Cameron Maybin And The Padres Are Off To A Bad Start

On Sunday afternoon in Arizona against the Dodgers, San Diego center fielder Cameron Maybin made a nice diving catch to rob Juan Uribe of an extra-base hit:

maybin_dive_2014-03-02

Wonderful! That’s a fantastic play, even if one perhaps that might have been made much easier by the right fielder, Rymer Liriano, although you understand if a young player with just 53 professional games above Single-A may have hesitated to call off a major league center fielder. Still, Maybin made the play, and he looked good doing it. Great play, beautiful day, all is good in the world.

Except, after spending most of the next inning looking like this… 

maybin_grimace_2013-03-02

…Maybin was forced to leave the game in the middle of the fifth after continuing to be in obvious pain, grimacing and grabbing his left shoulder. We don’t yet know the extent of Maybin’s injury, though this quote via MLB.com’s Corey Brock doesn’t exactly lend any encouragement, in an article teased as “Opening Day (and possibly longer) in jeopardy for Maybin”:

Maybin, who missed all but 14 games in 2013 due to injuries, will have an MRI Monday morning, though the initial diagnosis suggested a fairly serious injury, said general manager Josh Byrnes.

Maybe this is premature until we get the results of that MRI in a few days, but general managers don’t often use words like “fairly serious” without having some sort of indication of the truth, and Maybin’s recent injury history suggests a player who doesn’t quite get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to health concerns. (Update: It’s a ruptured bicep, and he’ll be out 2-3 months. Brutal.)

As Brock’s quote indicates, Maybin hardly played at all last season, getting into just 10 April games before missing most of the next two months due to a sore right wrist that had cost him some time in 2012 as well. When he finally returned in June, he played in all of four games — reaching base seven times and hitting a homer — before a dive for a ball in Coors Field injured the PCL in his left knee and cost him the remainder of the year. While on the shelf, he had September surgery in an attempt to finally fix the ongoing wrist issue.

And that’s just over the last two seasons. Here’s John Sickels, writing at Minor League Ball, back in 2010:

He’s also had injury issues, including off-season surgery this year to repair a labrum tear, a pulled groin, and current shoulder soreness keeping him on the DL at New Orleans.

The labrum operation mentioned there was on the same left shoulder that he injured over the weekend. So was the “current shoulder soreness” referenced above from four years ago, and while I can’t confirm right now which shoulder it was that cost him most of the Arizona Fall League in 2007 or a month of play earlier that season, shoulder injuries are clearly not a new concern. (It’s at this point you can thank me for not naming this post, “Cameron Maybin Can’t Shoulder the Load.” I’ll show myself out.)

Since he debuted so young, at age 20 for the 2007 Tigers, Maybin still doesn’t even turn 27 until next month, and so he should be in or near the prime of his career. Instead, this is yet another blow to a player who once seemed so promising that he was one of the centerpieces of the deal that sent Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. Perhaps rushed to the bigs, Maybin hit just .257/.323/.391 across parts of three seasons (544 plate appearances) for the Marlins, then after being dealt to San Diego for two relievers (Ryan Webb and Edward Mujica), he had what seemed like a breakout 2011. Despite a mere .316 wOBA and a high strikeout rate, 40 stolen bases and plus defense in center helped add up to 4.2 WAR, and it earned him a 5/$25m extension following the season. But Maybin took a step back in every way in 2012 — it’s hard to make a .290 wOBA look okay, especially when he was less valuable on the bases — and then 2013 was a total wash. So far, 2014 isn’t off to a better start. Health is a skill, and so far Maybin has shown little indication that he’s got this skill. It might be what prevents him from having the career so many thought he could.

Assuming he’s out for some length of time (management is already saying he “likely won’t be ready” for Opening Day), the Padres can handle this pretty well, because they didn’t have Maybin essentially at all last season, and they handled it pretty well then, too. Will Venable (2.9 WAR) took a nice step forward, hitting 22 homers (along with a good-enough center fielder and his fourth straight season of 20 or more steals), and he’s a more than adequate fill-in for Maybin in center, even if he’s unlikely to repeat that power surge. Chris Denorfia (3.9 WAR) showed he could be more than a fourth outfielder; Carlos Quentin, during the rare occasions when he was both healthy and not suspended, continued to hit enough (.372 wOBA) to show why teams continue to put up with his partial availability. Kyle Blanks is still kicking around, and Reymond Fuentes is all but ready, and now Seth Smith is in the picture, with a clearer path to playing time should guys like Venable and Denorfia be manning center rather than blocking him in the corners. Many seemed to think that San Diego would deal off an outfielder this winter to clear up the glut, but those problems usually work themselves out, which usually means, “someone’s going to get hurt.” Here we are.

