Is Craig Gentry A Starting Outfielder?
I have mentioned in past articles for SDI that I often read the work authored by Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs. If one is seeking baseball wisdom from a source not perceived to be so condescending and arrogant, then one should find Cameron to be rather enlightening. However, before one peruses his material, read through the fine articles here from the savvy writers at SDI.
Anyway, I was listening to a recent Fangraphs Audio podcast in which Cameron was discussing the Major League Baseball playoffs with the often meek host, Carson Cistulli. Cistulli and Cameron’s conversation diverted away from the playoffs to current Texas Rangers outfielder Craig Gentry. So, I began to pay heed. What was said by Cameron, and I am paraphrasing, in regards to Gentry was that he is typically underrated, and if a team were to put Gentry in the lineup everyday, a team would be delighted by the overall results. My immediate reaction to Cameron’s bold proclamation was a high level of cynicism as I, like many others, believe Gentry to be a quality fourth outfielder utilized by manager Ron Washington in the correct manner. Too much exposure over a large sample would turn Gentry into a pumpkin, and would diminish his value. The infatuation with Gentry seemed to be based on the adorable moniker given to him by SDI’s buddy, and former Ticket board op, Michael Gruber. While Gentry and Grantland author Jonah Keri are cognizant of the Grubes approved nickname “Kittenface”, I was dubious Cameron formulated his opinion that Gentry should be a starting outfielder because of the endearing nickname. So, I decided to investigate the matter and determine if Gentry really is worthy of being given an everyday role in the Rangers outfield in 2014.
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, Craig Gentry has produced the fifth most wins among position players on the Texas Rangers, despite playing in just over half of the team’s games. One could argue if Gentry were to play more, he would not be as valuable, but when he has been on the field, Gentry has been a very productive player.
Gentry is a player who possesses speed, and has a keen ability to reach base, but is predominantly known for his superb defense. Ron Washington has often inserted Gentry into games in the later innings throughout his career due to Gentry’s defensive prowess. With left fielder David Murphy ineffective for the large majority of 2013, and Nelson Cruz serving a 50 game suspension, Gentry began to play left field often towards the end of the season, even with a right handed pitcher on the bump. Despite not hitting same sided pitching as well, Gentry more than made up for it with his ability to catch everything hit in his direction. Here is some interesting information in regards to how excellent of a defender Gentry has been since 2011.
The chart represents the top ten outfielders in baseball since the beginning of the 2011 season in regards to the defensive metric, defensive runs saved. Despite playing far fewer innings than the other nine players included on the list, Craig Gentry has saved 36 runs defensively, roughly four wins, in what amounts to a little over a full season’s worth of innings played in the field for a full time outfielder. To put what Gentry has done into perspective, Atlanta Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons yielded one of the best seasons all-time in terms of DRS in ’13 with 41, while playing 1352.1 innings in the field. In a little over 300 innings more since 2011, Gentry has saved only five fewer runs than Simmons did in ’13.
Since the beginning of the 2011 season, according to the Fangraphs defensive metric UZR, Craig Gentry has been the fifth best outfielder in baseball as he has been worth 36 runs above average. Defensive metrics are not as reliable as offensive statistics as three years of defensive data are preferred before truly making an assumption as to what type of defender a player is. While these numbers are three years worth of data, Gentry has only played a little more than one full season worth of innings in the field. However, these are still three seasons worth of defensive metrics, and while he has been on the field, Gentry has proven he is one of the elite defensive outfielders in the game. If given the opportunity to play in the outfield everyday, Gentry could easily be worth three wins just based on his glove alone, which is already worth more than what a MLB regular produces in all areas combined.
Next, I thought we would look at base running, and find out how well Gentry rates as a base runner. I will use the Fangraphs statistic, BsR, or Base Running Runs Above Average because the statistic factors in all areas of running the bases, and not just stolen bases. Going from first to third on a single, or scoring from first on a double is pretty valuable. Gentry has been a decent base stealer throughout his career as he is 56/66 when attempting to commit larceny.
Craig Gentry has been the Rangers third most valuable base runner since the beginning of 2011, and he has reached base far less often because he has not been given as much playing time. I think the most interesting thing about this list is the two players most often considered to be the two worst base runners on the Rangers, have actually been the two best. For those interested, Andrus’ 22.5 BsR since 2011 are second most in all of baseball. So, stop complaining about his base running. Anyways, Gentry’s 12 BsR since 2011 is 30th in all of baseball, and his 5.8 BsR in ’13 ranked 11th in the AL. Gentry rates as an outstanding base runner, and is a perilous threat to the opposition while he is on the bases, which is often based on his .355 career OBP, which is a nice segue into detailing Gentry’s offensive game.
The common belief has been if Gentry were to be given 600+ at bats in a season, he would likely be exposed as a below average player, and his numbers would drop well below replacement level once his true talent is displayed over a large sample. Based on how the Rangers have utilized Gentry, that seems to be what they were also thinking as he has never had 300 plate appearances at the Major League level in one season. As was previously mentioned, Gentry does hit lefties well, but he has not exactly been as horrendous against RHP as many believe.
While Gentry has certainly raked against LHP, his wOBA and OBP against RHP are still both slightly above average. Gentry’s splits against LHP were once higher, but like with most players, the platoon splits normalized. One would be ecstatic if Gentry would begin to hit for more power, but Gentry’s impotence can be forgiven due to his uncanny ability to reach base as his .365 OBP since the beginning of 2011 suggests.
How does a player with such little slugging ability reach base so often? Well, speed and a .341 career BABIP help, but Gentry’s excellent plate discipline skills have also contributed. Gentry yielded career highs in BB% (10.1%), and OBP (.373) in ’13 respectively. Here’s how the normally worm killer hitting outfielder accomplished it.
Gentry has never had trouble swinging at pitches out of the zone, but he reduced the amount of non-strikes he swung at by over 6%, and the amount of pitches in the zone by more than 8%. He also reduced his overall Swing% by more than 8%. Having more selectivity at the plate helped Gentry improve his Contact% because he was swinging at better pitches. This type of plate discipline led to more walks, and allowed Gentry to utilize his superb base running skills when he reached base. For a player with Gentry’s lack of raw power, the plate discipline is vital. If Gentry is able to continue to have proper plate discipline, his OBP should continue to hover around his career average. Gentry’s ability to reach base and robust base running skills are typical of a consistent lead off hitter, something the Rangers missed dearly in ’13.
Based on the evidence I have presented, it would appear Dave Cameron is correct. Craig Gentry does appear to be worthy of being an everyday player. Whether he plays everyday in Texas will remain to be seen. Gentry is arbitration eligible for the first time this off season, but based on his Steamer projection of being worth 2.7 fWAR in only 122 games, Kittenface would still be a bargain if given a slight raise and would allow the front office to improve the club in other areas.
A frequent thought has been to move second baseman Ian Kinsler to left field to make room in the infield for Jurickson Profar, but with how outstanding Gentry has been with his glove throughout his career, he would probably provide more value in left field because he would save the team many runs defensively, while Kinsler would more than likely cost the team runs playing a position he is not accustomed to. If one has anxiety over Gentry not generating typical corner outfield type numbers, I recommend not stereotyping positions so much. Gentry does not fit the typical corner outfield profile, but he has the ability to save as many runs defensively as a potent slugger would add offensively.
Even if Craig Gentry is never anything more than a role player in Texas, we will always have this wonderful photo to remind us of his time in Arlington.
Is Craig Gentry capable of playing everyday? What do you think?