The Curious Case of Cameron Maybin

We’re pleased to welcome another talented writer to the FanGraphs team – Paul Swyden will be writing regularly for us going forward, and we think he’ll be a great addition to the site.

When Cameron Maybin was traded in November, it seemed as though the Padres were just trying to pick up a low-cost center fielder, as broken down by Dave Cameron here. They then went out and traded for, and extended, Jason Bartlett, and signed Orlando Hudson, seemingly saying that since they couldn’t afford anyone more expensive than Aaron Harang to upgrade the rotation, they’d upgrade the defense around that rotation instead. But this demands a question: does Maybin fit that plan?

At the time of the deal, the Friars already had Tony Gwynn, Jr. in the fold. Coming off a year in which he was 11th in the Majors in UZR, and third among center fielders, keeping Gwynn around seemed like a good idea. However, with Maybin on board, the Padres non-tendered Gwynn in early December, making the center-field job Maybin’s to lose in the process.

There’s a good argument to be made that Gwynn simply isn’t an everyday player, even with a glove that might be well above-average in center field. Gwynn has been in the Majors since 2006, but has never started more than 96 games in a season and never more than 87 in center. And while his glove does carry his anemic bat, it doesn’t carry enough to make it worthwhile when he hits like he did in 2010.

The reason could also be that Maybin has promise defensively in addition to some remaining offensive potential. In his four years in the Majors, 53 players have played 1,000 innings in center field. Of that group, Maybin’s UZR/150 of 5.6 ranks 16th, clustered in a group with Drew Stubbs (5.2), B.J. Upton (5.7), Austin Jackson (5.9) and Ichiro Suzuki (6.6). Gwynn’s UZR/150 of 16.8 is more than a win better, and is good for fifth place, but looking at the four-year totals we can see that Maybin isn’t inferior to Gwynn in every respect. While Maybin’s arm is nothing special, it’s been better than Gwynn’s, which ranks as eighth worst out of the group of 53. And since neither score well in ErrR, most of the difference between the two can be found in RngR. Here, the difference is considerable, approximately two wins, but perhaps there is promise for Maybin in this area as well.

Maybin’s overall score of 49 in the Fans’ Scouting Report last season wasn’t stellar, but the sample is somewhat small due to his up-and-down stints in the majors and a general lack of Florida presence in the FSR voting. From the details that do show up in the report, we can see the two areas where Maybin scores well are related to range: Acceleration/First Few Steps and Velocity/Sprint Speed. Maybin’s marks in each category are more than one standard deviation above the mean, which is promising. Also promising is the FSR’s of both Andres Torres and Josh Hamilton. Both saw bumps of 10+ points in their overall FSR scores from 2009 to 2010 after they had big jumps in their innings played. Perhaps with more playing time, Maybin may see a similar bump, as fans get a better appreciation for his physical abilities with regular viewings.

In Florida, Maybin may have been dubbed the Marlins center fielder of the future, but they rarely treated him as such. In April 2009, they started him in 23 games before condemning him to Triple-A New Orleans on May 11, and he wasn’t brought back up until rosters expanded in September. This past April, he managed to double that total, with 47 starts through June 6. But again, after underperforming, he was benched for more than a week following a 1-4 showing, and then was optioned back to New Orleans on the 18th. He wasn’t called back up until the end of August. That’s not the behavior of an organization that is committed to a player’s future.

Despite this jerking around, Maybin has shown flashes – albeit amongst long stretches of mediocrity or worse – that he does have talent in the field. He may never be as glovely as Tony Gwynn Jr., but he probably isn’t as bad as his 2010 fielding marks would have you believe. Perhaps if given a longer leash this year in his still-young age-24 season, the Padres will be the organization that reaps the benefits of that talent. It should tell us something that a team so focused on defensive upgrades this winter was willing to bring him in to replace Gwynn to begin with.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 5 months ago

Maybin is one of my favorite topics. My view on him seems to be strikingly different than most, which I guess is why it is interesting to me.

He is an awesome MiLB player. He’s a speed guy that walks a lot, plays good D, and has some pop. As a pro, he’s just a speed guy that doesn’t get on base, and K’s A TON. Seriously, the 33% K-Rate for a non-power, low walk, guy is intolerable.

