The Rays have had some recent struggles getting offense out of their Designated Hitter spot. In 2010 the Rays DH spot hit .238/.322/.391 with 17 homeruns and 7 stolen bases. So far this season, the Rays DHs are hitting .250/.283/.432 and a large chunk of that is thanks for the combined 1-26 by Manny Ramirez and Dan Johnson while DHing. Since the abrupt retirement of Ramirez the primary DH has been Johnny Damon who has hit .272/.303/.478 with 7 homeruns and 3 stolen bases from the DH spot. Here is a full chart of the Rays DH at-bats:
Johnny Damon, the Rays primary Designated Hitter is doing a much better job than previous DHs in recent Rays history at hitting for average, power, and stealing bases but he has a ways to go to catch up at getting on base, which is odd because that has been a major part of his offensive repertoire for his career.
Damon’s overall performance so far sits at .260/.296/.442 with a miserable 4.3% walk rate. Damon’s career walk rate is 9.2% and he has had five consecutive seasons of double-digit walk rates including back-to-back career best marks of 11.3% in 2009 and 2010.
The Rays, who paid for this on-base skill are not getting it. Sure, they are getting a power and speed resurgence from Damon thanks to his 7 homeruns and 5 stolen bases in 164 plate appearances (he had 8 homeruns and 11 stolen bases in 613 PAs last year) but the .296 OBP is inexcusable for a player who has hit #2 or #3 for most of the season.
So, what is Damon doing differently? He’s not seeing more strikes. He has seen 46% of pitches in the zone this year compared to 51.8% for his career. He’s not seeing more first pitch strikes either, 52.4% compared to 54.7% for his career. What he is doing is swinging… a lot.
Damon is swinging at 51.4% of all pitches thrown to him compared to just 43.8% in his career. He is only seeing 3.88 P/PA (pitchers per plate appearance) compared to 4.05 for his career. That includes a 75.1% Zone Swing rate compared to just 65.3% for his career and most notable is his 31.2% Out-of-Zone Swing rate compared to his 20.7% O-Swing% for his career. That last number is hugely inexcusable for him and a large reason he has swung and missed at 8.3% of pitches compared to his career mark of 5.9%.
Now that I am done thrashing Damon’s plate discipline I bring some good news: Damon is due to bounce back. A player with a career as prolific as his is bound to correct his form. No, I do not have any statistical evidence to prove that Damon will correct it other than looking at his past which presents plenty of evidence that he is, in fact, a disciplined hitter. While physical traits like bat speed and leg speed may regress as a player ages, plate discipline is not a physical trait, it does not disappear with age. Damon’s BABIP currently sits at .268, almost 40 points lower than his career mark of .307 but that has to do with his lack of discipline and swinging at bad pitches, not luck. Once he harnesses that discipline Damon should put up the best DH numbers they have seen in years.