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April 21, 2010
Hot Spots: Outfield
Exiting “stage left” this week are Conor Jackson and Mike Cameron. Cameron is still a guy to get after he returns to duty in a month or so, but the injury takes him off the radar for now. Conor Jackson was already on a short leash before going on the DL as a guy without much power or speed. His injury gives Gerardo Parra short-term value with a chance to stick if he hits well again. Carlos Gomez is being edged out of playing time by Jim Edmonds and is now a huge risk, but the speed potential is so great that he stays on for at least another week.
In Delmon Young-style, Cameron Maybin went from 2 straight years of top-10 (overall) status on Kevin Goldstein's top 101 list (and 3 straight years in the top 10 at Baseball America) to undrafted in most shallow mixed roto leagues. This is in spite of hitting .319/.399/.463 last year, as a 22-year-old at AAA(!) The problems are multiple and are summed up by his tepid PECOTA projection:
a) He has struck out in 23.8% of his minor-league plate appearances, and has posted just a 72% Ct% (which considers at-bats instead of plate appearances).
b) He stole only 8 bases in AAA in 2009 in 343 PA, an alarmingly low total for someone with his wheels – his previous low speed score in the minors was 7.4, whereas a typical major-leaguer is in the 5.0-5.2 range. His other “speed score” components remained very strong in 2009 in AAA, as he collected 8 triples and posted a 3.00 range factor in center field (and was only caught stealing twice).
c) Former predictions of 30-home run power now seem off-base as he hit only 3 homers in New Orleans, though he did collect 4 more HR as a Marlin.
d) He hit .250/.318/.409 in 199 major-league plate appearances.
Combining the above not-so-hot factors with a typical playing time projection of 80% (that's what the Player Forecast Manager used) results in a big pile of “meh”. But this is a case of several minor errors-of-assumption conspiring to detract from the actual excellence of a player. PECOTA and PFM showed a hint of why this guy is a guy-to-get, projecting 84 runs scored with just 80% playing time. That's even with the aforementioned tepid rate stat projection. The Marlins lineup should produce runs, and Maybin will be the beneficiary of that production. Considering that 95% is probably a much more reasonable playing time estimate(*) – given his stellar defense in center field and youthful resilience – he could approach 100 runs scored even with an OBP of just .334 (per PECOTA). He's currently just 1 PA behind the league leaders.
*Even if Maybin does end up playing only 80%, the missing 20% is much more likely to be due to a serious injury than the “Chipper Jones”-style of missed playing time, so functionally it's almost as if he can be assumed to be a 95% player, as fantasy owners will be able to plan around his missed time.
Then there's the question of whether projecting just a .334 OBP is realistic for this former “future superstar”. A big part of why his power has gone down is that he's made serious transformations to his game, hitting over 55% of his balls in play on the ground in the majors and posting a K:PA ratio of just 16.9% in AAA in 2009 (81% Ct%). He's been striking out a lot again so far in 2010 (just 72% Ct%), and his BABIP is an unsustainable .425 so far. So, he's unlikely to continue hitting over .300 – unless he again makes adjustments. But he's always drawn a lot of walks, which was a big part of why Sabermetrically-oriented prospect mavens liked him in the first place, and a high BABIP is certainly to be expected, though more in the .340 range than the .400+ stratosphere. Mostly, however, it comes down to how to “weight” his historical minor-league stats. Looking at his PECOTA Player Card, his EqOBP was .330 in 2007 in high-A ball at age 20 when he was hurt (339 PA). His EqOBP was .321 in 2008 in AA at age 21, when he was again hurt, though he didn't miss much time (450 PA). His EqOBP was .364 in 2009 in AAA at age 22 (336 PA).
The history of Maybin's expected on-base percentage – considering how young he's been at his various levels – indicate that .334 is a fairly conservative estimate. And his 3 steals already suggest that he could shatter the projected total of 15. Four of his top 5 PECOTA comps are: 1. Dexter Fowler, 2. Bernie Williams, 4. Grady Sizemore, 5. Adam Jones. That's pretty elite company, though the presence of less-successful players among his comparables can't be ignored. But, all-in-all, Maybin's time is now, and “runs scored” is usually an afterthought category, so he's not likely to be garnering much attention. If he's owned already, wait until his average dips under .300 and go get him. If he's not, he's a no-brainer pickup.
Going “off the chart” for a moment, Luke Scott is a “sure thing” acquisition with Pie's injury. He has a long track record, and because he is who he is, there's not much analysis to be added. But, until Pie was injured, he was in a scrum for playing time, so his value takes a step upward now. The Orioles offense will get on track (really, it will), so his RBI and run totals should be just fine.
The Austin Jackson bandwagon is probably running out of room, but the real “winners” - if Jackson continues to perform as a good leadoff hitter - are the Tigers. And Carlos Guillen is the number 5 hitter on said Tigers. He's not flashy, and he's not as good as the two guys who bat in front of him in the lineup. He doesn't have a good ballpark for hitting. And he's no longer fast, nor will he hit 30 homers. He did, however, hit a combined .308/.379/.510 in 2006-2007 (when he was healthy and amassed 1252 PA), before wrestling with injuries in 2008-2009. He also hit .262/.371/.503 in the second half of 2009 after he returned from his shoulder injuries. Even when he was playing with a bum shoulder in 2009, he managed to hit .255/.348/.460 against righty starters (the shoulder injury really impacted his ability to bat right-handed; he even batted lefty a few times against lefty pitchers). Bottom line: the Tigers are paying this guy $13 million to hit the baseball, and when he's healthy, that's exactly what he does. While “Maggs” and “M-Cab” won't lead the league in walks ahead of him, they will be on base enough to give Guillen plenty of RBI opportunities. The back end of the Tigers lineup is one of the weakest in baseball, so don't expect Guillen's on-base skills to pay off with lots of runs scored. But as an AVG-HR-RBI guy, he's a useful player who has been flying under the radar.