Craig Gentry Wasn’t Made To Play Everyday

It’s becoming increasingly more difficult and mentally exhausting to frame an opinion about the Rangers without it being taken the wrong way. There is a certain war, to use a familiar term in the contemporary baseball lexicon, between the supposed “traditionalists” and those — whom I tend to identify with — known as Sabermatricians, or Baseball Atheists, as I like to call them.

It is traditionalists who defend “leadership,” and “intangibles,” things that don’t exist, and it’s the atheists who really don’t give a shit about anything other than actual, legitimate production that can be quantified. A traditionalist may be one to say Michael Young is a Hall-of-Fame caliber player, for the reasons listed above, and the atheist might laugh, continue laughing, then pull up his career numbers to highlight — and give reasoning to – why he or she might be laughing. It’s a simple struggle, one that many sharing my baseball outlook don’t even find worth fighting, but I fight nonetheless. Because I don’t care to be part of some underground Sabermetric society inasmuch as I care about being understood, directly, for how I feel and why I feel such a way.

mlb_a_gentry11_400This brings us to Craig Gentry, one of the few bright spots in the 2013 Texas Rangers lineup. His notable skills include his speed, and his defense, which is more or less entirely dependent on his speed. Also, before I get too ahead of myself, it’s worth mentioning that Gentry rated as the 2nd-most valuable Ranger in 2013 according to FanGraphs, posting a healthy +3.4 fWAR in a mere 287 plate appearances. In 18 fewer PAs in 2012, he generated +2.8 fWAR, so it’s not as if we are discussing some one-hit platoon-fluke wonder. This is a proven, very good major leaguer, perhaps the most underrated player at any position in all of baseball.

But that does not mean he should be the everyday left fielder in 2014.

The most obvious initial objection to this stance is quite simple: If Craig Gentry is worth three-and-a-half wins in just a half-season’s worth of at bats, then why couldn’t he produce double that in a full season?

The answer, to put it mildly, is that he can’t hit right-handed pitching, and therefore wouldn’t have the capacity to provide a 6- or 7-win season if given the chance to play everyday. If you’d like to use the argument that he batted a very respectable .281/.349/.360 (95 wRC+) in 2013, be my guest. Then I will be the atheist, or, um, Sabermatrician, to say he did that in only 126 plate appearances, which is an extremely small sample.

In his career against righties, he’s batted a mere .271/.334/.335 (81 wRC+), and even that has only been in 381 plate appearances. Again, small sample. He owns a 6.0% career walk rate and 19.2% career strikeout rate versus same-handed pitching, and at no point — save the last couple weeks of the 2013 season — did he see any consistent playing time against opposing right-handed starters. It stands to reason that (a) the Rangers have never felt particularly confident in his abilities outside a platoon role and, perhaps more presciently, (b) that if he ever did spend time in an everyday role — facing righties 3 out of every 4 games — that his walk rate, strikeout rate, and overall triple slash line would all severely decline if he was exposed to such a reality.

In short, arguably the largest contributing factor to why Gentry has been so valuable to the Rangers is that he hasn’t been an everyday player. He has maximized the two assets that turned him from an unknown leadoff hitter playing for the Clinton Lumberkings of the Midwest League — Texas’s former low-A affiliate — into the most productive 4th outfielder in baseball.

This is where I lose so many baseball fans: If I call a certain big leaguer a “platoon guy” or a “4th outfielder,” it inherently makes it sound like I don’t think he’s very good. Like I’m somehow shitting on them. And that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

My thing is, if I were to make Craig Gentry my starting left fielder in 2014, I would be facing the same issue the Rangers experienced in 2013 with David Murphy. Remember, in 2012 Murph (+3.9 fWAR) was the 4th most valuable Ranger on roster, behind only Adrian Beltre (+6.3 fWAR), Josh Hamilton (+4.2 fWAR) and Elvis Andrus (+4.0 fWAR). This was mainly due to the fact that Murphy — a career 4th outfielder — batted an unprecedented (for him) .347/.405/.440 against left-handed pitching. For his career against lefties? He’s at .259/.306/.350 (71 wRC+), and that’s including the ridiculous numbers he posted in 2012.

In 111 plate appearances in 2013, David predictably reverted back to his career norms, and then some, batting .223/.270/.291 (48 wRC+) against LHP, which is exactly the risk you take in inserting Craig Gentry into the same left field role next year. The difference, if anything, would only be more dramatic, as there are significantly more right-handed starters in MLB than lefties.

