Randy Winn vs. Johnny Damon: Who Should the Yankees Have Signed?

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Randy Winn vs. Johnny Damon: Who Should the Yankees Have Signed?
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The reaction to the Yankees' signing of Randy Winn on Friday has been mainly negative. One fan even canceled his ticket plan because the Yankees "hav [sic] lost their focus of winning another championship this year."

This morning, Tommy Bennett of Baseball Prospectus tweeted the following:

"I wonder what percentage of Yankee fans realize that Randy Winn is just about as good a player as Johnny Damon. Over/under: 5%?"

At first, this just didn't sound that accurate to me. Considering how poor Winn's offense was in 2009, it's hard to believe that him and Damon project similarly in 2010. Factoring in defense, though, the two might be closer than you think.

The Fan's projections on FanGraphs are contrary to Bennett's assertion that fans don't realize the comparable value of the two players. Whether the fans realize it or not, as a whole they are projecting Winn to be equivalent to Johnny Damon in 2010.

While Winn is projected for 1.6 WAR and Damon is projected for 2.2, their playing time differs. If you go by WAR/600 PA, the fans are projecting Damon to be worth 0.6 runs more than Winn, which is extremely negligible. 

I'm pretty sure 99.9 percent of fans will tell you that Damon is better than Winn, but, when filling out their projections, they are calling the two players comparable. I think this is a very good utility of the Fan's projections, but it's always worth taking a look at multiple systems.

My projection system of choice is to use CHONE's offensive projections along with Jeff Zimmerman's UZR projections for defense. Using this method, there is a much bigger discrepancy:

screen_shot_2010-01-29_at_3.04.18_pm

That's a difference of around 14 runs or 1.4 wins, which is a substantial difference. However, I think that Damon's UZR projection is wildly optimistic. I don't claim to be any type of scout, but anyone watching Damon play the outfield last season saw an aging outfielder with declining range and a terrible arm. 

I think projecting Damon for minus-5 defensive runs is a better baseline that is still quite conservative. Even if you do that, there is still a one-win difference between the two players.

Now, no one seems to think Damon will get more than a one-year, $7 million deal. Is that one win upgrade worth the extra $5 million? Given that teams have been paying $3.5-$4 million per WAR this offseason, it would not be worth it. Add in that one more win would barely help the Yankees, and it absolutely made sense to pass on Damon.

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