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Cameron Maybin: Cooked or Post-Hype Sleeper?

Posted By Colin Zarzycki On December 7, 2012 @ 10:15 am In Outfielders | 8 Comments

2012 was not kind to Cameron Maybin owners. After a seemingly breakthrough 2011 where he stole 40 bases, scored 82 runs, and coupled those with a 0.130 ISO, he came into this season perhaps not an elite option, but one that was almost universally drafted in fantasy leagues — a center-of-the-field positional player in his age 25 season who carried nearly guaranteed stolen base numbers with fair upside in most other standard 5×5 categories. On ESPN, Maybin came off the board 33rd among outfielders in fantasy leagues; 13th among his center field brethren (the latter number being especially important for leagues that don’t use generic outfield slots). However, after an up and down 2012, Maybin only slots in 71st in Zach Sanders’ end of season FVAR rankings — at $0 value, he was essentially replacement level; someone who (ignoring brand) was likely shuttled between the waiver wire and spot starts in most leagues.

So what went wrong for Maybin in 2012? His BB% and K% didn’t portend anything problematic — he walked at similar rates to what he always had and his strikeout numbers actually dipped a bit in 2012. His ISO dropped a fair bit, from 0.130 in 2011 to 0.107 in 2012, implying that he wasn’t driving the ball quite as well he had previously. Perhaps the most observable peripheral suffering was Maybin’s BABIP, which fell under 0.300 for the first time since his abbreviated rookie season with the Tigers in 2007. The typical first order of business whenever a hitter’s BABIP fluctuates is turning to the batted ball profiles to see if there is a fundamental shift in the type of contact a hitter is making; Maybin’s rates actually look quite stable from 2011 to 2012, with the most major change being a halving of the number of infield hits he was able to beat out. Plugging this into an xBABIP calculator, and his profiles give an xBABIP of 0.313; much closer to Maybin’s career average of 0.319. So “bad break” for this year’s Maybin owners; even with the spacious Petco Park he still was “unlucky” in terms of getting balls in play to fall for hits. Hits, of course, which may have translated to more success on the basepaths and therefore boosts in steals and runs.

On the topic of steals, the second critical problem (and the most disappointing from a fantasy perspective) this past year was Maybin’s lack of speed. After breaking through with 40 sacks bagged in 2011, he regressed to his 2010 and earlier version of himself; a guy with immense speed but a general lack of ability on the basepaths. While his CS% bounced from 16% (2011) to 21% (2012), the bigger concern was the fact that his overall attempts were down; only trying to theft 68% as much as the year before. Breaking this out into pre- and post-all-star break trends and we see that he dropped a bit as the season went along, stealing 4.9 bases for every 100 plate appearances in the first half of the season while putting up a 4.2 SB/100 PA ratio in the second half. Maybin did have some nagging injuries (wrist, heel) at times later in the season, but given his lack of gaudy stolen bases figures before 2011 and no easily-fixable reason for his decrease in 2012, it will be tough for fantasy owners to bank on a resurgence from him in 2013.

The news isn’t all bad, though. In early July, Maybin made a significant change to his swing, eliminating a high leg kick for his front (left) foot in favor or a smaller toe tap. The effects were noticeable: Jeff Sullivan gif’ed (can I make that a verb?) Maybin’s before and after swings while also pointing out that he saw major increases in many raw peripheral categories if you separated his stats into pre- and post-change bins. His OPS, ISO, and BABIP all jumped – likely influenced by increased contact numbers, decreased strikeouts, and a newfound aggressiveness on pitches inside the strikezone. Projecting his post all-star break numbers out over a full season and suddenly you aren’t looking at a bottom of the barrel option in center, but an above average one in fantasy circles.

Cameron Maybin hung out in replacement purgatory in 2012. His performance in standard 5×5 leagues had him as a guy riding the waiver wire shuttle as people with weak options in their outfield tried to find lightning in a bottle in a guy with former blue-chip credentials. Given that many owners committed a mid- to late-round draft pick on him, he may have stuck on rosters a bit more than the average outfielder who put up equivalent numbers, but that likely just meant he did even more harm than he would have otherwise if his name was (insert some generic name ending in Smith here). Owners looking towards 2013 will have to decide which Maybin they believe in: if they think he’s the guy without a fantastic eye or elite power who saw his one redeemable asset (steals) fall of the table in 2012, he’ll likely be nowhere near draftable on most boards. However, there’s some evidence which points to a late-season renaissance, especially in Maybin’s power stroke, that, when coupled with a regression to a more realistic 0.315ish BABIP, could provide sneaky value for a still 26 year-old at the end of most drafts.


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