Damion Easley Still Plays?

In yesterday’s Phillies-Mets game, Damion Easley picked up three hits in his five at-bats, all of which were infield singles. Upon witnessing the third of these singles it hit me somewhat quickly that, wow, Easley has been around for a long, long time. His major league career began in 1992, meaning that this is his seventeenth major league season. In fact, Easley’s career began so long ago that his first employer was actually the California Angels, not the Anaheim Angels, or even the Los Angeles Angels of Californian Los Anaheim like today.

The title is a bit facetious given that I was well aware Easley still belonged to a major league club but is anyone else surprised in the least that he has been able to stick around for seventeen years?

It isn’t as if Easley had the peak years of a star shortstop either. Easley’s peak came between 1997 and 2001, with the Tigers, where an average season looked like this: 147 G, 142 H-544 AB, 32 2B, 19 HR, 53 BB, 101 K, .262/.342/.435, .777 OPS. Say what you will about the OPS metric but, amongst those with 500+ games played in this five-year span, Easley’s ranks 124th, right in the vicinity of Jose Offerman, Michael Tucker, and Troy O’ Leary. Essentially, his peak was not terrible, but I would generally have a hard time believing that a player with a .777 OPS in a five-year peak would be a seventeen year veteran.

His best season came in 1998, when he slugged 27 home runs, good enough to earn quite the curious berth in the Home Run Derby. One of my favorite aspects of baseball is how, on occasion, the smaller details will stick with us. With Easley, I couldn’t quote you his career numbers or peak stats without some research, or even name all of the teams that employed him (Angels, Tigers, Devil Rays, Marlins, DBacks, Mets) without glancing at his player page, but I’ll always remember how odd it looked in the 1998 derby when Easley stood next to all of those proven sluggers… though, to his credit he did out-HR one Chipper Jones on that fateful day in Coors Field.

Since his peak, Easley has largely become a reserve, making spot starts here and there and filling in during extended injuries for starters. This in part explains how he has stuck around so long; it isn’t as if he’s a full-time regular anymore. From 2002 until now he has put together a .242/.317/.399 slash line, right on par with Brandon Inge in that same span. The major difference there is that Inge was a starter for the majority of those numbers. Though that likely explains more about the misuse of Inge than anything about Easley, it’s pretty remarkable that the guy has been able to play major league baseball for at least seventeen years, primarily under the radar, and without a peak that would garner him a big reputation.

Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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Himura Kenshin
15 years ago

You could argue that Easley’s longevity can be credited in large part to his not having such high career peaks. The lower performance baseline tempers expectations for his production, and prevents/prevented him from being written off as “washed up”. It’s interesting, how the perception of decent performance combined with defensive versatility (which oftentimes means merely playing several positions, rather than playing several positions effectively) seems to allow many a mediocre ex-middle infielder (see Cairo, Miguel) to hang on far longer than they have any real right or reason to.