The U Files # 51: The Cameron Campaign

The outfield has been a relative weakness of the Mets for several years running. Last year the Mets had below average defense from the outfield, and were below average offensively at each position. The biggest hole offensively was in center field. In one move general manager Jim Duquette has now turned center field into a strength of the Mets.

Multiple sources have reported that Mike Cameron has agreed to terms with the Mets on a three-year contract. The Mets will not formally announce the signing until after Cameron passes a physical examination, which is to take place early this week. The contract is believed to be worth $19.5 million, with a club option for a fourth year for another $6.5 million. Cameron turned down guaranteed four-year contract offers from the Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres, accepting a contract from the Mets that is worth more per year. Cameron cited the desire to play on the East coast, close to his offseason home in Georgia.

The Mets were a "hole" offensively at every position but catcher in 2003. The Mets season was dominated by backup players receiving playing time, and the team's most potent offensive weapons missed significant time due to injury. The Mets had no legitimate full time player to man center field at all. In terms of production generated by Mets while manning the center field position compared to the park adjusted league average at the position, the Mets were below average by no greater margin than at center field anywhere else. Here, in 590 AB the Mets posted a cumulative line of .224/.284/.339 (AVG/OBP/SLG) where the league hit .275/.334/.404. This equates to a hole of 21 runs for the season.

The Mets have consistently stated that they are placing an emphasis on defense in evaluating position players. The Mets have already bolsltered their defense in the middle infield, with the recent signing of Japanese shortstop Kazuo Matsui and the intent to play phenom Jose Reyes regularly for his first full season, now at second base. After the signing of Matsui the Mets shifted their focus to the center field position.

There are few players in baseball who fit the Mets needs in center field as well as Michael Terrence Cameron. He is consistently, and correctly, named among the elite defensive players in baseball, having won two Gold Glove awards. The best defensive metrics support his reputation, showing that he saves more than ten runs per year defensively above average. Jose Cruz Jr., an alternative on this Free Agent market, is good defensively at the corner outfield positions (where he won a Gold Glove in 2003) but not in center field. Here he is judged by the best metrics to cost a team more than ten runs per year. More conventional defensive statistics (such that they are reported at ESPN's website) corroborate this claim: Cruz catches fewer balls per nine innings than the league average center fielder, as is measured by Range Factor.

Cameron has been an effective offensive player as well as a defensive standout. Though he would be maligned by fans who place too much emphasis on batting average and strikeouts, a thorough analysis of his offensive performance reveals an above average offensive player. Cameron generally posts a batting average close to the park adjusted league average. He is consistent in producing solid peripherals – discipline and power numbers. His on base percentage and slugging percentage have been above average each of the last five years.

Year

OBP

SLG

LgOBP

LgSLG

OBP+

SLG+

OPS+

2000

.365

.438

.336

.426

109

103

111

2001

.353

.480

.325

.416

109

115

124

2002

.340

.442

.321

.410

106

108

114

2003

.344

.431

.323

.414

107

104

111



Cameron's offense places him among the top 10 offensive center fielders in baseball, and his defense improves his overall ranking. For the Mets, Cameron will be a significant upgrade. A weighted average of Cameron's last four years of offense adjusted to Shea Stadium in 2003 produces a line of .348/.437 (OBP/SLG). This is an improvement of 162 points of OPS (785 – 623) over Mets center fielders in 2003. Stated in runs, Cameron is an improvement of 30 runs over the Mets position in 2003. Assuming Cameron is worth an additional 30 runs defensively over Mets center fielders, Cameron improves the Mets by 60 runs. As ten runs are worth about one win, the Mets have improved by about 6 wins.

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