
  • Pinson had an OPS+ over 100 12 times, Damon did so 11 times.
  • Both were fine defenders in their early years but ultimately had negative defensive value over the course of their careers.
  • Neither one ever struck out 100 times in any season, but both had several close calls (three seasons with 90+ K's apiece). Pinson fanned 1,196 times, whereas Damon whiffed 1,257 times.
Not surprisingly, Damon rates as Pinson's second-most similar player (after Steve Finley), and Pinson is Damon's closest comp. In my mind Pinson's power edge made him a better player at their respective peaks, and even though Damon did it longer I'd still take Pinson by a nose. Pinson at his best was comparable to Andrew McCutchen or Roberto Clemente: a legit MVP candidate and hit third in Cincinatti's loaded lineup. In his prime he was better than Damon, who was more of a complementary player and table setter. 

But to Damon's credit, few players have been as steady or consistently good as he was, and that counts for something too.
Damon won a World Series and established his career high in home runs with NY

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