Orioles Think Tank

Orioles Coverage for the Information Age

The Battle for CF

Posted by Mike on February 16, 2006

Intro/Background

Luis Matos came out of the gates raking in 2003. It wasn’t long until he forced the Orioles to promote him from Ottawa. He shined in his 103 game trial to the tune of a .303/.361/.467 batting line. Coming in to 2004, the Orioles pinned their hopes not only on the free agent signings of Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro, and Javy Lopez, but also on the continued development of Matos and fellow OF’s Larry Bigbie and Jay Gibbons. While Tejada and Lopez shined, Matos was by far the biggest disappointment of a largely disappointing group. His .224/.275/.333 batting line was something even Cristian Guzman would be ashamed of. He ended his season by breaking his shin and having to get a metal rod surgically inserted to stabilize the bone. 2005 essentially split the difference between his 2003 and 2004 seasons. He posted a .280/.340/.373 batting line while making it through a career-high 112 games. Unfortunately, concerns about his work ethic and injury-prone nature grew from a whisper to a persistent rumor and finally climaxed with a trade for one-time top prospect, Corey Patterson.

Patterson, much like Matos, has had many ups and downs in his young career. Baseball America named him the #3 prospect in all of baseball in 2000 and then ranked him #2 in 2001. Taking a cue from all the buzz that Patterson was generating, the Cubs rushed him through the minor leagues. He had brief stints with the parent club in 2000 and 2001 (his age 20 and 21 seasons, respectively) where he looked overmatched at the plate. The full-time gig was his by 2002 and he responded by posting a .253/.284/.392 batting line. Although he was still not ready for the show, he showed enough glimpses of what he could become that the Cubs would not send him back to the minors until 2005. Since 2002, he posted the following batting lines:

2003 (329 ABs)- .298/.329/.511
2004 (631 ABs)- .266/.320/.452
2005 (451 ABs)- .215/.254/.348

Just a cursory glance at those lines will tell you exactly why the Cubs were so willing to part with him this off-season. While still only entering his age 26 season, it only took Patterson one year to convince Jim Hendry that two C-level A-ball prospects had more potential value than the former #2 prospect in all of baseball.

Basic Info, Splits

Matos- DOB: 10/30/78; T-R, B-R
Patterson- DOB: 8/13/79; T-R, B-L

In 2005, Matos hit lefties very well– .297/.368/.466. Even with that performance, however, he has shown a reverse platoon split for his career, hitting lefties to the tune of a .227/.285/.343 batting line.

Over Patterson’s career, he has only authored a reverse platoon split once- in 2004. Still, his career batting line against righties (.259/.302/.426) is not egregiously out of line with his career numbers against lefties (.233/.266/.378).

Defense

Both Matos and Patterson are regarded as slightly above-average center-fielders. Over his career, Matos has posted a Rate2 of 103- or three runs above average per 100 games. Patterson has a career Rate2 of 97, but that is heavily weighed down by his time growing into the position in his earlier seasons. In 2004 and 2005, he posted Rate2’s of 102 and 101, respectively.

Flaws

I detailed many of the concerns about each player in the intro, but I’ll reiterate them here. Matos showed the Orioles that he was little more than 4th OF in 2005. He ranked 31st out of CF with at least 300 PA’s in secondary average, and his glove can only make up so much ground. He will always have a spot on someone’s bench due to his above-average speed (although he has poor base-stealing technique) and ability to provide late-inning insurance defensively.

Anytime someone has a 1:5 career BB/K ratio, like Patterson does, their flaw is easy to pick out. In and of themselves, strikeouts are generally over-emphasized. A player like Manny Ramirez has lots of K’s, but all that indicates is that he likes to work deep into counts. However, when a player fails to post a corresponding number of walks, then they have contact/strike-zone issues. Corey Patterson was never forced to confront these flaws in Chicago and it would be a mistake to assume he will overcome them on his own- especially if the make-up issues that dogged him in 2005 prove warranted. Nobody has ever doubted his speed (and he is a very good base-stealer), arm, power, or defense.

Conclusion

It is possible that the Orioles enter 2006 with a platoon situation in CF. Unfortunately, that would be counting on Luis Matos to continue the work he did in 2005 against left-handers- which, at this point, looks like the outlier in his career splits. It would also be ignoring the fact that in the short term that Patterson was able to hit righties well, he was also able to hit lefties at a better clip than we could hope from Matos.

