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July 18, 2013

Mid-Season Outliers

Outfielders

by Baseball Prospectus

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Over the All-Star break, we'll be highlighting some of the players who've overperformed or underperformed their projections during the first half by imagining what we might write about them if the Baseball Prospectus annual were updated today.

Domonic Brown
DOB: 9/3/1987
Age: 25
Height/Weight: 6'5" 205 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
LF
Phildelphia Phillies

The Phillies popped the highly tooled but questionably skilled Brown in the 20th round of the 2006 draft, when he was coming out of high school, and in a few short years, he became one of the premier talents in the minors. The majors proved to be more difficult for the 6'5" outfielder, as the failure to adjust and play to his potential earned him a bust label that was premature given the limited professional sample. After a poor 2012 campaign, Brown appeared to be a good candidate for a change of scenery, but the Phillies held true to their player and he rewarded that belief with an All-Star-level first half in 2013, showing serious game power and run-producing prowess. Brown will still have adjustments to make to improve his all-around game, but the former top prospect has finally yielded some major-league fruit, and the ceiling is still over his head. —Jason Parks


Coco Crisp
DOB: 11/1/1979
Age: 33
Height/Weight: 5'10" 185 lbs.
Bats/Throws: B/R
CF
Oakland Athletics

Crisp began his season with a completely unsustainable power surge, building a massive slugging percentage stockpile on a series of just-enough home runs. But the bulk of his best season as an Athletic can be explained by his evolution as a hitter. He's drawing more walks than he ever has, with the exception of a shortened season in Kansas City, while striking out less often than he ever has and doing unprecedented damage after he gets ahead in the count. The week that Billy Beane signed him in 2010, we called the deal "ridiculous given Crisp's struggles to do much of anything in the four seasons since his 2005 breakout." Since then he has produced about 10 WARP for about $20 million, with a club-friendly option for 2014, and he's still, somehow, getting better. —Sam Miller


Brett Gardner
DOB: 8/24/1983
Age: 29
Height/Weight: 5'10" 185 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
CF
New York Yankees

An all-in-one offensive metric like True Average doesn't tell the whole story of Gardner's season. Yes, Gardner has been almost exactly as productive as he was in 2010, his best season at the plate prior to 2013, but he's done it with a different approach. Instead of taking everything close and working his way on with walks, as he had in the past, Gardner has swung away, especially inside the strike zone. The new strategy has worked about as well as the old one, as the compact lefty has shown surprising pop, making up for earning more strikeouts and fewer free passes with an uptick in extra-base hits. Gardner equaled his career high in homers—at any level—in the Yankees' 76th game and set a personal best in doubles soon after, and while he's attempted fewer steals, he's still an asset on the bases and in center field. That makes him the lone bright spot in New York's lineup who isn't over 30 and about to command a massive contract. —Ben Lindbergh


Josh Hamilton
DOB: 5/21/1981
Age: 32
Height/Weight: 6'4" 225 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
LF
Los Angeles Angels

Swinging at a majority of pitches, as Hamilton does, isn't necessarily a problem if they're the right pitches and you're squaring up the ball, but as Hamilton, who is chasing, popping up, and rolling over instead of flexing his prodigious power, has learned through three months in Anaheim, coupling a severe slump with a $125 million contract will bring out the boo birds. Hamilton hit rock bottom on June 19, when he accounted for eight outs in a nine-inning game and admitted that the lull has been "baffling" even to him. Without a second-half rebound, the ex-Ranger could be in danger of joining Barry Zito, Carlos Lee, and Carl Crawford as the only players in the last decade to fail to exceed 2.0 WARP in the first year of a nine-figure deal. —Daniel Rathman


Jason Heyward
DOB: 8/9/1989
Age: 23
Height/Weight: 6'5" 240 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
RF
Atlanta Braves

