First Pitch: How Does Cameron Maybin’s Deal Affect McCutchen?

We’re now to the point where any extension signed in baseball will bring up the question “how does this deal impact an Andrew McCutchen extension?”. That’s especially true when a center fielder signs an extension. That just happened when Cameron Maybin and the San Diego Padres agreed to a five year, $25 M deal with an option for a sixth year. The deal buys out Maybin’s first year of free agency, and buys out control of his second year of free agency. The total value of the deal would be $33 M over six years if the option is exercised.

So how does that impact McCutchen?

Maybin and McCutchen are both speedy center fielders. Both were top prospects before arriving in the majors. But that’s where the comparisons end. When you look at the results, McCutchen is clearly ahead of Maybin. Both players will be 25 years old in 2012. McCutchen has played for three years and has been very consistent. He’s got a career .276/.365/.458 line in 1575 at-bats, and is coming off a season where he hit 23 homers.

Maybin is coming off a career year of his own, but his career year hardly compares to any of McCutchen’s years. Maybin hit for a .264/.323/.393 line in 516 at-bats in 2011.

Maybin has rated much better defensively than McCutchen throughout their careers. McCutchen was hurt by the “no-triples” defense, and being placed out of position while John Russell was in Pittsburgh. Even in 2011, when McCutchen posted positive UZR ratings, he was behind Maybin. So the defensive edge goes to Maybin.

A lot of Maybin’s value comes from his defense. He had a 4.7 WAR in 2011, with most of that coming on defense. McCutchen had a 5.7 WAR, showing how much impact his offense had, despite lesser defensive numbers.

I don’t think you can just look at those numbers and suggest that the two outfielders are separated by a win in value. In McCutchen’s rookie year he put up a 3.5 WAR. He had a 3.7 WAR in his first full season. Maybin has never been above a 1.0 WAR. If we’re taking bets on who is more likely to repeat their 2011 values, my money is on McCutchen.

I also feel that McCutchen could improve on his offensive numbers. We saw a bit of that in 2011 before he fell apart in the second half. Meanwhile, I don’t see much room for improvement with Maybin, due to his strikeout rates and his career 7.7% walk ratio. That, plus a lack of power, doesn’t suggest that he will be much more than a .700-.750 OPS hitter.

You could argue that Petco Park hurt Maybin. The numbers would back that up. He had a .294/.349/.457 line on the road, putting him seven OPS points shy of McCutchen’s season totals. If we’re talking about the skill level of a player, it wouldn’t be fair to count park factors for or against that player. But then we also have to consider how much McCutchen is hurt by PNC Park, which isn’t kind to right handers. McCutchen had a .770 OPS at home, versus an .867 OPS on the road last year.

Even if you give credit to the one win difference between the two players last year, what value do you place on that extra win for McCutchen? If Maybin’s deal goes to six years, that’s a $33 M deal. The popular figures for McCutchen are six years and $51 M. That’s an extra $18 M, or $3 M a year. Teams have paid a lot more for one extra win a year.

Personally I think the 6/$51 M figure that gets thrown around so much is fair value for McCutchen. I think Maybin is a strong defensive center fielder, and I think McCutchen has the edge on offense. Both hitters are hurt by their home parks, which makes it hard to tell their true offensive upside. Even if you give credit to their 2011 WAR totals — dismissing the fact that Maybin hasn’t been close in the past while McCutchen has been more consistent — you’ve got to account for the extra win McCutchen brings to the table. I think an extra $3 M a year is a very fair value for that extra win.

So I wouldn’t say the Maybin deal impacts my opinion on a potential McCutchen extension. In fact, it just further strengthens the 6/$51 M number in my book.

Links and Notes

**Several videos up on the blog today, including Brian Tallet, Quinton Miller, Tim Alderson, and fielding drills featuring Gift Ngoepe, Alen Hanson, and more.

**The Pirates lost their first game of the Grapefruit League today 7-1. Here is Kristy’s recap of the events.

**Chris Leroux is using his off-season success as fuel for 2012. Out of all of the middle relievers, Leroux is the guy who most intrigues me. I think he has the stuff to become a starter, although he definitely doesn’t have the career innings to be a starter from day one. If the Pirates run in to a situation where they need a starter to step in around June, they should seriously think about Leroux.

**The Pirates signed all of their pre-arbitration eligible players.

**From last night, I looked at the “Fastball Academy” in the lower levels of the Pirates’ system. I saw a few comments talking about how easy it is to control the fastball, and how low walk rates aren’t really impressive. If this is the case, then why do so many pitchers throughout baseball have control issues? Again, I think people simplify the process. It’s not just pumping fastballs down the middle of the plate over and over. It’s trying to hit spots, and those spots aren’t always going to be inside the strike zone.

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