What this position battle boils down to, then, is what direction Patterson’s career takes. Simply put, he is holding all the cards. If he comes close to his 2003/2004 form, Matos will be relegated to 4th OF status. Matos may be the safer bet at this point but he can not match Patterson’s upside. What Matos does provide is a nice security blanket in case Patterson continues to struggle like he did in 2005. Believe me, the Orioles front office want Patterson to win this job. If he doesn’t, it will be because he failed to measure up to a decidedly below-average ballplayer, not because Matos is playing like it’s 2003 all over again.

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5 Responses to “The Battle for CF”

  1. No Speakz said

    Good post sleepz. Despite the overall pessimistic tone of your post I actually like the situation we have going. As you mentioned, Matos’ work ethic has been questioned (which is awful any way you slice it), but as an optimist and outfield enthusiast I am hoping that Patterson’s presence will act to spur Matos on and vice versa. I think this type of competition will be good for both players. Also as mentioned I give Patterson the edge to win the job, but also doubt that his plate discipline problem will have miraculously solved itself in type for grapefruit ball and beyond. Either way, the CF situation is certainly not going to make or break the O’s success this season, and will at least be an interesting side plot to keep tabs on. On another note.. I would like to take this opportunity to plug the as yet TBA, stand-up comedy contest that will be taking place sometime in the near future in Canton. Participants are to include, Sir Sidh, Silent Joe, and yours truly, No Speakz. Come and show your support for your favorite in the 2006 Super Friend Showdown

  2. Mike said

    I don’t think I’m being overly pessimistic, but you are the outfield enthusiast (despite your poor throwing mechanics). You’re right that the CF situation isn’t going to make or break the O’s season, but it could be the difference between 4th and 5th place.

    Re: the 2006 Super Friend Showdown, I will be there with bells on my shoes. My participation, however, is extremely whiskey-dependant.

  3. Eddie said

    I guess as an Os fan I keep sight of the bigger picture. The Oriole’s OF situation is on the verge of having uncommon depth. By August, we could possibly have too many OFs and may be forced to trade. Gibbons will be there for a while either in LF or RF since his recent contract is seen as a shade towards a “bad contract” judging by industry rumours. By this time next year we’ll have a better idea of how tradable Gibbons’ contract would be. That being said, we could see both Majewski AND Markakis this year with Fiorentino and Reimold waiting in the wings. That’s a lot of players vying for possibly 2 spots. If we have both Matos and Patterson in the mix too, I don’t see it as a bad thing. We’re not putting either player in a position to be our long-term OF solution. If one of those players do make Os fans raise their eyebrows, I think it can only be a bonus….

    …even in the worst-case scenario, I think Matos is decent enough to be a throw-in to round out a good package in a trade for a B prospect…he wouldn’t be the centerpiece of such a deal, but he is worth something…personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matos steal 15-20 bases with a .260s AVG with HRs in the teens if he can stay healthy and if Perlozzo doesn’t leave him exposed…Patterson is a big Wild card…you could get anything from him hitting .200 or .300, and, 5HRs to 20 HRs…

  4. Mike said

    Eddie-

    You’re correct in assuming that this current situation is no indictment of future Oriole outfields. I just wanted to point out that Patterson has a chance to be an everyday player or he could be a bust, while Matos is likely just a 4th OF. Who starts in 2006 pretty much depends on whether or not Patterson is better than a 4th OF.

    I like how you point out that we can expect any of a wide range of results from Patterson. even if he hits .300 with 20 home runs, though, he will be an offensive liability if he only has an iso. disc. of .20 or so.

    And if Deric McKamey is right, it seems unlikely that any of the big 4 OF prospects can handle CF regularly. So let’s hope for a turnaround from Patterson.

  5. Anonymous said

    Eddie,
    Two Things:
    1. Comparatively, I don’t think the Gibbons contract was really that bad. Jacque Jones and Jeromy Burnitz got higher per year value on their deals and i’m not so sure either is better than Gibbons at the dish. Naturally, they got shorter deals due to their age.

    2. I don’t see Matos having the power to crack the teens in home runs. 2003, when he hit 13 home runs in 439 ABs was an aberration, since he outperformed his career norms in almost every stat. Furthermore, his power numbers since have been in steady decline and have been awful. 2004: 6 HRs in 330 ABs. 2005: 4 HRs in 389 ABs. Matos probably won’t approach those AB numbers this year with Patterson in the fold.

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