During the 2010 postseason, Giants fans taunted Heyward by chanting "Buster's better." Rookie of the Years voters agreed, but it was a fair debate. Since then, Posey has hit .324/.398/.519; Heyward has hit a mere .247/.328/.428. The Braves' right fielder has earned some of our patience, as there aren't many players who have had two elite seasons by the age of 22, as he has. But this is the second time he has followed one of those elite seasons up with a stinking disappointment. The league has stayed a step ahead of him in the adjustments game: he's undisciplined and ineffective against soft stuff, and against lefties he's a career .223/.302/363 hitter in more than 600 trips to the plate. His defense and baserunning keep him in positive WARP territory even when the bat goes soft, but he's a big guy whose speed won't last forever. His stolen base and triples totals have tumbled this year, and the metrics are somewhat less enamored with his outfield play. It's the power and the bat that will need to be his carrying tools going forward. —Sam Miller


Matt Joyce
DOB: 8/3/1984
Age: 28
Height/Weight: 6'2" 205 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
LF
Tampa Bay Rays

The recurring question about Joyce is whether he'll ever get the chance to play daily. Joyce is in his third full season, yet he's being platooned more often in 2013 than in either of the previous two campaigns. Part of that has to do with Joyce's poor track record against lefties, which leads to the circular argument of how he can improve versus lefties if he never faces them. The other part of it stems from the culture in Tampa Bay. With another team, Joyce—a powerful hitter with a good grasp of the strike zone—might play every day. Not so with the Rays, who seek to exploit every tactical nook and cranny. Joyce should get his shot one day; just not this year, and perhaps not with the Rays. —R.J. Anderson


Matt Kemp
DOB: 9/23/1984
Age: 28
Height/Weight: 6'4" 215 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
CF
Los Angeles Dodgers

The strained hamstring that sent Kemp to the disabled list at the end of May could, if all goes well in the coming months, seem a blessing in disguise: it gave Kemp a fresh start and brought the Dodgers a step closer to the historic debut of wunderkind Yasiel Puig. After offseason surgery to repair a detached labrum in his left shoulder, Kemp was powerless at the plate in April and May, unable to drive balls with authority to any part of the yard or to punish fastball mistakes as he did for much of 2012. Kemp denied any connection between the shoulder and his slump, but manager Don Mattingly cited it as a culprit, and Kemp went back on the DL in early July with another injury to the same shoulder. As the summer wears on, there may be no greater x-factor in the crowded National League West than Kemp, who, if healthy and hitting well, could be instrumental in bringing the division crown back to Los Angeles. —Daniel Rathman


David Murphy
DOB: 10/18/1981
Age: 31
Height/Weight: 6'4" 210 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
LF
Texas Rangers

Murphy followed up a breakout 2012 campaign by falling into a 16-for-91 slump to begin the 2013 season, shaking it off with an 846 OPS in May, and tumbling right back into a 19-for-95 schneid in June, bad news for a Rangers club that was counting on him to replace the productive version of Josh Hamilton. A productive long-end platoon outfielder when he's going right, Murphy has been felled in part by poor batted-ball luck, but he is also drawing fewer walks than he has in any season since 2008. The Houston native and Baylor product could stray further from his hometown when he earns his first tour of free agency this offseason; a strong second half would go a long way toward springing his value back up to where it was last winter. —Daniel Rathman


Gerardo Parra
DOB: 5/6/1987
Age: 26
Height/Weight: 5'11" 200 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
CF
Arizona Diamondbacks

The best player in Arizona's outfield has been the one who wasn't supposed to start. For the second straight winter, the Diamondbacks signed an expensive over-30 free agent outfielder rather than plan to play the cost-controlled Parra. But rookie Adam Eaton hurt his elbow before Opening Day, opening up a spot, and while veterans Jason Kubel and Cody Ross have disappointed, Parra has performed. His defense is an asset in all three outfield positions, and his power has improved—he led the NL in doubles through the first week of July—leaving a continued decline in his stolen base success rate as the only place to find fault. When Eaton returned, it was Ross, not Parra, who went to the bench, so it seems as if the D-Backs have finally figured out that the league's former best fourth outfielder can help them more in an everyday role. —Ben Lindbergh