In Florida, Maybin may have been dubbed the Marlins center fielder of the future, but they rarely treated him as such. In April 2009, they started him in 23 games before condemning him to Triple-A New Orleans on May 11, and he wasn’t brought back up until rosters expanded in September. This past April, he managed to double that total, with 47 starts through June 6. But again, after underperforming, he was benched for more than a week following a 1-4 showing, and then was optioned back to New Orleans on the 18th. He wasn’t called back up until the end of August. That’s not the behavior of an organization that is committed to a player’s future.

2009: .311 wOBA; .387 wOBA (MiLB)
2010: .299 wOBA; .409 wOBA (MiLB)

He doesn’t have anything left to prove in MiLB, but his performance at the majors is bad. We have a player who is incredibly toolsy, but lacks skill. I’m not sure players “learn the skill” at the ML level. He strikes out a ton, and doesn’t walk much in the Bigs. My feeling is “If he could, he would”. Players don’t stink by choice.

Maybin and Gordon are very close to being labelled as 4A players, in the mold of Brandon Wood. KCR have taken a different approach to getting some value from AG, but what can you do with a speed guy that doesn’t get on base?

Furthermore, how much do you need to play him at the ML level to be confident that he cannot perform well enough to remain at that level.

I remember when he was a 20yo can’t miss with DET. He kills in the minors, but for whatever reason isn’t coming close to it in the majors. I’m not confident that “more playing time” is the answer.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
5 years 5 months ago

In addition to the K rate, he hits an extraordinarily high percentage of balls on the ground. Between the K’s and GB’s he has very little opportunity for XBH’s. He’s probably been taught to slap the ball into the ground to take advantage of his speed. He needs to take lessons from the guy Andres Torres worked with so he can learn to elevate the ball.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 5 months ago

He does it in the minors.

He just doesn’t do it in the majors.

I’m back to my point of “If he could, he would.”

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
5 years 5 months ago

CC11,

Even in the minors, Maybin has always hit a high percentage of ground balls. His MLB outcome so far could be projected from a long ways away. He was always going to be a slap and dash hitter at best.

Nats Fan
Guest
Nats Fan
5 years 5 months ago

Some guys blossum later. At 24 it is a bit young to toss him away.

sean
Guest
sean
5 years 5 months ago

Where else is he supposed to learn major league skills than the majors? Maybin is an extremely toolsy player who has only ONE season worth of ABs in the bigs. To act as if that is a sufficient amount of time to know his potential as a major league player is silly.

Frank
Guest
Frank
5 years 5 months ago

“(h)ow much do you need to play him at the ML level to be confident that he cannot perform well enough to remain at that level(?)”

Circle,
I don’t have the link at hand, but there is some research on this. IIRC, another 350-400 AB in 2011 should be enough to answer your question.

You make some well-reasoned points in your post.

colin chea
Guest
colin chea
5 years 5 months ago

Watching Cameron as he enter MLB, i was impressed with his speed in the outfield. However like so many before, they are great MiLP, but when they get to the show, reality sets in, almost like his former teamate that they used to acquire Cabrera.

jbardo
Guest
jbardo
5 years 5 months ago

I would love to see a Fangraphs study of recent highly regarded prospects that have fallen farthest from fulfilling their potential. Corey Patterson comes to mind, as well as Andy Marte and Brandon Wood and even someone like BJ Upton (remember his 2007 season?). I am also reminded of someone like Howie Kendrick, who is a quality regular but has put up a major league line (.295/.327/.425) that looks rather pedestrian compared to his incredible minor league career (.360/.403/.569).

Why is it that some minor league stars don’t continue to develop as they reach the majors? The obvious answer is having “skills” and not just “tools,” but is the gap between AAA really that large that someone like Kendrick will look like Rogers Hornsby in AAA (where he hit .369/.408/.631 in 2006) and then look like Johnny Ray in the majors? Is it just because he doesn’t take walks? What other factors come into play? If you watch Kendrick hit, every time he makes contact it seems like he’s going to hit a double but it is usually a line-drive or hard groundball out. I am still baffled why he isn’t perennially hitting .320+ with 45+ doubles, 5-10 triples, and 15-20 HR.

I think plate discipline is a huge part of it, but that it also has to do with the ability to make continual micro-adjustments and thus to evolve oneself as a hitter. Maintaining similar performance level year after year is not unlike the process of inflation – you actually have to get better to keep on hitting the same, because not only do players start breaking down physically but they’re continually having to face new, unfamiliar pitchers but also old pitchers that have gotten to know them (the same goes for pitchers). Plus, I would imagine, it is easy to become complacent.

