Dissecting Damon at the CoPa

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By now, all of us have encountered one article or another raving about Johnny Damon’s career stats while a visitor at Comerica Park. On the off chance that you haven’t done the research, and I hadn’t until today, Damon has played in 41 games at Comerica while a visitor, during which time he has 171 at bats and a slash line of .363/.412/.550. That’s a .961 OPS. Those numbers are higher in terms of average and OPS than he has posted at any other American League park.

But what does that tell us about the potential for success this year?

In years past, Damon was hitting against the Tigers, obviously, whereas this season, they will be the one team he doesn’t face. As Micheal Scott (@1baseball34 on twitter) pointed out, it could be that Damon just racked up big numbers because he enjoys hitting against the Tigers. Afterall, prior to 2006, the Tigers had historically bad pitching staffs. Could it be that he hammered the Tigers no matter the venue?

I wondered if this could be true, so I went about digging up the stats at Baseball-Reference.

Damon, as we know, is a long-time big leaguer, so long that he actually played in four full seasons when Tiger Stadium was still in use. During that time, Damon appeared in 19 games at the Corner. All while a young hitter, Damon was facing a series of bad Tigers teams in those days. In over 2200 at bats from 1996-1999, Damon batted .283 in total with an OPS of .765. In those 19 games in Detroit, however, Damon put up a .297 average with a .832 OPS. Clearly, he was a better hitter in Tiger Stadium than elsewhere.

But how did he fare in home games versus Detroit? During that same stretch, Damon faced the Tigers a total of 21 times in Kauffman Stadium, getting 70 at bats versus the 74 he got in games played at Tiger Stadium.

Obviously we are dealing with small sample sizes, but the sizes are essentially a wash. The results are not, however. In those 21 games versus Detroit at Kauffman Stadium, Damon batted just .186 (13 for 70) and managed an OPS of .612, so we can see that he fared much better against the Tigers when the game was played in Detroit.

We’ll get into the Comerica Park years after the jump.

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Moving into Comerica Park, Damon was still a Royal in 2000. Perhaps it was the maturation of Damon as a hitter, but he enjoyed great success in games against the Tigers, no matter the venue that season. His 12 games against the Tigers that year were split evenly and Damon posted a .346 average in Detroit and also a .348 average at home versus the Tigers. He was actually better at home in terms of OPS in 2000, showing .842 versus .756 at the CoPa.

In 2001, Damon joined the Oakland Athletics, playing his home games in the Coliseum. That season, Damon played in seven games against Detroit, three at home. In games played in Oakland, Damon batted 14 times, getting just two singles and a walk for a .143 average and .343 OPS. In 16 at bats in Detroit that year, Damon hit .313 with a .951 OPS. Again, small sample size, but we’re building a pretty good case here.

From 2002-2005, Damon played with the Red Sox, playing his home games in Fenway park, of course. In those four years, Damon faced the Tigers a total of 32 times, with 14 of those games in Boston. In those games, Damon batted 59 times and hit a respectable .271 along with an OPS of .779. During that same stretch, Damon played the Tigers in Detroit 18 times, getting 79 at bats. He hit a cool .418 and showed off a 1.103 OPS at Comerica Park during that four year period.

Moving into the Yankees years (2006-2009), Damon has progressed into a veteran hitter, capable of driving the ball into the gaps. He has added more home runs to his arsenal and while he’s still fast, speed is less a part of his hitting style. During his time with the Yankees, he had two home parks, Yankees Stadium for three years, then the new version last season. We’ll look at them separately.

From 2006-2008, Damon’s Yankees hosted the Tigers nine times and traveled to Comerica for 10 games. In games played at old Yankee Stadium, Damon batted .314 with an OPS of .872 in 35 at bats. In Detroit, Damon saw 37 at bats while batting .324 with an OPS of .927. However, in two of those three seasons, Damon had better numbers versus the Tigers in his home park. Those two years, 2006 and 2007, were the first times in his career that Damon had hit better in home games versus Detroit than on the road.

They wouldn’t be the last however, as Damon torched the Tigers at new Yankee Stadium last season. In just two games, Damon batted .375 (three for eight) with a 1.069 OPS. Damon was just 3 for 13 (.231) in Detroit last season (.593 OPS).

For his career, Damon has a slash line of .288/.355/.438/.793 overall. Since the opening of Comerica Park, Damon has played in 34 games in which his team hosted the Tigers and 41 games in Detroit. During that span (2000-2009), Damon was eerily similar to his career averages in games played against the Tigers in his home park, batting .288/.363/.424/.787 over 139 at bats. Meanwhile, his .363/.412/.550/.961 line at Comerica shows a significant increase.

So, in truth, for whatever reason, Damon actually does enjoy hitting at Comerica Park versus facing the same pitching staffs in another park. What does all of this mean? Maybe nothing as baseball is funny that way. But we are looking at a 15 year veteran who has consistently put up better numbers in one ballpark than the numbers he has amassed in any other park while facing the same team.

Though he’s a year older, I’m betting that Johnny Damon will see a good deal of success hitting at his new home this season, regardless of whose pitching staff he’s facing.