The Padres have outfielders, but what they don’t seem to have is any luck. There was a lot to like about last year’s roster, and yet they still lost 86 games. This year, if the National League has anything resembling a sleeper, they appeared to be it. Maybe that’s partially because everyone’s favorite non-playoff team to make it this year is Washington, and they can hardly be called a “sleeper,” but because if you squinted hard enough, you could see things coming together for San Diego. You could see Chase Headley getting over his knee surgery and entering a contract year hoping to look a lot more like the 2012 Headley than the 2013 Headley. You could hope that Cory Luebke would be able to contribute to the staff; you could pray that Josh Johnson stayed whole and Yasmani Grandal returned strong from knee surgery and that Everth Cabrera returned from his PED suspension productive and that Ian Kennedy returned to his Arizona glory and that Andrew Cashner fully broke out.

So far, 2014 has been the opposite of that. Luebke blew out his elbow for a second time. Headley strained a calf and is expected to miss a few weeks of camp. Highly touted pitching prospect Max Fried was shut down with the dreaded “sore forearm,” though he wasn’t expected to contribute to the big club this year anyway. Now Maybin is down, potentially impacting regular season play. It’s only March 3, and the prevailing opinion already seems to be, “lord, what next?”

A team like the Padres can contend, but they need a lot of things to go their way in order to get into the wild card race against the Pirates and Braves and Reds and Diamondbacks and Phillies of the world. Our current projected standings have them as a .500 team, five games better than they were last year. In order to get into the race, they need to be at least six or seven games better than that, but as I wrote a few weeks ago when Luebke went down, very few of those things have gone their way recently, particularly when it comes to keeping their young pitchers healthy. They need young players like Maybin to blossom into contributors, not continue to be huge question marks as far as health and availability. The more players like Maybin and Luebke and Headley get hurt, the more they absolutely need walking injury problems like Quentin and Johnson to stay healthy. It’s not a good place to be in, for either player or team.




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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times and TechGraphs, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.


42 Responses to “Cameron Maybin And The Padres Are Off To A Bad Start”

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  1. d_i says:

    Kyle Blanks needs to be traded to the AL where he belongs.

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  2. Trotter76 says:

    This isn’t the first time I’ve seen “health is a skill” in a FG post. What exactly does that mean? That you need to practice it to get it right? Or that it’s like a talent, either you have it or you don’t? I understand that some players are more injury prone than others, but don’t get the “skill” part of it. Please enlighten me.

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    • Mike Petriello says:

      That it’s more than just dumb luck that a guy like, say, Derek Jeter can play for two decades with minimal injury issues, while someone like Maybin can’t seem to go more than 10 minutes without being hurt. Whether it’s preparation or genetics or luck or all of it, some guys have it, some don’t.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/troy-tulowitzki-and-evan-longoria-health-as-a-skill/

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      • Bip says:

        Whether it’s preparation or genetics or luck or all of it, some guys have it, some don’t.

        Luck isn’t part of the calculation. Health is a skill to the extent that is influenced by factors that are predictive. If the difference Maybin and Jeter is that Jeter is lucky and Maybin is not, the it makes no sense to refer to health as a skill.

        Luck certainly plays a role in player health, but it is despite that fact that health can be seen as a skill.

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        • Bip says:

          In other words, the phrase “some guys have [luck], some guys don’t” is wrong by definition. If Jeter has some quality that is keeping him healthy that is predictable, then that quality is something other than luck.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        Don’t forget injury cascades. That’s probably the chief culprit of the health as a skill hypothesis.

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    • werthless says:

      Yeah, I don’t like it either. It seems like an assertion that isn’t connected to a testable hypothesis. It seems like, in many cases, it’s an example of people attempting to place a narrative on the past because it makes it easier for us to interpret what we see (instead of attributing events to randomness or chance). Yes, some players get injured, which can lead to further injuries, but it’s not like the initial injury was necessarily due to something other than chance.

      I also don’t like “health as a skill” because it implies that it’s the player’s fault for not improving that skill. In baseball, some injuries refer to preparation, but many are unfortunate random occurrences:

      Oh, I’m sorry you got drilled in the wrist with a fastball. It looks like your HBP’s are an indicator of OBP skills, but you need to improve your “not breaking wrist” skills.

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      • Mike Petriello says:

        For a fluke injury like getting hit by a pitch, of course not. But how many times has Maybin injured a shoulder now?

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      • Matthew Murphy says:

        I don’t know about position players, but with pitchers it’s been shown that past injury is the best predictor of future injury, so it does appear to be a skill.
        Also, just because you call something a “skill” it doesn’t mean that the player is at fault for not being better at it. Velocity is a skill, and there are some guys who simply aren’t capable of pumping a fastball into the upper 90s. It doesn’t mean that the guys throwing low 90s need to work more to try to throw harder, but it does mean that it’s going to be a little bit more difficult for them to succeed without that skill. Same goes for health.
        Lastly, there’s a big difference between a guy who gets drilled by a wild pitch and breaks his wrist/forearm and one who battles calf/hamstring strains or knee issues on a fairly consistent basis. Just because one isn’t predictive of future injury, it doesn’t mean that the other isn’t either.

