The Rangers Center Field Situation

This season, center field innings in Texas were primarily split between Craig Gentry and Josh Hamilton. But, Hamilton is now gone and the team has not signed a free agent to replace him in the field. They still seem to be in the market for an outfielder, but it’s conceivable they head to spring training with Gentry and Leonys Martin atop the depth chart. Assuming they find their everyday center fielder from an interal option, would either of these two be attractive fantasy targets?

Gentry is a 29-year old who has accumulated just 476 plate appearances spread over four seasons with the Rangers. He has no power, has sported a poor walk rate over his short career and should be making better contact given that aforementioned lack of power. For fantasy owners though, he is not completely without hope.

First, he steals bases. If we prorate his career stolen base total to 600 plate appearances, we get to 40 swipes over a full season. That’s pretty darn good and a hitter would have to really stink in the other categories to entirely negate the value created by those steals. Luckily, Gentry isn’t that bad.

The second thing going for him is a history of strong BABIP marks. He owns a small sample career BABIP mark of .342, while he has typically posted marks well above .300 throughout the minors. Though he does strike out more than we’d like to see given his power profile, he still makes contact at an above average rate. So the high BABIP combined with the solid contact rate has actually led to a respectable batting average, and one that generates some slight positive value.

Also in his favor in this potential positional battle is his defense. In a limited sample, he has been extraordinary in center field, as he boasts a career UZR/150 of nearly 30.0 at the position. The sample doesn’t even amount to a full season, but it’s large enough to be confident that he is an excellent defender.

Martin is the more prospecty option as he heads into his age 25 season. He bats left-handed and has been weaker against southpaws in the minors, however he has still performed well. So, it doesn’t appear that he would be an obvious candidate to sit against them.

During his time at Triple-A this year, he tore up opposing pitchers, batting .359 with a .251 ISO. Amazingly, he hit 12 homers in 231 at-bats after hitting 0 at the same level over the prior year (in about 50 fewer at-bats). He also made impressive contact for a power hitter and chipped in 10 steals (though that came along with 9 caught stealings).

Of course, this all happened in the Pacific Coast League, which is notorious for inflating offensive numbers. Martin’s home ballpark in Round Rock did not actually boost offense though. Although it did increase home run production, overall run production was neutral for left-handed batters. So we shouldn’t necessarily take his numbers with a grain of salt like we often have to do with other PCL sluggers. I have no idea how Martin is defensively, though I would guess he isn’t as good as Gentry given how fantastic he has played in center field.

Comparing the two for fantasy purposes, I would suggest that Gentry is the safer play given his skill set and contributons in the stolen base category. However, Martin has the much more exciting upside and would make for a better cheap gamble in 12-team mixed leagues next year. That said, I would bet that unless Martin has a huge spring training, Gentry will open the season with the job. He batted .304 for the team while playing spectacular defense, and Martin hasn’t had a whole lot of minor league experience. If Gentry does open the season with the job as predicted, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Martin get his chance at some point during the season, especially if an unlucky BABIP exposes Gentry as just an empty batting average.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

9 Responses to “The Rangers Center Field Situation”

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  1. Richard Leonarno says:

    I think you’re overrating Gentry’s prowess as a base stealer. In your opening paragraph, you wrote, “If we prorate his career stolen base total to 600 plate appearances, we get to 40 swipes over a full season. That’s pretty darn good and a hitter would have to really stink in the other categories to entirely negate the value created by those steals.”

    That’s not true at all. As John Thorn, Peter Palmer, Bill James and others have demonstrated, due to the immense harm a caught stealing inflicts on an offense, a player who gets caught more than 25% of the time will cost his team runs.

    During his brief major league career, Gentry has succeeded with 79% of his steal attempts. I doubt that contributed more than a win to his team.

    In 2012, he succeeded in only 65% of his attempts. So, without failing in any other categories, he cost his team wins.

    Gentry is 29. His speed should soon start declining. His career walk ratio in the minors is 8%, which is below average. He has no power, so most of his offensive value comes in his batting average, which will decline as his speed decreases.

    Martin is 24. He has been a terrible base stealer in the minors, but that hardly matters. If he makes the Rangers, Washington won’t send him often. Martin’s minor league walk ratio is around 10%, slightly better than Gentry’s, but he has much more power (career minor league slugging average of .503 to Genry’s .385). If the Rangers don’t acquire an experienced centerfielder, they should give Martin the first shot.

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    • Wobatus says:

      But, since this the roto portion of the site, and the fact that he gets caught stealing will only hurt in leagues that penalize for getting caught stealing, Mike isn’t discussing his wins above replacement. Regardless of the harm in actual baseball, in fantasy baseball the SB % often doesn’t mean anything, just the total number of stolen bases.

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    • Will says:

      Your math is wrong.

      Over his career, Gentry is 32 of 39 in SB attempts. That comes out to an 82% SB success rate.

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    • Andrew says:

      Your quoted 75% is more like 65% these days, given the run environment.

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  2. jsp2014 says:

    How many of Gentry’s career SB came as a pinch runner? It’s not as easy as just prorating out a full season of PAs. I know b-r has this split but it’s hard to navigate that site from my phone.

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    • I’m not sure and you make a valid point. Combined with Gentry’s age, I wouldn’t expect him to steal 40 bases over a full season. But, he’s a base stealer, which is really all I was trying to say.

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    • Daniel says:

      As a Rangers fan who watched most of their games last season, I can’t recall many instances where Gentry pinch ran and stole. I could be wrong though

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  3. Jay Stevens says:

    This is the first time I’ve seen it suggested that the Texas CF job is an either/or situation between Gentry and Martin. It seems more logical they’d split the position between the two, Gentry starting against lefties, Martin righties, and Gentry coming in as a defensive replacement. If that’s the case, then Martin’s probably the “safer” play, given he’d get more of the PAs.

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  4. Slackerjack says:

    The rangers need to seriously consider moving Kinsler to CF to make room for Profar at 2b. I don’t see the transition being all that difficult, and Kinsler is approaching the age where second basemen see their numbers fall off dramatically due to how physically demanding the position is.

    He’s due 75 million over the next 5 years (or 80 million over the next 6). Why not protect that investment by moving him to a position where he is likely to age well? This looks like another Michael Young situation waiting to happen.

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