Craig Gentry Wasn’t Made To Play Everyday
By Eric Reining
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.
This 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.