Monday, December 14, 2009

Mike Cameron as a defensive upgrade

It appears the Red Sox have wasted no time in taking Joe Urbon at his word, spending Jason Bay's money on Angels ace John Lackey and engaging in serious talks with outfielder extraordinaire Mike Cameron, a natural fit for their pitching-and-defense approach to the offseason.

(Click here for a look at how Cameron might fit what the Red Sox want at the plate.)

Cameron has made a career out of being a defensive whiz in center field. The Red Sox, unless they have less faith in Jacoby Ellsbury's development than we've been led to believe, only need Cameron to play left field -- and to play it better than Bay did.

That shouldn't be an issue. Check out the defensive metrics -- and keep in mind, too, that Cameron was playing in center while Bay was playing in left:

Bay: minus-11.2 UZR/minus-4 Fielding Bible
Cameron: plus-10.3 UZR/plus-3 Fielding Bible

Bay: minus-18.2 UZR/minus-7 Fielding Bible
Cameron: plus-15.6 UZR/plus-7 Fielding Bible

Bay: minus-11.4 UZR/minus-11 Fielding Bible
Cameron: minus-10.4 UZR/plus-1 Fielding Bible

Bay: plus-3.0 UZR/plus-7 Fielding Bible
Cameron: minus-0.6 UZR/plus-5 Fielding Bible

One red flag pops up when looking at those numbers: Ultimate Zone Rating doesn't like the way Cameron played center field in 2006 and 2007.

Some context: Cameron played 2006 and 2007 in San Diego. He played 2008 and 2009 in Milwaukee. San Diego's Petco Park, as Red Sox fans lusting after Adrian Gonzalez know well, has a cavernous outfield -- it's 367 feet to left-center, 396 feet to center field and 411 to the deepest part of the park in right-center. Miller Park, on the other hand, features a center-field wall that goes back 400 feet but doesn't have a power alley in right-center or left-center that's any deeper than 375 feet.

At Fenway Park, especially since the Red Sox will have this type of information, Cameron will play left field alongside Jacoby Ellsbury in center. The deepest part of left-center field at Fenway Park, the spot where the Green Monster ends, is at 388 feet. The deepest part of center field, on the other hand, is 420 feet away from home plate.

The guess here is that Cameron only sees time in center field for the Red Sox next season when Jacoby Ellsbury is taking one of his 15 or 20 days off.

Left-field fences across baseball, as a rule, aren't as deep as center-field fences. Bay hasn't patrolled left field at an above-average level since his 2006 season. Cameron owns three Gold Gloves -- for what that's worth -- and a resume full of above-average plus-minus numbers in center field. He ought to handle left field for the Red Sox just fine.

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