Four Factors: Cameron Maybin's tough task ahead

I’ve used the Four Factors tool at length to examine a couple of interesting seasons, those of Hanley Ramirez, newly minted San Francisco Giant Cody Ross, and future of the Marlins Mike Stanton. Another cog for the future of this franchise is Cameron Maybin, a former top prospect who has taken a significant hit in status since the start of 2009. Ever since he opened the 2009 year as the Marlins’ center fielder and leadoff man, Maybin has struggled with his game, being unable to translate minor league success into major league performance.

We know the reason why Maybin has struggled in the bigs: strikeouts. In 489 career PA, most of them coming with Florida, Maybin has struck out 136 times, a 27.8% rate. It is important to point out, just as we discussed with Mike Stanton and his future prospects, that players who strike out at a rate that high need help to become valuable offensive contributors. For the vast majority of major leaguers with sky-high strikeout rates, they compensate this with added power and more walks. However, Maybin has been average at best at drawing walks and does have his struggles with plate discipline, and he has never shown the kind of home run power needed to overcome such a high strikeout rate.

Four Factors Profile

As always with these articles, let’s first examine Maybin’s four factors profile to start.

Ramirez BB% K% POWH BABIP ffwOBA
2010 7.0% 27.9% 0.366 .295 .260
Career 7.6% 27.8% 0.528 .332 .302
Projected 9.4% 26.4% 0.522 .318 .303

As you can see, the early returns of Maybin’s career don’t paint a rosy picture. He does not hit for a lot of power, something that most prospect mavens had figured out by 2008 and hoped would change with age. That has yet to be the case. He also has not displayed any improvement on his well-documented issue with strikeouts.

Possible Improvement: Strikeouts

The first thing I tested using the four factors tool is an improvement on strikeouts, something that most of us would want to see. There were signs of that in Triple-A both in 2009 and 2010; in his 490 PA at the Triple-A level, Maybin struck out only 82 times, a 16.7% rate. As we know, that has not translated yet to the big league level, but let’s see what kind of effect it would have if it did translate. I took Maybin’s projected rest-of-season numbers from ZiPS, using his career 2B/HR and 3B/HR, and plotted how a decrease in strikeouts from his career mark of around 28% and his Triple-A mark of 16.7% would affect his ffwOBA.

The difference of a bit more than 10% in strikeout brings about a huge difference in wOBA. At his career strikeout mark, Maybin’s wOBA is estimated at just below .300, which is a bit more than 15 runs below average. At the Triple-A strikeout rate, Maybin’s wOBA jumps to almost .340, five runs above an average of .330, and a difference of 20 per season compared to the career rate. In other words, if Maybin could make more contact (career 72.4% contact rate on swings) and swing less wildly (career 26.6% swing rate on pitches outside of the zone), he could improve up to two wins per season on offense.

Keep in mind that, based on his admittedly small-sample career numbers, it seems like Maybin’s issue is most certainly more of a contact issue than it is a plate discipline problem. Maybin seems to be around the league average in terms of in and out of zone swings, but he is well below average in both contact in and out of the zone. This is expected, as Maybin was known to draw walks at a decent pace in the minors (walk rate in Double- and Triple-A combined was 12.0%). Whether the poor contact is then an issue of swing mechanics is something for the coaches to determine, but there is a significant benefit to finding out,

Possible Improvement: BABIP

Maybin currently boasts a career BABIP of .332, which does not come as a surprise to any Marlin who has followed Maybin since his arrival. Maybin posted a whopping .387 BABIP between both and Double- and Triple-A, but that comes with some pretty heavy caveats. BABIP naturally will decrease as players increase in levels, especially when arriving in the big leagues, thanks to a combination of better pitchers (minor leaguers can be on the worse end of true BABIP skill) and better defenses (defensive efficiency increases as level increases). Naturally, we would expect Maybin to lose a bit of that BABIP edge, but how important will it be to his game? Let’s apply the same method as above to his BABIP (note: his strikeout rate for this example will be a projected 26.4%).

A change in BABIP from a .310 mark to Double-A/Triple-A total of .387 would yield a pretty significant difference in wOBA as well, down from just below .300 to close to .350. That represents a difference of 25 runs in one season. At his career .332 BABIP, the projected wOBA only goes up to .318, yielding a hitter worth a bit less than five runs below average. To reach league average, however, Maybin would need a BABIP of at least .360 (.332 ffwOBA).

The problem with this is that few players can reach a consistent .360 BABIP level over a long period of time. In the past three years, only five players have reached a mark of about .360 with at least 400 PA, and three of those players did not have more than 1000 PA. Of those with 1000+ PA, only six players in last three seasons (including 2010) reached a .350 BABIP (Ichiro Suzuki, David Wright, Shin-Soo Choo, Manny Ramirez, and Joey Votto, if you’re interested). None of those players struck out as often as Maybin, and all of them showed better contact and plate discipline.

What does this mean?

Maybin’s speed lends itself towards higher BABIP, but in order to fully utilize this ability for hitting, he would also have to have a good contact rate, a la Ichiro. It would seem to me like the easier way to improve between these two methods is to cut down on the strikeouts, a task the Marlins coaching staff will have to tackle. Without an improvement in terms of power, it seems like Maybin has a tough task ahead of him in improving his hitting. The reward for both him and the Marlins is that the hitting need not improve drastically. For Maybin to have positive value, he likely only needs to be an average (.330 wOBA) hitter, as he plays center field decently enough to be a net positive on defense. As an average hitter, Maybin could be worth 2.5 WAR per season; while disappointing given his prospect status, such a result would definitely have value over the next four or five years.

Tags: Cameron Maybin Miami Marlins

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