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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Corey Patterson

Tonight, the Reds signed 28 year old LHB outfielder Corey Patterson to a minor league deal and invited him to compete for a job on the ballclub. The move is something of a surprise, given the already-thick competition for the center field job between Ryan Freel, Norris Hopper, and Jay Bruce. Nevertheless, Patterson is an intriguing player, and one who might provide surprisingly good value for the Reds.

Patterson has a very rich pedigree. He was the 3rd overall pick in the 1998 draft out of Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Georgia. He skyrocketed through the minor leagues, making his major league debut at 20 years old, and played his first full season at age 22 in 2002. Scouts absolutely adored his combination of power and speed. Unfortunately, as John Sickels might put it, his skills never caught up with his talent.

Here are his recent stats:

2005 25 CHC 481 25% 5% 18% 0.258 0.215 0.254 0.348 0.133 0.602 0.29 2.9 -9.2
2006 26 BAL 498 19% 4% 21% 0.309 0.276 0.314 0.443 0.167 0.757 3.672 5.4 21.4
2007 27 BAL 503 13% 4% 15% 0.286 0.269 0.304 0.386 0.117 0.690 2.272 4.4 10.2
3yrs --- --- 1482 19% 4% 18% 0.285 0.254 0.286 0.393 0.139 0.679 6.234 4.2 22.4

Looking at this 3-year line, you can immediately see where a lot of his troubles lie. He strikes out at a pretty high clip (19%, on average), which prevents him from having a high batting average. At the same time, he doesn't walk at all. High strikeouts + low walks = zero OBP. His power also hasn't been overwhelming either, though it was respectable enough in 2006 (and '03 and '04). The one silver lining is that when Patterson does get on, he's been superb on the bases the past few years--few players net more than two runs in stolen bases a year, and Patterson has averaged more than that over the past three years.

Krivsky cited a decline in Corey's tendency to strike out as a reason for optimism, and his K-numbers did show a dramatic improvement from 2005-2007. He didn't see a corresponding improvement in his batting average last season, but that is apparently due to the drop in his line drive percentage. Assuming that the two aren't related--and they could be if he's now swinging weakly and just trying to make contact--he might yet be improving. Also, moving from a slight pitcher's park (Camden) to a slight hitter's park (GABP) might result in a nice surge in his numbers. Patterson's not young anymore, but he's not old either, and the guy is Darn Talented. Those guys can surprise (see Phillips, Brandon).

On the other hand, people have been predicting improvements from Patterson since 2002, with little to show for it. So, forecasting improvements this season is hard to do. FWIW, PECOTA isn't particularly optimistic, though there is an enormous range between his 90th and 10th percentile projections...


Despite his offensive woes, Patterson does have a reputation as a plus fielder. His 2003-2007 average per 150 G according to UZR is a fine +13 in center field. The Fans Scouting Report had him at +0.5 wins/season in center field last year. ZR and RZR had him about average in '07, but I'm not crazy about either of those stats when assessing CF's. Dan Fox's SFR stat (which includes throwing arm) from 2003-2007 has him at +16.3 runs, or ~+3 runs/season, with a big spike of +12.9 runs in 2006.

The safe thing is probably to assume that he's a +0.5 wins fielder in center. That corresponds to his Fans rating, and is also the approximate average between the various objective metrics cited above. That also would rank him as arguably the best defensive center fielder on the ballclub...

Money Matters

I can't find anything about the sort of deal that Patterson might get if he makes the ballclub. It might be that he'd only make the league-minimum 400k. But my guess is that he'll make a tad above that (perhaps with incentives), though not more than a few million.

What is he worth? Well, on offense, he's averaged ~7.5 runs above replacement per season, or ~0.8 wins. Fielding-wise, I have him at +0.5 wins. He gains a half-win in value for playing a premium defensive position (center field), which puts him at ~1.8 wins above replacement overall.

I'm torn about whether to deduct a half-win for aging, as 28 is still within a player's prime years. So, let's just project his value as a range of between 1.3-1.8 wins above a replacement player. Such a player, as a free agent, should be worth ~$5.8-7.9 million per year, so the Reds are in for a nice value here.

Nevertheless, 2 wins above replacement is about what we'd expect from an average ballplayer, and most starters are approximately average or better players. Therefore, Patterson's suitability for a starting job is questionable. Then again, I'm not sure that Freel or Hopper can be counted on to be an average ballplayer next season either, so I can see Patterson taking the starting job--and if not, certainly making the club as a reserve outfielder.

The X-factor in all of this is Jay Bruce. He has already been raising eyebrows with his early spring training performance, and he may well play himself onto the ballclub. That would shift Freel and Hopper to reserve roles...and I have a hard time seeing how either of those guys won't be on the club come opening day. Given how packed the Reds' roster already is, what happens with Jay Bruce may be the biggest factor affecting Patterson's future with the Reds.

I'll try to take a look at Hairston in the next few days...he's a bit less interesting of a case, at least initially.