Cameron Maybin: Breakout Alert

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Why Cameron Maybin Might Toe-Tap his Way to Fantasy Stardom

Cameron Maybin is coming off of a disappointing season. After finishing as the 29th best outfielder on ESPN's Player Rater in 2011, Maybin finished as the 68th best outfielder in 2012. Let's compare his yearly totals and see where all that value went:

2011: .264 AVG / 9 HR / 40 RBI / 82 R / 40 SB

2012: .243 AVG / 8 HR / 45 RBI / 67 R / 26 SB

Maybin had significant drop offs in batting average, runs, and stolen bases while posting comparable marks in homeruns and RBIs. So the question gamers have to ask themselves on draft day is which Cameron Maybin will show up in 2013? Let's pop the hood and see if the underlying numbers can help us answer that question.

Maybin's BABIP took a dive last season falling from .331 to .293. This is surprising for two reasons. First, Maybin is a fast guy so you wouldn't expect him to post a BABIP below league average (.297 in 2012). Second, Maybin's 2012 batted ball profile remained consistent with his 2011 profile:

2011: 15.9% line drive / 55.4% groundball / 28.7% fly ball

2012: 16.1% line drive / 55.5% groundball / 28.4% fly ball

After essentially duplicating his batted ball profile, I'm comfortable chalking up the .293 BABIP to bad luck, especially considering Maybin’s career BABIP entering 2012 was .331 (remember each batter establishes his own BABIP over time).

The more important reason I'm optimistic for a turnaround is a mechanical adjustment Maybin made on July 2nd. After struggling the first few months of the season, Maybin and his coaches decided it was time to ditch the high leg kick that Maybin had wielded his entire career. There are a number of potential issues that come with incorporating a high leg kick in one’s swing. For starters, it can lead to significant timing issues whereby the batter prematurely transfers his weight to his front side, and is left with just his arms and wrists to generate bat speed and power.

Another potential issue deals with the batter's eye level throughout their swing. By taking a high leg kick, the batter runs the risk of changing his eye level as his kick reaches its apex and then descends during the progression of their swing. Take a minute to stand up and try it yourself. Stretch those legs. Go ahead. If a batter's eye level changes that adds additional movement to each pitcher's offering in the eyes of the batter (on the vertical axis), making it that much more difficult to square up a pitch and make hard contact.

So what was the fix? In place of the leg kick Maybin installed a subtle toe-tap, which allowed Maybin to more stay balanced at the plate, and prevented him from prematurely getting out on his front side too soon (i.e. allowed him to keep his weight and hands back). Additionally, the adjustment allowed Maybin to see the ball better as the toe-tap didn’t change his eye level, rather, it allowed for Maybin to keep his eyes on the same plane throughout his swing. Maybin was able to get himself into more frutitious positions at contact.

We can quantify the benefits of the adjustment by looking at Maybin's batting averages in July, August, and September, where he hit .270, .295, and .292 respectively. Furthermore, comparing his pre and post all-star break numbers, we get additional evidence of the improvement:

Pre All-Star: .212 AVG / .287 OBP / .309 SLG

Post All-Star: .283 AVG / .309 OBP / .402 SLG

The adjustment helped Maybin cut down his O-Swing% (percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strikezone) from 31.5% to 26.4%, cut down his SwStr% (percentage of pitches a batter swings at and misses) from 12.3% to 8.9%, and improve his contact rate from 73.7% to 80.2% from 2011 to 2012 respectively.

It doesn't take a sabermetrician to draw the parallel between one's ability to get on base and one's ability to steal bases and score runs. Maybin improved across the board in the second half, but unfortunately fell victim to some nagging injuries, including a strained Achilles which hindered his ability on the basepaths.

While the numbers don’t show it, I think 2012 Maybin was better than 2011 Maybin from a skills perspective, and I see his average, runs, and stolen bases all recovering to 2011 levels at a minimum.

The final reason I’m excited about Maybin’s prospects in 2013 are related to the adjustment discussed above. If I were to run off a list of players that included Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnancion, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Hamilton, you would assume I was talking about the league's premier sluggers right? Now what if I threw Cameron Maybin's name into the mix? You would tell me to switch to soda and that happy hour doesn't start until 5:00pm. Point taken, but while perusing ESPN's 2012 Home Run Tracker, I made an interesting discovery. On July 2nd (the first day Maybin installed the toe tap), Maybin blasted a 485 foot homerun which ended up being the third longest bomb of the season. Click here for the replay which I may or may not have watched six times in admiration. After picking my jaw up off the desk, I checked the distances of the rest of his long balls and came away with the following conclusion: Maybin can mash!

Maybin's average home run traveled a distance of 427 feet and five of his eight homeruns came post adjustment (i.e. after July 2nd). The Padres are moving their fences in in 2013, and while the ballpark adjustments are much more advantageous for left-handed batters, they are moving the left-center field fence in from 402 to 390 feet. Granted, that distance still represents an absolute blast, but it's worth noting Maybin's shortest homerun in 2012 traveled 390 feet, and no other homerun traveled less than 409 feet. The guy doesn’t hit cheapies folks.

It's still a huge disadvantage to play half your games in PETCO, and by no means am I projecting 25+ HR power from Maybin especially given number of line drives and groundballs he hits. Having said that, I have a sneaky suspecion he could hit 15-20 big flys with a little help on the HR/FB front.

People forget that Maybin was once an elite prospect and he won’t turn 26 until April. Here is what ESPN’s Keith Law wrote in February of 2008 regarding Maybin, whom he ranked as the 13th best prospect in baseball ahead of David Price, Jacoby Ellsbury, Austin Jackson, Elvis Andrus, Jason Heyward, Carlos Gonzalez, Chase Headley, and Joey Votto:

“The big league callup was a mistake, obviously, but as long as there's no long-term harm done from the time he spent in Detroit, he still has the same huge upside that had him at No. 15 last year. Maybin already shows plus power in games, and the ball really flies off his bat. But his swing is long and gets out of control, and he glides through it at times, leaving him swinging off his front foot and generating less than maximum power. He crushes fastballs, but needs to improve his recognition of and adjustment to offspeed stuff. Even if his contact issues don't go away, he's a plus glove in center with a strong arm and 30-plus homer potential, which would make him an above-average regular with star potential if he can stay back at the plate and do a better job of recognizing offspeed pitches.”

At one point, Maybin was projected to have 30+ HR power, so is 15-20 homeruns really that much of a stretch?

Some prospects take longer to develop than others. We’ve seen that recently from Alex Gordon who didn’t have his breakout season until he was 27. For me, Maybin screams profit in 2013 and I think his upside is somethig along the lines of a 275/20/70/95/40 campaign. Call me crazy, but for where he’ll go in drafts, I’m buying as much Cameron Maybin stock as I can get my hands on.

Sources

Fangraphs

Baseball Reference

MLB.com

ESPN

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