Outfield Help Shouldn’t Be Priority for Texas

Both the New York Post’s Joel Sherman and ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick tweeted yesterday that they believe the Texas Rangers are the most — or, at least, one of the most — active teams in pursuit of the excellent, and likely available, Carlos Beltran.

In a vacuum, acquiring Beltran makes total sense. Despite concerns about his knee (not something to be overlooked) and the possible limits it’s placed on his defensive range (which appears to have declined from “excellent in center” to merely “good enough for right”), Beltran remains an offensive force. In fact, so far as the numbers indicate, Beltran is having the best offensive season of his career, his line of .289/.389/.514 (.309 BABIP) good for a 151 wRC+ in this season’s deflated run environment.

In the context of the Rangers, however, the pursuit of Beltran is a bit puzzling. If we assume that the optimal use of deadline trading is to improve a team’s present talent as much as possible (something that’s accomplished most easily by addressing weaknesses) then the Rangers stand little to gain by adding Beltran — or any outfield-type, really. Last year’s MVP Josh Hamilton is healthy again and manning left field. After dealing with his own injuries, Nelson Cruz is back, too, and ensconced in right. Michael Young, meanwhile, has basically locked down the everyday DH role, hitting .333/.369/.494 (.361 BABIP) with a 135 wRC+.

This, of course, leaves center field.

At first blush, the lack of marquee names in center for Texas might give one the impression that Beltran would make quite a reasonable addition to the Texas outfield. Either Hamilton could play the eight — something he’s done 18 times this season, anyway — with Beltran taking a corner, or, alternatively, Beltran could play a below-average center, but more than adequately pick up the slack on the offensive end.

The thing is, far from being a weakness, the Ranger center field has literally been among the best in baseball this season.

Allow this picture to replace a thousand words:

That’s a list of this season’s top-10 players (minimum 97 plate appearances) by WAR/650 (i.e. WAR per 650 plate appearances). The attentive reader will note that the Rangers’ center-field tandem of Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry sandwiches Shane Victorino, the only other center fielder on the list. With the exception of a few appearances by Josh Hamilton, Chavez and Gentry have started every game in center since May 28th, since which time Texas has gone 32-19 (after going 26-25 up to that point). It goes without saying that the duo hasn’t been exclusively responsible for the Rangers’ surge — but they’ve played an integral part it in, surely.

Leaving Gentry aside for a moment, let’s consider the strong side of the platoon in Chavez. Had you asked me even yesterday about him, I would’ve told you the three main things I know about him, in no particular order:

1. Made fantastic (and momentarily game-saving) catch in the 2006 NLCS.

2. Signed with the Mariners ahead of the 2009 season, largely on the strength of his defense.

3. Tore ACL (by colliding with Yuniesky Betancourt) in June of that same year, missed rest of season.

But that characterization sells short Chavez’s on-field production. For example, regard the following: Chavez’s last four seasons in the major leagues (before his season-ending ACL tear in 2009):

For the thousand-plus plate appearances he compiled between 2006 and ’09 (and the corresponding innings afield), Chavez was worth 5.9 Wins Above Replacement — or, an All-Star-ish 3.7 WAR for every 650 plate apperances. Given that context, Chavez’s production in 2011 (1.9 WAR in 142 PA) doesn’t seem particularly strange. Is it likely that he’s the fifth-best position player in baseball? No. Is it likely that’s he’s a league-average, or better, center fielder? Yes, very much so.

The righty-batting Gentry is, of course, another matter. His major-league resume includes only 151 plate appearances, including the 97 from this year. Nor were the first 54 pleasant to look at: .180/.222/.200, 3 BB, 16 K. That said, his major-league plate-discipline numbers this season (8.2% BB, 18.6% K) really do look like an exact translation of those from his 101 Triple-A plate apperances (10.9% BB, 14.9% K). Furthermore, like Chavez, Gentry is a player who will likely derive quite a bit of his value from defense. Per TotalZone, he was was worth +26 runs in center over 455 minor-league games there through 2009 — or, roughly +8 runs per season. Even if he hits the .250/.311/.333 that ZiPS expects from him, Gentry is likely above average in a platoon, as well.