Kendrick looks like a player that hasn’t changed his shtick one bit and is in danger of “Erstaditis.” He came to the majors and hit .322/.347/.450 in 2007 and his numbers have declined since. He gets hot then hits a slump and seemingly doesn’t know how to make adjustments.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
5 years 5 months ago

Part of the problem with the Angels and their hitting prospects is the minor league environments in their system. The only level where they are exposed to anything less than a hitter’s paradise is in the low A Midwest League. Salt Lake City? Come on! You will never, ever, be able to project Salt Lake City numbers to the majors. The Southern Division of the Cal League isn’t a whole lot better nor is the Texas League.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 5 months ago

I think at the ML one’s ability to simply out talent everyone else is severely diminished.

Advanced scouting in the majors is also a big factor. Once they find out what you can’t hit, you’re going to get a lit of it … From pitchers with better command and control.

No mercy.

I feel bad for 4A players. They literally have to go crazy with trying to “figure it out”.

obsessivegiantscompulsive
Guest
5 years 5 months ago

I have a problem with people who say a team isn’t committed to youth or a young player just because they don’t play him.

The fact that the team put him in that starting position is a very clear sign that they are committed to him and to youth, particularly if the team is trying to play to win that season, which the Marlins were. The fact he got sent down was because he was doing horribly and wasn’t even particularly good for any extended period. The fact that they kept him down is because he was not doing enough to earn a call-up.

Look at his stats in 2009. .862 in AAA is not really that good. It is OK, but he’s not suppose to be an OK offensive player, he is suppose to be better than that. He was not that obviously outperforming the other players in the league.

Now, in 2010, he was much better in AAA, but he still did not perform well once he came back, worse if anything, in September.

Jerking up and down, to me, would be yo-yo-ing him between the majors and minors. They gave him a pretty good chance in 2009 to show off what he got. I think we can agree that .202/.280/.310/.589 is not even close to replacement level. He got 23 starts in 29 games, 25 total games, so it was not like he wasn’t starting regularly. And the Marlins were trying to win, and at some point you cut the rope and move on. He wasn’t even average for any extended period of time.

He then batted .862 in AAA, which is not that great, even for a 22 YO. The MLE on that was around .800, which is slightly above average for an OF, and basically what Cody Ross was delivering in CF. Why switch and hope Maybin produces while you are within spitting distance – 5 games – of the division lead? They stuck with Ross for proven production and to stay in contention.

In 2010, he started 47 games out of 58 total games, 51 in total, hitting a very poor .225/.290/.341/.631. He got two months to show what he got and he was waaay below average. He played well in April initially for three weeks, but then only hit .185/.252/.303/.554 in the next 32 starts.

There a better argument could be made that he was held back. He hit much better in AAA, .915 OPS, so maybe he could have been promoted. But his MLE was worse, at .758 OPS, so that would be a good reason to keep him down too. At that point, the team has to account for the player’s attitude and intangible stuff like that, to figure out whether to bring him up or not. They decided to wait, and given how poorly he played once he was brought up and played regularly, he still wasn’t ready.

Just because you sent down the guy does not mean that a team is not committed to youth or a young player. He needs to hold the position by playing well enough. That is part of the deal as far as I’m concerned, you just don’t stick with somebody who has shown no ability to hit in the majors for an extended period of time. He earned the right to start with his play in the minors, but then he needed to do well in the majors to hold it. They gave him 1-2 months in those two cases and he was very cold for over a month in both cases before being sent down.

Now his April 2010 start has to tantalize some that maybe he can do it eventually by putting it all together. SD obviously bit. They have committed to him by trading away Gwynn, but like with Blanks last season, who they sent down after he did poorly for over a month, he might not get to stay out there all season if he does not hit well enough.

Now if he can hit as well as Gwynn did in 2009, he probably will keep the job, but if he hit as well as he did for the Marlins (500’s OPS), he probably won’t and will get sent down again (assuming he still has options, not sure; if he has no options, he will probably be kept on the bench)

Nats Fan
Guest
Nats Fan
5 years 5 months ago

I’ll take the (park adjusted) over on Maybin in San Diego. I think he will be better and help that team. Star no, but solid starter is a level i would bet on. He is 24. Few of anyone has done much by 24.

