Friday, July 01, 2011

Good Luck, Mike Cameron

The Red Sox designated backup outfielder Mike Cameron for assignment yesterday, bringing to an end a year and a half tenure with the team that has to be considered a disappointment. Cameron was signed to a two year, $15M contract in December 2009, with the intention that he would be the starting CF, shifting Jacoby Ellsbury to LF. The Red Sox believed that Cameroon would be an improvement defensively over Ellsbury, and could supplement his defense with some power and stolen bases. Despite the fact that Cameron would be 37 on opening day 2010, Epstein saw a two year line of .247/.337/.464
which barely differed from his career .250/.340/.448 line and determined that the athletic outfielder was not yet in his decline phase.

It didn't work out. Ellsbury seemed uncomfortable in left field, and collided with 3B Adrian Beltre on a pop up in April 2010, cracking one of Ellsbury's ribs. Meanwhile, Cameron had a multitude of injuries in his first season, tearing his oblique and having groin trouble that ended his season on July 30, and ultimately needing surgery to remove two sports hernias. Going into 2011, Ellsbury was moved back to CF, and Cameron was placed into a de facto right field platoon to face most lefthanders.

Unfortunatly, Cameron never seemed to get comfortable in his platoon role and didn't hit lefties at all, his .143/.214/.302 in 70 plate appearances that was inflated by a two home run game off of Seattle's Jason Vargas. Removing that game, Cameron hit only .119/.197/.167 off left handers. Since May 30th, Cameron hit .077/.122/.103 with 13 strikeouts in 41 PA, losing playing time to Josh Reddick and Darnell McDonald. With Reddick proving that he belonged in the majors, and the Red Sox in need of an extra infielder due to Kevin Youkilis's ankle injury, the decision came down to Cameron and McDonald. Cameron ended up the odd man out, and was designated, meaning the Red Sox have 10 days to work out a trade, after which point they can either release him or see if he will accept a minor league assignment.

If this is the end for Cameron, he's had an impressive run. Since coming up with the White Sox back in 1995, he has compiled 272 home runs, four of them famously coming in one game. He also added 296 stolen bases. Something short of a Hall of Famer, he still compiled an impressive 46.6 career WAR, higher than Omar Vizquel, Miguel Tejada and Jorge Posada. Compared to the more decorated Torii Hunter, Cameron shows to be the superior player. Check out the stats below (all from baseball-reference, except for UZR, which dates only back to 2002):


Despite having similar statistics, these show two very different hitters. Hunter got more of his value from batting average, while Cameron has shown a much higher propensity to both walk and strike out. Cameron's overall value advantage comes from being a much better base stealer and, apparently a much better defensive player. While both have spectacular reputations, Hunter's defense started to decline significantly after 2005, while Cameron was better during their peaks and maintained his defensive value for a longer time.

In the end, Cameron's frustratingly high strikeout percentage is probably the difference between his having a good career and a great one. Cameron struck out once every 3.59 at bats for his career, a rate that usually only the greatest power hitters reside in. Some theorized that Cameron's four homer game early in his career led to him taking a more power-heavy approach, but the statistics don't really agree - he struck out a ton before then, too. Striking out once every 4.5 at bats would have subtracted 379 from his career total. Given his .305 career BABIP, that would have given him an extra 115 hits in his career. Even if those had all been singles, that would have raised his overall line from .249/.338/.444 to .266/.353/.461.

When Cameron does hang up the spikes, he'll have a career as a coach or analyst in front of him. He's extremely well spoken, knows the game very well, and is always described as a fantastic teammate. His role in the clubhouse and relationship with Terry Francona is likely one of the reasons he was brought back this season as a backup rather than traded. If a team is looking for a positional/baserunning coach, there are few that can match Cameron's combination of subject knowledge and communication skills. As a Red Sox fan disappointed he didn't contribute more, I wish the best for the guy and hope he continues to contribute to the baseball community in one way or another.

CREDIT: Table made with TABLEIZER!

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