- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

Marlins Deal Busted Prospect or a Decent Player?

Over the weekend, the Marlins pulled the plug on the Miguel Cabrera trade, shipping off both Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin in separate deals that brought them some bullpen help. I like several of the arms that they got in return, so it would be unfair to label these moves as dumping busted prospects, but it’s clear that this is not what the Marlins were expecting when they got Detroit’s two top prospects in exchange for Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis three years ago.

JoePawl will have more on Miller and the Marlins haul in a bit. For now, though, let’s talk about Maybin.

Heading into his age-24 season, he’s got a bit of experience under his belt. He has 610 plate appearances in the big leagues over the last three years, where he’s hit .246/.313/.380. That’s not great, but it’s not abysmal either, especially for a center fielder. Over what amounts to one full season’s worth of playing time in the majors, Maybin has been worth +1.7 WAR, making him a slightly below-average player.

So why’d the Marlins dump him? It essentially comes down to a lack of contact and what that may mean for his future potential.

Major League teams have learned how to tolerate high strikeout totals from power hitters. Most teams will live with the whiffs to have a Ryan Howard or Adam Dunn hitting 40 bombs a year, realizing that the value that comes when they do make contact offsets the frustration of watching them swing and miss so often. Maybin, however, is not that kind of slugger, yet he still strikes out like one.

Of Maybin’s 610 big league plate appearances, 172 have resulted in strikeouts. His K% is the 16th highest in the majors among players who have at least 500 PA over the last three years. There are really only two types of players ahead of him on that list – power hitters and backup catchers, and the latter aren’t really in the big leagues for their offense.

The reason there aren’t any other small, high-strikeout guys in the big leagues? It is almost impossible to maintain any kind of value with that skillset. Guys with gap power – like Maybin – have to make up for their lack of big hits with a high quantity of singles and doubles, and that’s really hard to do when you’re striking out once a game. Maybin’s career average of .246 isn’t likely to get any better while he’s whiffing this frequently, as his BABIP is already .334, and he’s pretty close to reaching a ceiling with how often he can expect the balls he does hit to find holes.

If this were Maybin’s true talent strikeout rate, I’d understand why the Marlins traded him – he’s unlikely to ever turn into more than what he is now with these contact problems. However, Maybin’s strikeout rate in Triple-A the last two years has been significantly lower – just 19.5% in 2009 and 18.5% this year. He had significant contact issues in the low minors, but has seemingly made some strides in that area, at least against minor league pitching.

If Maybin can get his whiff rate down to a more manageable 25 percent or so, then he’s a viable starting center fielder in the big leagues. At that point, he wouldn’t be much different of a player than B.J. Upton, for instance. Can he get there? Maybe, maybe not. But the Padres were wise to take a shot on him, as young, cheap, up-the-middle players with some offensive upside aren’t usually available for just bullpen help.

I get why the Marlins dumped him. It just seems a bit premature to give up on a guy really only needs to improve in one area to become a pretty nice piece for the future.