Johnny Damon still thinks he can “outhit at least half the league”


Last week, we learned that Johnny Damon is still holding out hope for an offer to join a major league club even though he’s now 40 years old and hasn’t played since the end of August 2012. Damon hasn’t tempered his desire to continue his playing career, as the Associated Press reports that the veteran is staying in shape and swinging the bat.

In a fit of either bravado or delusion, Damon says that he can still “outhit at least half the league”.

“When you feel you can still outhit at least half the league and you don’t get that call, it’s rough,” Damon told The Associated Press in a phone interview Friday. “The biggest reason to play is to have a chance to win. Obviously, 3,000 hits would be great but winning is the reason I started playing this game. I’m going to continue to stay in shape and I’ll be ready.”

Over five months in 2012, Damon posted an adjusted OPS (also known as OPS+) of 72. 100 is average, so Damon was 28 points below the league average. Only 38 players came to the plate at least 200 times that season and posted a lower adjusted OPS than Damon. Damon’s wRC+ (a metric like OPS+ that uses more accurate component stats) was 71, putting him ahead of only 45 hitters out of 347 in total (or about 13 percent of the field).

Add two years of age following a two-year layoff? The odds of Damon out-hitting half the league are quite small. Since 1901, only 40 hitters have qualified for the batting title at the age of 40 or older and posted an adjusted OPS of 100 or better. 20 of those 25 hitters are Hall of Famers or were on the ballot (or were Pete Rose).

New tax law could affect MLB trades

Win McNamee/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jim Tankersley of the New York Times notes that a tax law passed by Republicans could affect trades in Major League Baseball. The law added the word “real” to a certain line of tax code that now only allows real estate trades to qualify for tax immunity. Previously, certain assets like trucks and machinery could have been traded tax-free.

A perhaps unintended consequence of that change could mean baseball teams could have to pay capital gains taxes when they trade away and acquire players. MLB’s chief legal officer Dan Halem said, “There is no fair market value of a baseball player. There isn’t. I don’t really know what our clubs are going to do to address the issue. We haven’t fully figured it out yet. This is a change we hope was inadvertent, and we’re going to lobby hard to get it corrected.”

Tankersley wonders how players would be valued for the purposes of this tax law:

Mr. Verlander, for example, was clearly a more immediately valuable asset to the Astros than the three prospects they traded to get him. He gave up only four runs in his five regular-season starts for the team, then won four straight starts to begin the playoffs. In very simple terms, he brought value to the Astros in a trade, and had the new law been in place last year, the team would have owed taxes on that added value.

But what, exactly, was that value? Was it the size of his contract? Mr. Verlander earned $28 million last year, while the players traded for him drew minor-league salaries. Was it the additional wins he brought to the team? Statisticians estimate Mr. Verlander gave the Astros nearly two more wins last season, a value that, depending on the statistician, could reach $20 million. Or was it some calculation of the total future value Mr. Verlander will bring to the team, minus the total future value it gave up in the prospects it traded away — and possibly adjusted for the amount the team will have to pay Mr. Verlander?

Complicating matters further is that teams value players differently, and one player might help a certain team far more than another team. A struggling club with a surplus of starting pitchers might trade one to a playoff contender in desperate need of one, in exchange for position players who could improve a struggling lineup. In that case, both teams could, reasonably, be considered to have gained value in the trade, and thus would owe taxes on it.

Republicans said they weren’t trying to hamstring sports teams, but that’s exactly what they might have done here. It seems likely that the law will eventually be amended to exempt sports teams, given that leagues like the MLB and NBA are enormous and worth so much money. Whether that will be done in a reasonable amount of time is another question entirely.