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        • Jon L. says:

          I agree with the general point that calling something a “skill” doesn’t imply that the player can become proficient via practice or preparation. That’s just this weird idea we get when someone has some skills that are great enough (like power & bat speed) that certain achievements would be in their grasp if only some complementary skills were also developed (like ability to hit breaking pitches). In truth, most players would probably work pretty hard to improve their batting eye, contact skills, outfield running routes, accuracy, command, speed, and everything else. Ultimately, all any of us can do is make the most of the skills we have. Some guys max out as Major League bench players, and others as rec league third basemen. Either way, heart and willpower are necessary, and probably play less of a role in differentiating between players than we’d like to imagine.

          I interpret “health as a skill” to suggest that some players are more capable of remaining uninjured and on the field than others. I agree. Some players may have bodies that tend to break down (Eric Davis, Evan Longoria), while others may increase injury risk by the way they play the game (Ryan Freel, Bryce Harper).

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        • Marc says:

          In the case of pitchers, there are definitely learned skills that will reduce the likelihood of injuries. Everything from warming up, to pitching to contact more (reducing pitch counts), to delivery and release points, we can often find the pitchers most susceptible to injury.

          For the most part, as an offensive player you can’t learn how to avoid a broken bone (although Jose Reyes actually learned to run differently to avoid the hamstring injuries that plagued him early in his career). However, there are players with weak ankles, bum knees, bad backs, loose shoulders, etc – on their own, those characteristics won’t keep them off the field, but once understood, injuries are reasonably predictable.

          The skill often lies with a combination of the player and the training staff.

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      • joser says:

        Getting out of the way of injurious pitches/line drives may be a skill. Laying out for a catch and landing in a way that doesn’t dislocate shoulders or rupture biceps may be a skill. Knowing where the wall is and not running into it, or running into it in a way that isn’t injurious, might be a skill. These may be skills that were learned (or not) so young that is difficult to change them as a professional, but that wouldn’t change the fact that they are skills.

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    • Vlad the Impaler says:

      I agree. The better term instead of “skill” would be “trait”.

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    • Preston says:

      The same way that being fast is a skill, it’s probably mostly a natural ability. But hard work and preparation probably are helpful too (example; Griffey was constantly criticized for not stretching, Ichiro stretches constantly)

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        Classic stretching – especially as a pre-performance activity – is largely seen as contributing to injury rather than preventing it. The supposed benefit to stretching is to keep the body balanced, but that’s better accomplished through a well designed workout program and perhaps some targeted yoga. For example, if my pecs are tight relative to my lats (not sure if that’s a perfect relationship), then my scapula could rotate forward, which would massively increase injury risk (it’s in itself an injury although it could be painless). You fix that by strengthening your lat AND stretching the pec.

        disclaimer, I’m parroting here, I don’t have training as a kinesthesiologist. I also spelled that right first try :)

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  3. James says:

    Sounds like Maybin may be Guti 2.0.

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  4. GilaMonster says:

    WHY DO YOU KEEP BREAKING MY HEART MAYBIN?

    You were the chosen one.
    You were suppose to go 20/40 after making adjustments to your swing.
    You were suppose to lead the Padres to the playoffs. Not lead them on the march to the DL>

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  5. Steven says:

    I wonder if the “health is a skill” applies only to repeat injuries. For example, if Maybin injures his shoulder early in his career, is his shoulder forever weaker and more prone to injury? While I don’t doubt that genetics can play a role in staying healthy, I would assume that the correlation is much stronger between past injuries and future repeated injuries versus past injuries and future unrelated injuries.

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    • Jon L. says:

      It’s hard to tell which injuries are unrelated. A player can injure his shoulder compensating for insufficient support from his core, because he has tight muscles to begin with, or due to an underlying neurological problem. Maybe he skips his after-game treatment after tough losses, always sleeps in a tight ball, or is committed to a stretching program that actually puts too much strain on his ligaments. This is the problem with predicting and interpreting injuries. Each player has his own completely integrated bodily system, and it’s impossible to find a sample in which any two players have definitively experienced the same strain, impact or trauma. As a result, we can’t ever know for sure to what extent the cause of an injury is the circumstance as opposed to the player, and we can’t ever know for sure how another player would have fared in the same situation, or whether another player might have been able to avoid it entirely.

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  6. Hurtlockertwo says:

    That RF should be packing his bags back to the minors, bad choce to let the CF dive for the ball when he was under it easily.

