This past offseason, the Florida Marlins traded away toolsy but flawed Cameron Maybin to the Padres in exchange for a pair of relievers. So far this season, Maybin has been putting up a .260/.337/.481 line and looks good in the field. Can we stamp this trade as a win for the Padres already?
In a trade reaction piece over the winter, Dave Cameron focused on the question of whether or not Maybin could improve his strikeout rate in order to be more of a force at the plate. Later in the offseason, Paul Swydan suggested that the plan was mostly about getting a strong defensive center fielder in order to help strengthen the effectiveness of the starting rotation and improve the outfield defense overall. The two authors clearly outlined the two most important aspects of Maybin’s game with respect to his future value.
Obviously, the defensive part of the package is the hardest to appreciate in such a small sample. So far so good. In every UZR category but the one connected to his arm, he’s been a positive this year. It would be nice to point to the fact that this continues a trend so far in his major league career — he’s been a double-digit defender in center every year but 2010 — but sample still looms large. Add up all of his non-2010 balls in zone, and you’re only about equal to his work in the entire 2010 season. And the total number of balls he’s seen in his zone (310) is about equal to the average qualified center fielder’s full season work last year (316). So we’ve basically seen one season of defensive work from Maybin, and half of it was excellent and half of it was just below scratch. At the risk of giving too much credence to what we’ve seen recently, let’s just say that he’s more of a +5 UZR/150 center fielder than the +12.3 one he’s been showing so far this year. That’s close to his “career” rate anyway (+5.7 UZR/150 career).
If that’s the case, Cameron Maybin has already shown that he was worth the trade. In 337.2 career innings over nine player-seasons, Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb have accrued a combined 1.5 WAR. Even with a large leap forward in their leverage — say if one becomes the closer or primary setup man in Florida — it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to accrue much more than twice that number in their future six cost-controlled player-seasons. They are still relievers.
In one month so far this season, Maybin has already been worth 1.0 WAR. Just playing to an average wOBA with +5 center field defense year-in and year-out would be worth at least 2.5 WAR per season (+0 batting runs, +5 fielding runs, +2.5 positional adjustment, +2 replacement per 600 PA), and he’s under cost control for another four years. Since 2008, only 35 relievers have been worth 2.5 WAR, period. Even if you place both of these relievers in that category going forward (a rosy proposition), and make Maybin a scratch bat with an above-average glove (more reasonable, perhaps), he’s likely to accrue twice as many wins before he hits free agency.
Maybin is probably showing his best-case scenario right now. If he was able to continue putting up something like his current .370 wOBA he would be worth much, much more than 2.5 WAR a year. The open question is if he can continue to be this potent with the bat. He’s cut his strikeout rate to 27.3% (30.9% career) right now, and that has always been the key to unlocking his toosly potential at the plate. Could that work continue?
Pizza Cutter’s reprinted piece last week reminded us that per-pitch numbers are more reliable than per-PA numbers at this point of the season, and that contact rate stabilizes reasonably quickly. That said, we don’t see a corresponding rise in contact rate to explain Maybin’s “new” strikeout rate. In fact, his 69.6% contact rate right now is worse than his career number (72.1%). Mr. Cutter did not run the numbers for O-Swing%, but as a per-pitch number, we might take heart in Maybin’s improvement there (18.7% this season, 25.7% career). He still whiffs too much (12.% swSTR%, 8.6% is average), but he’s making progress by offering less often at pitches outside the zone. Even a batter with Maybin’s contact issues can be decent if he offers at 10% fewer balls than the average major leaguer (28% average this year).
Cameron Maybin may see some regression as his isolated slugging percentage (.221 this season, .144 career) moves toward his career mean, even if his strikeout rate stays where it is. However, it looks like he has clearly defined his both his up- and downsides. It may not matter if he’s only able to achieve the latter — considering that it “merely” took two relievers to get him. As long as he can keep his wOBA above average by flashing his considerable athletic assets and avoiding pitches outside the zone, his glove looks like it will make him worth far more than the two arms it took to get him. The Padres should take heart.