Did you know that Cameron Maybin is batting .265/.328/.422 for the San Diego Padres this season? Did you know that it was an obvious mistake that the Marlins let Maybin go for two relievers in Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb this past offseason? If you did not know, FanGraphs authors are more than willing to tell you, since they have written four different articles on the topic since the trade was made. The latest was written by friend of the Maniac Eric Seidman, and it intimates once again (as all of the previous articles have in one way or another) how the Marlins made a clear error in trading Maybin away.
"Given that Maybin already has produced approximately two wins above replacement, revisiting his trade to the Padres is in order. The move really made no sense for the Marlins, even before factoring in how well he’s played this season. He was perceived to have underperformed with the Marlins, even though his playing time was sporadic. From 2008 to 2010 — his age 21 to 23 seasons — he hit .257/.323/.391. The league average in the senior circuit in that span was approximately .258/.329/.407. In other words, Maybin was practically a league average hitter in his time with the Marlins. At worst, he was a league average fielder at arguably the toughest position on the field. Combine those factors with his age and it seems incomprehensible to trade him for two middle relievers."
I am in a agreement with a few of these mentioned here. The Fish likely gave up on him for too little, as two relievers (even if one has closer talent) are never going to be as valuable as an everyday player. The returns on the trade were poor, and a combination of low trade value and a desire to shore up the so-called “disastrous” bullpen performance of last year convinced the Fish to give up on him a season earlier. But with the way Maybin’s season has turned out, it almost sounds like the Marlins gave up a critical player as well, when the truth is that it was unlikely to expect Maybin to be a major league average player in 2011.
BABIP in the driver’s seat
Seidman brings up the fact that Maybin hit .257/.323/.391 since 2008. Indeed, this is true, though it does include an almost forgettable 36 PA sample accomplished in September of 2008. Outside of those 36 PA, he has hit .240/.308/.379. Of course, taking away a player’s best 16 plate appearances is bound to make him look bad, but it does mean that the two extended looks that the Marlins received of Maybin were not all that impressive at the plate. His judgment of the strike zone has yet to improve even with his move to San Diego; his current strikeout and walk rates are close to his career marks.
Much of his value is coming from a decent power stroke and a .338 BABIP. His league average line in Florida through 557 PA was supported by a .343 BABIP. However, how many major leaguers have maintained a .340 BABIP, the sort of batting average on balls in play to make Maybin seem average (not “good,” but acceptable or average), over a long period of time? Since 2008, only thirteen players with at least 1000 PA have maintained a .340 or better BABIP, with about six or so more players in range. Of those players, three or four of them have spent some significant time since 2008 playing in Colorado, which inflates BABIP by 15 to 20 percent. In other words, the talent pool of major league hitters who can sustain a .340 or so BABIP is very slim, and usually is consisted of players who have displayed other major tools for success. Of the names on that list, only four of those players maintained a strikeout rate of similar magnitude to Maybin’s (above 25 percent of their AB), and all four of those players walked more than nine percent of the time, a rate slightly higher than Maybin’s career eight percent mark.
All of that was researched to show that Maybin’s current skillset, if it remains unchanged, is difficult to utilize successfully. The worst hitter on that list was Dexter Fowler, owner of a .255/.349/.391 slash line and a .328 wOBA. Fowler may be Maybin’s best comparison, as both are speedy center fielders with little power and strikeout issues. Maybin does not have the luxury of a 10+ percent walk rate to maintain a high OBP like Fowler does. It does not mean that neither Fowler nor Maybin can keep up this pace, but the Marlins may have simply bet against Maybin continuing to hit at that rate, and it would be difficult to blame them.
A little defensive about defense
The defensive numbers that are being claimed come, of course, with the caveat of sample size. UZR has Maybin recording 3.3 runs above average in 1133 innings played. Using FanGraphs’s averaged advanced defensive metrics, which includes the subjective Fans Scouting Report measure, Maybin’s defense also adds up to +3 runs in that same time period. This year, part of what has added up to his 2.0 fWAR so far this year is a profound performance on defense, as UZR has him at +5 runs for the season already. That could be true, but it could be not true as well, as there simply is not enough time to tell for sure.
Marlins fans did not like his glove or rather his decision making capabilities, but other fans have been praising his defensive talents. This does not surprise me, as his decision problems and route-running could have simply been improved by the different coaching staff in San Diego. There is obviously talent there, but right now guessing at a more conservative level of four or five runs with good coaching seems like the right call.
All about the money
The Marlins are obviously also thinking about money in all of their transactions. They must have felt that, with Maybin one year away from arbitration, they could either get the best offer they could find or keep him and watch his development. I thought the right move would have been to watch him for his final pre-arbitration season and see whether he could “figure things out,” but clearly the Fish thought otherwise. They perhaps thought their best offer was on the table and did not feel that Maybin could improve much more given his skillset to be worth an arbitration payday. While I disagree with the decision, it was not so ridiculous at face value.
Ultimately, the biggest mistake the Marlins was not in trading Maybin, though patience could have afforded them perhaps a better return. The mistake was in the return; the team’s front office clearly overreacted about the bullpen collapse of last season and pulled the trigger on a move that netted them two decent arms instead of holding off for more valuable pieces. But trading Maybin and expecting him to not succeed when the odds were pretty solidly against him was not in and of itself an unwise move. No player with one season’s worth of league average offense with a .340 BABIP and ugly peripherals should be considered “improving,” even at age 24 and with a top prospect pedigree. It is great that Maybin has been succeeding so far in San Diego, but the Marlins had their just reasons for trading him. Their mistake was not holding out for more in the process.