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    • rbenchley says:

      CF is the captain of the outfield and it’s his responsibility to either call off the other outfielders or let them have it when a ball is hit between zones. Looking at the GIF above, I’m guessing Maybin called him off.

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    • Schuxu says:

      The RF called for the ball, even put his hand out there to signal it visually. I guess Maybin called him off and since the CF has priority the RF rightfully stayed away.

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  7. Vlad the Impaler says:

    The only head scratcher in this post was the inclusion of the Phillies as a wild card contender. 77 wins tops for them. Too old of a team and no minors to supplement talent.

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    • Mike Petriello says:

      I’m certainly not putting money on them, but I don’t think it’s crazy to mention them as one of several mid-level teams who could dream of the WC. Easily the worst of the ones named.

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      • Vlad the Impaler says:

        Although it rarely, if ever happens, I don’t see there being a new playoff contender to the NL this year aside from the 7 of last year (Cards, Reds, Pirates, Dodgers, Braves, Nationals, D-Backs).

        The only non-contender from last year I could see would be the Giants if they can re-capture some pitching magic.

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        • Anon21 says:

          It rarely happens because injuries wreak havoc. Quite possibly, one of the seven teams you name is going to be decimated by injuries and some other team will step in to take their place.

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        • Preston says:

          If you don’t see it, you aren’t being creative enough. Things will happen between now and the all-star game that will dramatically change our view of the NL WC race.

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        • Bip says:

          Preston is right. It never looks likely, but it always happens. The Orioles started 2012 as fangraphs’ #30 organization and ended it with 93 wins and a playoff spot. The extent to which we should have seen that coming is up for debate, but I’m guessing not many predicted they’d have a winning record, let alone 93 wins.

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  8. grant says:

    “Skill” probably isn’t the best way to phrase it, health is different than a skill. But health certainly is demonstrably repeatable, to a degree, and has to be considered in any player projection.

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  9. Utah Dave says:

    The “health is a skill” phrase seems to be the highlight of the comments. I have to admit that I also don’t quite understand it. Maybe better conditioning (which is something a player can control) implies that to some degree health is controllable. Don’t run into the outfield fence at full speed is controllable. But I see health as more a matter of luck/fate than a skill.

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    • Jon L. says:

      To play devil’s advocate:

      Is speed a skill, or is it luck/fate? Can hard work turn you into Billy Hamilton?

      Is batting eye a skill, or is it luck/fate? Do you think Jeff Francoeur was just too stubborn to even try to learn to lay off bad pitches?

      Skills are luck/fate. And hard work. But mostly the former.

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  10. Wobatus says:

    Out 2-3 months with a ruptured bicep tendon.

    Another senseless hustle related injury.

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    • lexomatic says:

      This makes it seems like an IQ issue – the way people talk about basketball IQ. Is it smart to call off the RF and dive in a spring training game when you have a history of shoulder injuries?
      Historically, pitching to contact and saving your energy for tough spots. Baserunning would fall under this (and sliding), or positioning in the field. Health as impacted by decision-making.
      That definitely seems like an repeatble/improvable skill to me.

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  11. Jason Heyward says:

    Damn this guy is always getting hurt!

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  12. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Pictured in this article: Why the Padres got Seth Smith.

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  13. Holland says:

    Not pictured in the article: Why paying gobs of money over 7-10 years to a 230 lb CF with similar hustle is a very, very bad idea. I know I’d never do it.

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    • Bip says:

      You’re the guy who would take Miggy now over Trout now, huh? The one who thinks Trout is well on his way to diving himself out of baseball?

      You do realize anecdotal evidence is not good enough to prove your point?

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      • Holland says:

        I would take Miggy in a heartbeat. Hardly hustles, never overextends, knows what he’s being paid to do: be a 2 time MVP by hitting the crap out of the ball everyday (10 straight years of 600+ AB).

        I’d take Cano to.

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        • Steven says:

          Age also plays a factor in health. Look at Derek Jeter; he’s had multiple injuries over the past couple years while being an ironman when he was younger. Miguel isn’t in his upper 30s, but he’s clearly not as spry as when he was in his early 20s. Also, Miguel Cabrera was already bit with the injury bug last year.

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  14. The Party Bird says:

    Yeesh. I wonder how good of a CF Maybin would be if he went the Austin Jackson route and never tried for diving catches. My guess is that he would still be very valuable, while the cause of 2+ major injuries would be gone from his game.

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  15. JtheExploder says:

    Cactus League Champion flags fly forever.

    Every Game Counts

    – Rejected Bud Selig proposal, 2004

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  16. garett68 says:

    Quick Side note, Looking to fill out the rest of a new Otto League (This is Fantasy Baseball). Auction Draft, Fangraphs Points, group arbitration $99, draft on 3/28. Email me at garettmarcum@gmail.com

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