It is fashionable to ridicule a fantasy owner for panicking in April. It’s early, they say. Something about small sample size, they say.
Yet here I am in late May — which is pretty much June to the common antiestablishmentarian — watching y’all sit stoically with your coveted, probably somewhat expensive shares of Matt Kemp (96% owned in Yahoo! leagues) and Carlos Gonzalez (94%) as they flounder in the batter’s box. That was condescending, yes, but I know I benefit from the luxury of not facing such painful decisions (nor enduring the mighty struggles of once-established sluggers).
I recently discussed CarGo and Kemp here and here, respectively. Unless you can get a decent return on name value from someone who thinks he’s buying low, it may be time to cut bait. I’m here to remind you: it’s OK to let go, to start anew. It’s just hard sometimes, I know. I’m here to help you transition.
I’d like to introduce you to Cameron Maybin. He’s a bit older. Was quite popular in his younger days. Won’t live up to the expectations once created for him. Maybe you knew each other in a past life. He’s currently flying under the radar, owned in only 6 percent of Yahoo! leagues and ripe for the adding and replacing of your old, broken NL outfielders.
Let’s start with formalities. He’s hitting .261 with a pretty five home runs, six stolen bases, 17 runs and 19 runs batted in (RBI) in a mere 134 plate appearances. Given Maybin’s track record, it’s easy to dismiss the former first-round pick as an early-season fluke — which, perhaps, it is. However, Maybin is making the most of his new-found playing time, his current offensive line pacing out to 76 runs, 85 RBI and 27 steals in 600 plate appearances. A bitter Padres fan would be quick to remind me that Maybin has never appeared, as they say, more than 568 times in a season. He lost most of 2013 and 2014 to injuries, poor performance and amphetamines. It appears, however, that he has put all of this behind him.
Anyway, it’s easy to talk about paces the way I just did and oversimplify reality. The same Maybin who has hit a home run about once every 65 plate appearances for his career is now doing so more than twice as often without any discernible evidence of a power stroke. What has changed, however, is his approach: he’s hitting line drives and to the opposite field in general at career-best clips, and by sizable margins over his previous bests at that, both of which bode well for his batting average.
Moreover, his walk rate sits at a robust 12.7 percent, more than four percentage points better than his former peak (regardless of playing time caveats). The same can be said for his strikeout rate, which isn’t an astounding improvement to his past performances, but at least it’s not a digression. All of this manifests itself in a sub-par batting average but a sexy and, more importantly, sustainable .361 on-base percentage (OBP), which ranks 8th among NL outfielders with at least 130 plate appearances. Much of this can be attributed to his patience at the plate as evidenced by a career-low swing rate accompanied by career-best chase, contact and swinging-strike rates.
Part of what fueled Maybin’s 2011 success can be attributed to not only a willingness to swing at pitches on the outer half of the plate but also the ability to drive such pitches with authority. He promptly stopped doing this in 2012, and he still isn’t doing it to this day, currently doing most of his infrequent feasting on the inner half of the plate. Whatever plate approach he’s employing right now seems to be working, though: he has largely vanquished his weakness against lefties (although said weakness is only relative, given his career splits aren’t very drastic). Historically striking out four times more often than he walked against them, Maybin has walked as many times as he has struck out against lefties this season and has managed a 105 wRC+ despite a paltry .167 batting average (weighed down by an unlucky .118 batting average on balls in play (BABIP)).
What we’re left with is a Cameron Maybin who has generated almost three times as many wins above replacement (WAR) as last year in less than half the time. He has produced 5.2 offensive runs above average, the first time he has achieved a non-negative count since his breakout, a probably unsurprising fact to most.
One hundred and thirty-four plate appearances is still barely more than a month’s worth of statistics, and anything can happen in a month. Maybe Maybin is playing tricks on us. But we could say the same about CarGo or Kemp, too. And are their tricks any fun? No, not really. At least Maybin’s are, and I am willing to entertain them, especially if he continues to play like this. There’s no reason he doesn’t maintain a starter’s role ahead of Jonny Gomes and Eric Young Jr.
Also, because I love to point out market inefficiencies: Josh Harrison, he of a considerably comparable flash-in-the-pan type of career trajectory, is owned in a whopping 83 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Sure, Harrison will likely post the higher batting average due to the better strikeout rate; otherwise, Maybin is outperforming — and, I dare say, will continue to outperform — Harrison in all offensive areas of the game. Even if Maybin’s power is a mirage, he’s still generating value via his on-base skills and baserunning, both of which Harrison has failed to replicate from his own breakout campaign.