Johnny Damon, Raul Ibanez and Hideki Matsui have all been solid performers for years (each was a fantasy star at one point, even if you've forgotten because it was a while ago). Do any of the three enough residual skill to be of use in the fantasy game in 2012 as anything other than single league options (NL or AL Only)? That's what we're going to investigate.
Damon (.261-16-73-79-19) is one of the more stable performers in the history of the game. Really. Damon has appeared in 140 games in 16-straight years to tie Hank Aaron, Brooks Robinson and Pete Rose for the longest such run in big league history. He's also had 11 seasons of at least 90 runs scored and 15 steals, the third most such seasons in history. Those aren't phenomenal numbers, but they have long made him a draft day target after the bigger names were taken. However, Damon has seen his average dip the last three years (.303, .282, .271 and .261) as his bat speed slips, and last year was the first time since 1998 that he posted a BB/K rate under 0.70 (it was 0.55). His GB/FB ratio was pretty standard fair for him at 1.08 (career 1.25), and his line drive mark of 20.2 percent was right on his career rate of 20 percent, so it's not like he's totally lost it at the dish. Damon even upped his steals mark to 19 after totaling just 23 in 2009-10. Damon can still produce, an if given 500+ at-bats he still seems capable of replicating the fantasy line he posted last season (though I'd expect the steals to dip even if his bat remained on track).
Ibanez (.245-20-84-65) looked lost last April hitting .161 with a homer before rebounding in May to hit .315 with seven homers. Alas, his production was all over the place as he had three months with an OPS under .600 last year, and that's just unacceptable. He was also a complete liability against left-handed pitching with a .211/.232/.353 line that made him look like a good hitting pitcher. Yeah, it was pretty brutal. He also hit a mere .210 with a .577 OPS on the road, so it appears that he is in desperate need of an offensive ballpark if he want's to stave off Father Time for another year. To be fair did record 20 homers and 84 RBI, the 7th straight year he has hit at least 16 homers with 83 RBI, but those numbers were merely the result of playing everyday in a strong lineup in Philly. Ibanez posted an 18.4 K-rate which isn't awful, but it was his second worst numbers since 1998. He also posted his lowest walk rate since that 1998 season, and the result was a 0.31 BB/K mark that was a drastic fall from his career mark of 0.54. Ibanez also hit more balls into the ground than at any point in his career (46 percent) as his fly ball rate dipped to 35.0 percent, it's lowest mark since 2005. Can Ibanez still drive in a run? Certainly. But with his declining skill set, and the fact that he will be 40 years old on 1972, any slump at all will likely lead to him being replaced by a younger player up the upswing, not to mention the fact that even in a best case scenario he may be forced into a platoon.
Matsui (.251-12-72-56) can no longer play the field, his knees can't take the pounding, so his outlook is even more limited than the other two. When he hit just .209 in the first half with a .617 OPS for the A's, many an epitaph was written for his tombstone. Seemingly finding the fountain of youth, Matsui rebounded to hit a whopping .369 with 22 RBI in July to propel him to a .295 average and 38 RBI over his last 65 games. While that was a great improvement on the first half, those are still middling numbers for a DH. Matsui has failed to hit .275 for three years running, an at this point 20 homers might be a reach as well. Matsui is coming off his career worst HR/F ratio mark of 7.4 percent (career 12.6), and twice in four years that number has been in the single digits. He also hit more grounders last season than he has in three years, and that's not going to help him reach the seats. Matsui also took fewer walks than he had since 2005, and his K-rate last season was a percentage point above his career rate. If he was 27 years old the outlook wouldn't be dire, but as a 37 year old, the tires have almost been worn down to the tube. Given that he has appeared in only 46 games in the field the last four years, and that his bat is clearly slowing, it's nearly impossible to think he'll be able to appreciably improve upon last years effort.
You can find out where all of the three geezers rank in terms of their projected draft position at Fleaflicker and you can find out how I rank all three players if you purchase the BaseballGuys 2012 Fantasy Draft Guide.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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