If you have disagreement with me on this, it’s understandable. Craig Gentry is a fan favorite, after all. The problem, however, is that you wouldn’t only be disagreeing with me, you would be disagreeing with both math and logic.

The truth is that anyone can look great over a 100 plate appearance sample; even Vernon Wells batted .300/.366/.544 (148 wRC+) in his first 101 plate appearance of 2013. But being an everyday player requires more skill at the plate, no matter what the handedness of the pitcher.

And that takes away absolutely nothing from how valuable Craig Gentry is.

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  • Joe_Coco

    I don’t disagree that Gentry is best used as a 4th outfielder but we need a catcher, 1st baseman a DH and possibly another big bat before we worry about the outfield. If the Baseball Gods smile on us maybe we get Cargo or Stanton in some magical trade that kills 2 birds with one stone. No telling what JD and the rest of the ninjas over the ballpark are really thinking but if it were me I’m going all in on Abreu and McCann then if I got any money left over start looking at the outfield.

    • Andy

      Welp, didn’t get Abreu. All in on McCann it is.

  • SilverSlugger21

    Eric, how much do you think Craig Gentry would be worth in terms of WAR if he were given an everyday starting role in left field?

    He has definitely been stronger against lefties for his career, but I believe his elite defense and baserunning would more than make up for his shortcomings against right-handed pitching.

    When you factor in the runs he adds to his team via baserunning, he has actually produced at an above average rate vs RHP over the past three years.

    • Eric Reining

      How much would Craig Gentry be worth over a full season? I’m thinking probably between +2.5-3.5 wins. Most likely something in the middle.

      And you’re right, his elite defense and base running would still carry a great amount of value. But playing against righties everyday would drastically reduce his batting average and on-base percentage, and without getting on base, his run tool is rendered as basically worthless.

      • SilverSlugger21

        So you’re saying his WAR would decrease if he were an everyday player? Somehow I don’t buy that. If he’s been above average against lefties and righties for his career, wouldn’t it increase?

        Craig Gentry is not like most players who have been used in a platoon role. His career .334 OBP vs. RHP is the third-highest on the Rangers’ active roster. In an expanded role I could definitely see his overall offensive stats for the season decrease, but not to the point of his baserunning being useless.

        • Eric Reining

          If you don’t buy it, you don’t buy it. It has everything to do with the fact that he isn’t above average against righties in his career.

          And he has never been exposed to an everyday slate against righties.

          • SilverSlugger21

            Just as a hitter, yes, Gentry has been below average against right-handers for his career. But as an overall offensive contributor, he has been above average because of his baserunning. The same can be said for Elvis Andrus.

            I think that fact alone makes him deserving of at least a shot as an everyday player for some team, if not the Rangers. We don’t know for sure whether it would work out well or not until he’s given a chance.

          • Eric Reining

            We don’t know for sure whether it would work out well or not until he’s given a chance.

            True, but, again, this is the same logic people used last year in thinking David Murphy should be an everyday left fielder.

            Here are his career numbers vs. RHP and LHP:

            vs. LHP (382 PAs) — .288/.376/.399
            vs. RHP (381 PAs) — .271/.334/.335

            As you can see, that’s quite a dramatic difference, particularly in the OBP and SLG departments. What I’m saying is this: Against lefties, he’s great; against righties, his career sample is sporadic, not consistent, meaning the league still hasn’t adjusted to what he is and isn’t strong at.

            So, for argument’s sake, let’s say he produces his same triple slash as he did in 2013: .280/.373/.386 (108 wRC+). Conflate that with his defense and ability on the bases, and, extrapolated over an entire season, that’s probably a 6-win player.

            The reality, however, would be different. Advanced scouts would develop a book on him, and his triple slash would be altered significantly. If he’s a fringy league-average hitter, Gentry provides an exceptional amount of value. But the fear is his offense would take a large dip if he had to face right-handed pitching 3 out of every 4 days, rendering his defense and base running much less valuable since he wouldn’t be able to hit up to major league standards.

  • Andy

    If he were going to play every day, it should be in CF. Martin’s defense is coming along, but Gentry’s is amazing.

    Also, SSS notwithstanding, Gentry batted better from both sides of the plate than did Martin. Gentry’s offense against RHP this year (again, SSS) was almost average (wRC+ of 95), while against LHP he was substantially above average (wRC+ of 119). Martin was average against RHP and terrible against LHP. I really think that, for now, they should be roughly a platoon. At least unless/until Martin starts hitting LHP better.