Monday, February 18, 2013

Comparing Center Fielders By the Numbers

When Terry Ryan traded Ben Revere he listed three players as being in competition for the position. Those were last year's fourth outfielder, Darin Mastroianni and minor league players Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson. Ryan said all three had the defense to play center field, the question was whether they would hit enough.

Mastroianni is 26 and played most of last year as the Twins fourth outfielder, so the is probably the favorite. But last year was his only major league experience beyond a one game appearance with Toronto in 2011. If he gets the job, he profiles as a place warmer until someone else is ready.

Benson and Hicks are both guys who have been touted in the past. Benson was in Baseball America's top 100 prospects for 2011 and 2012. Hicks was on the list from 2009 through 2011.

Hicks is a number one choice and has been looked at as a potential future star. He has both plus range and a plus arm in center field. On offense he has great speed, good base running skills,  draws walks and should have power potential as he gets older.

Benson was the Twins minor league player of the year in 2010 at New Britain when he hit 23 home runs. He got a call-up in 2011 and then fell apart last year with both performance and injury problems. The Twins are hoping that was just a false start.

It is instructive to compare Benson and Hicks performance at New Britain. Benson is a year and half older than Hicks so he was about the same age as Hicks both his first two seasons at New Britain. In 2010 he was six months younger than Hicks was last year and in 2011 he was six months older.  Hicks one and only season at AA was last year. Mastroianni also played in the Eastern League with New Hampshire in 2010 at age 24.

Here are the "slash" lines for each, AVG, OBP and SLG:

Benson Totals .256 .349 .479
Hicks 2012 .286 .384 .460
Mastroianni 2010 .301 .390 .398

That is only part of the story. Here are some other numbers:

Benson Totals 25.38% 59.62% 10.27% 10.27%
Hicks 2012 20.60% 74.42% 14.03% 7.99%
Mastroianni 2010 15.56% 82.14% 12.48% 5.83%

The first is strike outs per plate appearance. As you can see Benson struck out about 1 in every 4 plate appearances. To be fair, he improved slightly from 27% in 2010 to 23% in 2011 and then fell back again last year.

The second is the percentage of stolen bases compared to attempts. Again Mastroianni lead all three with Hicks close behind. Benson was the least successful. Benson also stole far fewer bases, only 31 in over 1000 plate appearances while getting caught 21 times. Hicks stole 32 in 563 plate appearances while getting caught 11 times. Mastroianni stole 46 while getting caught 10 times.

The third percentage is the number of walks per plate appearance. Again Benson is the worst of the three. Hicks is the best and Mastroianni finished between the two.

The fourth percentage is home runs per plate appearance. Here Benson shines, Hicks shows less power while Mastroianni takes up the rear.

Of course these numbers are not from the same year. Hicks numbers are the most recent, while both Benson and Mastroianni have more experience since then. More recent results are probably a plus for Mastroianni, but a decided negative for Benson.  But Hicks is also the youngest, which means his room for improvement is greater than the other two. Hicks finished last year strong and the Twins are hoping he is ready to build on that at the major league level.

If not, the most likely outcome is Mastroianni holding down the job while Hicks works on his game at AAA. Benson has a shot, but he really needs to show that his improvement a couple years ago at New Britain was not only real, but that he is going to build on it. Because even striking out 23% of the time against AA pitching is not the basis for a major league career. At least not as a starting player.

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