There is a great divide when it comes to Tony Campana. Those inclined to numbers, statistics, etc. are lukewarm at best on Campana while those who prefer a small-ball approach think he can be a catalyst for a struggling Cubs offense.
Dale Sveum, who is aware of both sides of the argument, is saying he's going to start Campana "80% of the time" for now.
What does that mean for the Cubs? What kind of value can Campana provide as a starter?
A quick look at the ZiPS projections show Campana as a 1.4 WAR player, which is a below average regular, about a 1/2 win or so less than Marlon Byrd was last season. It projects Campana with a .281/.323/.332 line and a below average wOBA of just .306. However, modern statistics don't value the stolen base as much as proponents of small-ball do. The ability to steal bases is undoubtedly Campana's greatest asset, so do modern statistics shortchange Campana's potential value as a starter?
Now... I read, interpret, and refer to advanced statistics, but I don't calculate them on my own as others such as Bradley Woodrum of Cubs Stats or the guys at OV Blog do. So maybe I'm way off base here, but I decided to conduct a little thought experiment based on an old baseball adage I would hear as a kid whenever a fast runner got on base. It went something like this: Whenever a speed merchant like Rickey Henderson or Vince Coleman got a walk, some announcer would say "with this guy on, a walk is as good as a double."
I'm going to take that old adage and run with it.
I know it's overly simplistic, but what if we calculate SBs as if they are an extra base to be factored into the slugging percentage? In the grand scheme of things, what's the difference between a leadoff triple and Campana getting on with an infield single (or a walk, or an error), then stealing 2nd and 3rd base? The former has more value statistically, but the end result is the same, isn't it?
So, just for fun, I used the ZiPs projections I stated earlier and added the 43 projected steals to his total bases, but subtracted the 10 projected outs created on caught stealings from his OBP. Since singles are factored into slugging percentage but walks are not, I assumed the caught stealings came on 8 singles and 2 walks -- since that is about the projected ratio of Campana's singles to walks on the year. So basically, that amounts to 35 more total bases (43 steals - 8 caught stealings on singles).
So, my "caught stealing adjusted" OBP goes down to .300 but the "stolen base adjusted" slugging percentage rises to .421. That makes his adjusted OPS a much more respectable .721 rather than the .655 that is projected by conventional standards.
I then input Campana's stolen base adjusted numbers into "Wahoo's on First" simple WAR calculator. Giving him slightly above average defense in CF and top of the charts baserunning, the WAR comes out as 2.5, which is about an average regular and slightly better than Marlon Byrd was last year, but not nearly as good as Byrd was in 2010 when he put up a 4.4 WAR.
But is that accurate?
I also considered that I may have been overstating Campana's impact on baserunning by factoring his steals in twice (once in the baserunning function on the WAR calculator and the other when I adjusted his slugging percentage). If I downgrade Campana's SB to just average to avoid double counting the SBs, the WAR drops to 2.0, which is a fringe average regular, as Byrd was last season.
It's admittedly crude, but I think even when giving Campana and his speed every benefit of the doubt, he rates as a fringe average starter at best.
But there are still other things to consider.
I adjusted Campana's slugging percentage from one skewed perspective, his ability to get into scoring position to score runs, but there's another side to slugging percentage: It also helps you drive in runs. Doubles, triples, and HRs are all more likely to drive in runs than a single -- and adding SBs to singles to aid slugging percentage is flawed because stolen bases don't help Campana produce runs while he's at the plate.
In other words, a walk to a stolen base threat such as Henderson, Coleman -- or Campana-- really isn't "as good as a double." It's only as good when you're the first man to get on base in the inning.
So it's not really a true .421 slugging percentage in the sense that it overstates his ability to drive in runs and thus his overall run production. His "stolen base adjusted slugging percentage" shouldn't be .421. And even if you split the difference nd adjust the slugging percentage to .370- .380, it once again takes Campana's WAR into the below average starter range.
I started this little thought experiment with the hope that maybe I could make an objective argument that Campana's stolen base ability could make a significant difference as a starter. That's not to say that there aren't subjective and/or intangible arguments (making pitchers throw from the stretch, distracting the pitcher, making the infielders move around, etc.), perhaps that would push the needle back a bit more toward Campana's favor.
I'm just not sure it's enough to make him a viable long term starter. But it doesn't mean he can't be a very good weapon for the Cubs in spot starts and off the bench. And as analytical as I can be at times, I enjoy watching Tony Campana on the bases as much as anybody.
But for now, it's certainly not going to hurt the team when you compare Campana's potential production to the other CF candidates on the roster, so why not plug Campana in and let him run wild? His speed on the bases is going to be one of the more fun things to watch -- at least until the Cubs start calling up prospects such as Anthony Rizzo and Campana's inevitable replacement, Brett Jackson.