Caveats abound so far as these points regarding Chavez and Gentry are concerned. Their BABIPs are probably both unsustainably high; the defensive numbers are derived from small samples; the Ranger front office, buoyed by means, intelligence, and a vested interest, likely knows what it’s doing. But Chavez and Gentry don’t have to continue being the best center field in baseball to remain an excellent center field, the sort of center field with which a team could win a championship. Were he added to the team, Carlos Beltran would certainly be an asset, but if the Texas Rangers are looking to use their resources most efficiently, looking elsewhere (like the front-end of the rotation, ideally) would likely prepare them best for their postseason run.

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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

30 Responses to “Outfield Help Shouldn’t Be Priority for Texas”

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  1. Dandy Salderson says:

    Leonys Martin should be TEX center fielder. He is already on the 40 man, has great defense and is hitting 332/407/500 at three levels in the minors this year.

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    • Sean O'Neill says:

      Great minds and all that…

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    • Wow. Hadn’t realized he’d been playing so well in minors. Plate-discipline numbers look excellent.

      Certainly could’ve mentioned his name in article — although point still remains: while Beltran wouldn’t hurt the club, they’d probably be better off addressing other areas (like SPs after Wilson, for example).

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      • GhettoBear04 says:

        The thought is that the Rangers will bring up Martin if he continues on his current path during September to get him some major league (and hopefully playoff) experience. Leonys, not Perez.

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      • Bill says:

        “they’d probably be better off addressing other areas (like SPs after Wilson, for example)”

        But who would you drop from the 4-man rotation?

        Wilson, Ogando and Harrison have all been excellent, and Colby was a monster in October last year.

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  2. Sean O'Neill says:

    You know, I clicked on this article and went “hey, someone at Fangraphs found out about Leonys Martin”…only to see that there wasn’t the slightest mention of him in this article. While he’s slowed down a tad since his promotion to AAA (though it’s only been 64 PA and all that’s missing is the power), Martin remains the Rangers CF of the future and could easily be ready by September.

    If there’s a reason for the Rangers to focus elsewhere than the outfield, it’s Leonys Martin.

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  3. Eric says:

    I really don’t understand the pursuit of Beltran unless it’s just smoke and mirrors for some reason. Though I know Gentry’s offense is never likely to be stellar, he is a pleasure to watch both in the field and on base (once he gets on, that is). And Chavez has been quite good, as noted.

    In short, even if he didn’t cost much — which he apparently will — I don’t get the pursuit of Beltran.

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    • juan pierre's mustache says:

      i think it’s safe to assume that gentry and chavez, no matter how intelligently platooned, are not going to be able to produce the same kind of results as beltran. that said, the difference may or may not be enough to really matter–i guess the question is whether you think the rotation or the CF platoon is more likely to continue overachieving, with leonys martin being a possible option to bolster that platoon. id go for a pitcher, but it’s hardly ridiculous for a team headed to the playoffs to not want to rely on relatively unproven commodities when there’s a pretty good option available.

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    • Hove says:

      I agree. Pretty simple here, when have the Rangers under John Daniels ever broadcast their true intentions? They are usually very under the radar with what they actually pull off. If anything, I say smoke screen here as well.

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    • Bill says:

      They may just be trying to drive up the price. They don’t want their competition to get him for a song. Although, I don’t think this is nearly as possible with the current Mets’ front office as it would have been with the previous one.

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  4. GhettoBear04 says:

    I don’t see any reason why linearly extrapolating based on such a small and odd sample size is a good idea, even if you reign in the results of its (naturally) absurd conclusion.

    Your overall point remains, but I don’t think it’s wise to expect Chavez or (the perfect 5th OF) Gentry to maintain anything close to this pace over the course of the season.

    Realistically, the contract status of Beltran (with no Type A picks) means that he could be an undervalued asset. I would rather the Rangers upgrade their team with Beltran and a good reliever (of which there are many on the market) and not overpay for a marginal starter.

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    • GhettoBear04 says:

      I should note that generally I enjoy your work quite a bit, Carson.

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      • No problem re: tone or anything like that.

        For me, the big difference is in the added value of Beltran versus, say, Hiroki Kuroda — or even Erik Bedard, who’d cost less than Beltran, I assume.

