It’s the $25 million conversation we all refuse to have. It’s the giant dollar sign-shaped elephant in the room. It’s
Cameron Maybin‘s slump. Questioning the happy kid who just became the new face of the franchise may be one of the farthest things from our minds, but it shouldn’t be. Right now, Maybin doesn’t look good, and we should be talking about that. But the fact is, he’s not as bad as he looks.
Across the country, the Padres’ 24-year old center fielder became a well-known name over night. When fans outside the home team’s market don’t know a player, they generally learn about him pretty quickly when he signs an early contract that buys out arbitration and free agent years. In this age of constant analysis, a contract extension immediately make top news and the breakdowns quickly follow. Such was the case when Maybin, a relatively obscure player outside Detroit, Miami, and San Diego signed a new $25 million contract this offseason. Maybin became national news, and fans from across the nation began paying attention to him.
Unfortunately, those thousands upon thousands of eyes that have given Maybin additional attention have been disappointed by poor plate discipline, lesser than expected power output, and an all-around bad start to the year. Maybin is currently hitting .214/.339/.340. His OBP is not horrible, but his batting average and slugging percentage leave much to the desired, especially considering he is striking out a lot.
Even with the early season struggles, there are positives we can draw from Maybin’s 2012 season thus far. Surprisingly, he no longer leads the team in strikeouts. Chase Headley, arguably the Padres best player, leads the team with 33. Maybin has 27. Maybin has also walked 18 times and is on pace to walk more than his did last season. But let’s go deeper into the stats. It’s easy to look at the surface numbers and assume things are going badly for him when the truth is, he is not having a bad season overall.
Through these first 30 games Maybin has played this year, he has lowered his K% to 21.4%. Last season, it was at 22%. Maybin has also increased his BB% from 7.7% in 2011 to 14.3% so far in 2012. Combine those two stats, and Maybin’s BB/K ratio has jumped from 0.35 in 2011 to 0.67 so far this year. These numbers can turn on a dime with the number of games left in the year, but if he continues them, Maybin should finish the season with better overall numbers.
According to Fangraphs, Maybin’s wOBA (weighted on-base average), which recognizes that not all hits should be valued the same, is only slightly lower than last year. His current wOBA is .319. It was .320 last season. In addition, Maybin’s wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) 109 as compared to 112 in 2012. The 109 represents Maybin’s ability to create runs 9% better than league average.
Inclusive of both minor league and Major League at-bats, Cameron Maybin has had a career BAbip of .327. In 2011, his BAbip was .331. So far this year, it’s hovering around .276. I’ve discussed BAbip here before and the fact that it generally finds its way back to the mean. In this case, if Maybin’s BAbip recovers and approaches his norm, Maybin will see a lot more of the balls he makes contact with finding grass rather than fielders’ gloves. Part of Maybin’s struggles with his batting average on balls in play is that he is hitting more ground balls and fly balls, but he is not hitting the ball on a line as much. It’s no secret line drives lead to more hits. In 2011, Maybin’s LD% was 15.9%. This year, it is just 10.7%.
Also contributing to the perception of bad play has been Maybin’s defense. He was originally brought to San Diego for his speed and his glove in the outfield. Last year, he rewarded the Padres with 15 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and a 9.5 UZR. This season, he is at -1 DRS and just a 3.2 UZR. The Padres as a whole have played poor defense, and maybe its contagious. Maybin will recover and have a similar defensive season to 2011, but right now, he look pedestrian in centerfield for the Padres.
After a big contract extension, it is usually easy to bash a player for a slow start to the season, but strangely, not many have been talking about Maybin’s struggles (perceived or real). This could be because the team is so far back in the standings, with so many other problems, that no one believes an improvement on Maybin’s part will be enough to turn this club around. But nonetheless, there will be a turn around for Maybin. His numbers indicate he is actually doing better this year in many categories than he did last year. Over the course of 162 games, both good and bad numbers will revert to the mean. Maybin will improve offensively when he starts hitting more line drives, and he will improve defensively with more games.
Even with his batting average sitting at .214 on the season, Cameron Maybin’s big contract extension was the right move, and it is paying off for the Padres. Maybin will only continue to improve his game as he gains more experience as an everyday player.