Yasiel Puig
DOB: 12/7/1990
Age: 22
Height/Weight: 6'3" 245 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
RF
teamhere

The less-than-judicious contract consumption of the Dodgers rivals the evil empire Yankees of modern vintage, but the reckless $42 million deal given to Cuban defector Yasiel Puig pushes them into their own tier of fiscal irresponsibility. Or at least that's what the narrative sounded like in the summer of 2012. Fast-forward one year on the calendar, and the claims of impetuousness have been replaced by claims of prophecy, as the 22-year-old Cuban has electrified baseball with a major-league debut as exceptional as any player in recent memory. Because of the limited view provided to most international scouts, Puig's value at signing was nebulous, and complicated even further by his previous defection attempts and subsequent house arrest, which hid a chiseled physique under bad weight and atrophy. All that matters now is what actually matters now, and that's the lofty production from the rising star, and the questions of when reality will bring the five-tool talent back to earth. At his best, Puig is a plus-plus runner with plus-plus power and a very strong arm from the outfield, paired with a bat that finds the ball with consistency and an aptitude for the game that pushes his near elite tools into elite company. —Jason Parks


Josh Reddick
DOB: 2/19/1987
Age: 26
Height/Weight: 6'2" 180 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
RF
Oakland Athletics

If beard-growing were a baseball tool, Reddick's would be off the charts, but a wrist strain suffered in April and aggravated in May has put the skids on the right fielder's power surge, which buoyed both his stock and the Athletics' last year. Reddick is still hitting plenty of line drives and ably handling right field, and he is actually walking more frequently and striking out less often than he did in 2012. Both of those are indicators of a maturing approach—significant for the Georgia native, whose volume of poor at-bats was a downer during his prospect days in the Red Sox system—but sans the 30-homer power, the overall package at the plate has taken a major hit. If the surprising thump returns, the A's will once again have a cost-controlled, first-division right fielder with the upside to help them seize their second consecutive American League West title. —Daniel Rathman


Jordan Schafer
DOB: 9/4/1986
Age: 26
Height/Weight: 6'1" 190 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/L
CF
Atlanta Braves

A former third-round pick by the Braves who once projected as an All-Star-caliber center fielder, Schafer was shipped to the Astros in the deal that sent Michael Bourn to Atlanta, then returned to Georgia on a waiver claim that began general manager Frank Wren's outfield remodeling 15 months later (a process necessitated by Bourn's imminent departure). With nearly 900 plate appearances of sub-replacement-level performance to his name, Schafer—who faced felony marijuana charges in October 2011—may have been an afterthought at the time of the claim, but he proved to be a godsend once the season began, taking the sting off of B.J. Upton's rut. Now a more mature player on and off the field, Schafer is not likely to sustain his first-half surge, but he has good secondary skills and should have no trouble securing a big-league roster spot for years to come. —Daniel Rathman


B.J. Upton
DOB: 8/21/1984
Age: 28
Height/Weight: 6'3" 185 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
CF
Atlanta Braves

Bossman Junior's first season in Atlanta began with an epic thud, as the preternaturally talented and perpetually frustrating center fielder hit .140/.230/.245 and struck out in 35 percent of his plate appearances through the end of May. Upton then rebounded somewhat in June, making more contact, drawing a few walks, and displaying the power and fluidity that characterize one of the game's elite athletic talents. The Braves have placed a big bet on Upton finally leveraging his obvious tools into consistent production, but what they're likely to get is more of the same: a few torrid weeks followed by months of lackluster hackery. Upton is a Porsche that looks great in the driveway but stalls out every few miles, and if Atlanta can't find a way to get that fixed, they'll be in for a chronic case of buyer's remorse. —Ken Funck

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