        I think you trade for Bedard, put him in a coma (lest he hurt himself) till the playoffs begin, and then make him your No. 2 starter beginning with the ALDS.

        Induced coma: the new market inefficiency.

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      • Telo says:

        “Induced coma: the new market inefficiency.”


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      • GhettoBear04 says:

        @Carson- That’s an entertaining thought regarding induced comas. Still, I think you should take a closer look at the Rangers rotation currently. They have at least 3 guys who are on the level of what Kuroda has put up this year and another in Holland who is a highly variable player that doesn’t seem like a bad option for the 4th spot in the rotation. I know this means your 2010 HeartFave Colby Lewis gets left out of the picture, but I’m not sure it makes sense to trade for a starting pitcher unless they are at an AllStar level this year.

        The Rangers overall pitching stats look mediocre this year due to the truly horrid bullpen performance. Even with that, the strength of the rest of the team puts them almost on the level of the Red Sox and Yankees if one uses FanGraphs team runs created statistics.

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  5. Telo says:

    Agree completely with your premise, but all the evidence/numbers used to back up your argument, as you come close to admitting, are essentially useless. It does no one any good for you cherry pick WAR/650 >97 PAs… it’s just… as close to useless as you can get. We want to know how good they ARE, not how well they have happened to rolled the dice thus far in 2011. Give us an actual idea of what value they present going forward, as a platoon or however you imagine them being utilized, then compare that to what Beltran would offer. And while the article was pointed in the right direction, it just doesn’t have an ounce of worthwhile quantitative analysis.

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  6. Steve Balboni says:

    Maybe Daniels has picked up Cashman’s game: insert yourself into every trade debate to run up the cost on your competitors.

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  7. fjmanuel says:

    this article is everything wrong with saberblogging these days. an absolute traveshamockery of sabermetric principles.

    not to mention the BEAUTIFUL use of arbitrary endpoints to complete inflate endy chavez’s game and true talent level.

    absolutely terrible.

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  8. Thomas Gore says:

    Now THIS is the type of hard-hitting analysis I come to FanGraphs for. Nowhere else can you find such stimulating debates and insights like this. I believe Endy Chavez is criminally underrated and is a difference maker in the outfield. My dream outfield would consist of Chavez, Gary Matthews Jr, and one of the angels from the movie “Angels in the Outfield”. With of course Jeff Francoeur serving as 4th OF. Bravissimo Cistulli!

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    • Bill says:

      So, your problem with the analysis is “Endy Chavez is awful because he’s Endy Chavez?” Endy Chavez has played very well this year. The numbers show this very clearly. I doubts that he can continue to play this well, whereas Beltran has shown in the past that he can continue to play on the level he is currently playing. The Rangers may not be satisfied with centerfield for the same reason the Yankees aren’t satisfied with their pitching. They don’t believe the level of play they have seen to date is sustainable.

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  9. t ball says:

    There is simply no reason to believe that Chavez will remain this productive. Maybe just as importantly, the Rangers’ best outfielders, Hamilton and Cruz, have both had numerous DL trips. Acquiring Beltran would give them a very formidable lineup when all are healthy, and a lineup that would still be very good if one of them went down.

    Since Beltran doesn’t come with any draft pick compensation to the acquiring team and is just a short term rental, the cost shouldn’t be prohibitive. The Rangers would significantly increase their chances of making the playoffs and winning once they got there with a Beltran acquisition. Does anyone really think the Rangers would be better off with Chavez/Gentry starting in CF in the playoffs?

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  10. tdotsports1 says:

    Their lineup is loaded as is, CF is fine if they can catch the ball ok. You don’t need a good lineup to win the WS – signed, the San Francisco Giants!

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  11. Dave I says:

    Textbook – if you ever want to put together an instructional video on how to play centerfield, you could just use clips of Chavez. He isn’t the fastest, but he gets to just about every ball; doesn’t have a cannon, but makes strong, accurate throws. He lines everything up, takes great routes to the ball and is a joy to watch. I’d take him on my team in the role the Rangers are using him.

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  12. Ben Hall says:

    I can buy the general idea, but my impression is that there aren’t any pitchers who can fill the front-end of the rotation available.

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