Laurence
Guest
Laurence
5 years 5 months ago

He’s still entirely too young to give up on, YET…there are any number of kids in MLB who have been up for a cupla years anad look like they dont know their asses from a hole in the ground, before they FINALLY break thru. I think Maybin is talented enough to be one of those guys.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 5 months ago

When I look at Maybin through the eyes of a pitcher and a coach it’s even more confusing.

Let me state right off that I am very sensitive to the labelling of minority players as “toolsy” as a way of saying they aren’t thinkers.

When I look at Maybin, the only thing to fear is his speed. So I don’t want to walk him, not that you could anyway. So just pound the zone and let him K or ground out.

As a coach, what do you tell a guy that does everything you want him to do in the minors, but not in the majors? Tell him to relax and just play? When he knows if he doesn’t perform he’ll be back in the bus-n-burger leagues?

He made it to the majors at 20, and kills in the minors. Like so many talented young players, his 1st real taste of failure came at the ML level. We just don’t know how he’ll handle that. We also don’t know how willing he is to work at it, whether his coaches have the skill to help him or whether he even knows what to do in order to transfer his MiLB succes into MLB succes.

I’ve had the opp to talk with a young player trying to stick in the majors, and it’s nowhere near as much fun as you’d think. They’re basically scared to death that they’re one bad week from never seeing the majors again, and everyone they talk to has advice … But the words of wisdom are all over the map.

At this point, I wonder if there are any comparables to Maybin? The guys that breakout when they’re 27 probably do not have Maybins MiLB track record, nor do they have his talent. I’d imagine most guys in his situation have early succes, leading to unrealistic expectations that are rarely met. CM is having trouble getting even that one season where he shows what he can do.

Who can help him? I hate to see his talent not result in succes, and I empathize with the anxiety and confusion he must be feeling.

Tanned Tom
Guest
Tanned Tom
5 years 5 months ago

I’m more than willing to give this kid a shot, because the truth is that Gwynn was terrible at the plate. So almost any change was gonna be an improvement.

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Mike
Guest
5 years 5 months ago

After looking at this most of the winter, I think it’s simple. Maybin is 3+ years younger than Gwynn Jr and has demonstrated much more power in the Majors than TGJ ever did.

Maybin’s not the superlative CF that TGJ was, but he’s still very good. The Padres were willing to take a bit of a hit defensively to improve their offense.

THE_SLASHER14
Guest
THE_SLASHER14
5 years 5 months ago

Remember when Dustin Pedroia stank up the American League for two months and Francona refused to take him out of the lineup? There are other stories like that. A lot, I suspect, depends on what his manager and coaches are teaching him while he struggles. What’s odd about Maybin is that the Marlins are a team that often DOES commit to a rookie, so one wonders why they were reluctant to do so to him.

But his major league line, while not good, isn’t a disaster either, and at age 24 it is silly to project it as the last word at this point.

Ricky Imperiali
Guest
Ricky Imperiali
5 years 5 months ago

I am in a NL only keeper league and have been talking to another owner about a trade involving Maybin. I wanted to get some feedback on this proposed trade…… Jayson Werth at $1.50 and Tim Hudson at $3.20 for Cameron Maybin at .50, Starlin Castro at .50 and Houston Street at 1.40…. I would be trading away Werth and Hudson. I am the defending champion of this 8 team league with a salary of 30 dollars and 23 man team. My middle infield is already stacked with reyes, tulo, and weeks but I could put castro at DH. I guess im thinking i love the upside of castro and maybin and feel werth is due for a down year and hudson is only getting older although he did have a great year.

Oakland Dan
Guest
Oakland Dan
5 years 5 months ago

Maybin is no good. Guys like this pop up all the time, and I am amazed that the scouts are so clueless. He is a good athlete, but he isn’t good at baseball. We were told, time and time again, that Dustin Pedroia could only be so good because of his lack of size and supposed lack of physical tools. One problem: Playing baseball is a skill, and they were ignoring the obvious fact that Pedroia had that skill in spades. Maybin just doesn’t.

Neither does Brandon Wood, and neither did Corey Patterson or about two dozen other guys that are being talked up right now. Unbelievable that anyone watching Carey Patterson or Felix Pie or Brandon Wood take 40 AB’s would think these guys are any good.

holt
Guest
holt
5 years 1 month ago

let the numbers do the talking:

.273 .348 .453 .802

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