Can Campana provide value for the Cubs as a starter?

Can Campana provide value for the Cubs as a starter?

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.

Filed under: Projections

Tags: Tony Campana


Leave a comment
  • I love Campana and I'm numbers oriented. I'm an engineer with a math minor. But I've worked with math enough to know that most equations are just a finger pointing. They direct you towards the truth, they aren't the thing itself. This is especially true for sabermetrics which has some big ole holes in it, such as the running game and not taking into account a hitter's protection. With the vast amount of historical baseball data available, you give someone with even a decent statistics background 6 months and a paycheck and they could improve sabermetrics two fold. Especially in the running game, where you could factor in a pitcher's ERA difference when he pitches in the stretch, a baserunner's probability of going from 1st to 3rd on a single, induced errors, etc, etc.

    My point is just that it isn't small ball versus sabermetrics here. Non-small ball peeps can love Campana simply because they can tell he increases our chance to win. It's more people who think if it doesn't work on paper it won't work in real life versus those who are more results oriented and see something working in real life and say, "Hey, let's give it a chance."

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    I don't disagree with you at all, Carne. I do concede at the end of the article that there are other factors that that just can't be measured. Statistical analysis always has limitations.

    It's more about playing the odds, and the odds are that Campana will be less than an average player overall -- but that doesn't necessarily mean he will be. The Cubs have a great opportunity to give him a shot in the real world this season.

    I hope he makes it because he is a fun player to watch and we've seen him create runs with his legs. I just think he'll be better as a role player than an everyday guy.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I hope he gets a lot of playing time even after the roster expands. Not sure how they'll do that but maybe with trades. If he gets his shot at starting, then make it or not, I'll be happy. I'd just hate to see him put in a utility role because that's what he's projected to be on paper, even when he's tearing things up in real life.

  • That's a really interesting piece of analysis, and you did a good job being dispassionate with your conclusions. Because Campana's such a likable player, there's a temptation to overrate his impact.

    Of course, that could work to our advantage in terms of establishing Campana's market value. To use a particularly painful example, just look at how Hendry overrated Juan Pierre's impact before making a trade for him. Maybe we can find a GM who's of a similar mindset as Hendry was.

    We talk about guys like Byrd, Soto and Dempster being "assets" we have to showcase to get value back, but there is a class of older prospects -- Campana, as well as LaHair and maybe even Joe Mather -- who could prove to be even more attractive at the trade deadline, especially to small- to mid-market teams. And with those players, we wouldn't have to pay a massive portion of their salary.

  • In reply to Taft:

    Thanks Taft.

    There are undoubtedly still teams out there that would place higher value on a .280 average and 40-50 SBs more than the Cubs probably do, and maybe you're right that there's a trade out there worth making.

    For now, though, I admit that I look forward to seeing Campana in the lineup. LaHair, Castro, and Campana are the players most fun to watch on offense right now.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I couldn't agree more with your top three players. It's guys like those that make a rebuilding season tolerable. I was glad to hear Sveum say that Campana would get 80 percent of the starts in CF. And he seems to recognize that LaHair has earned ABs against lefties. Those two guys have been very productive, and it's scary to wonder what this Cubs offense would have been without their unexpected contributions.

  • I was able to follow that completely on the second read. Baseball is for those who like the sport and/or statistics. I believe that you think Campana can help.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I do think he can help any team. His speed is a legit weapon on the bases. My only question is whether he can hit/get on base enough to make it matter. But even if he doesn't, I think he can at least have a valuable role on the team off the bench.

  • fb_avatar

    I think this is a really excellent article John and a very well thought-out analysis. I think people "feel" like Campana has been helping us win lately, because he has, he has been getting on base at a robust clip. If he could continue to do that over the course of a whole season, along with with his stealing ability, would be a very valuable player I imagine. Of course, you were using his ZIPS projections obp of .323 which is probably more realistic.. Of course, he hasn't had much experience in the big leagues, so IF he could theoretically increase that obp, like .350 plus that Phil Rogers was hoping for, then I imagine that would make his WAR come out much higher. Could you calculate that? I know this is a big IF, but it certainly seems like it could be possible. The other way of course would be if he could increase his slugging a bit and at least hit for some more doubles. Then you may have yourself an above-average starter on your hands.. I'm not saying it's likely, but I think it's worth it to give him some more time to find out I do think your scenario though is probably the most realistic one, that he is most likely a fringe regular player type.

  • In reply to Gary Kueper:

    Thank you Gary.

    I tried your suggestion and I gave him a .350 OBP and gave him a modest increase in slugging to .350. If I don't factor in the SBs and instead give him a top of the charts baserunning rating and top of the charts defense, he comes out to a 3.4 WAR player, which is definitely worth starting.

    In fact, even if I kept his slugging as projected and simply gave him a .350 OBP with top defense and baserunning, he projects to a 3 WAR player.

    So really, what we're looking for is better OBP and better defense (great speed, doesn't always get great jumps right now), and we're looking at a viable starter.

  • fb_avatar

    Thanks for calculating that! That is interesting.. I don't know if Campana can do it, but we might as well give him a shot, don't you think?

  • In reply to Gary Kueper:

    Why not? Nothing to lose this year. There's no doubt that he understands his role now is to get on base and he's making a concerted effort to do so. If that translates to results then that's key.

    I think even if he isn't a top notch defender, he is above average because his speed makes up for any mistakes. So even if his defense doesn't get a whole lot better but he just gets on base at a .350 clip, it may well be worth it to have him out there, especially at his low cost.

  • There are a lot of little things campana can add that you didnt even mention and you were pretty thorough. For example he can "sac" bunt where he still has a good chance of getting on and worst case, he moves the runner over. He can beat out double plays which limits the negatives he can add to a team, for example if he hits with a guy on and beats out a double play, it's almost a positive since he can still get to second probably. Then when hes on base and pitchers try the quick step or just lose attention to the hitter i think it can help other guys out. No team can be built around campana type players but i think that since he starts at a premium position, he can be a helpful piece to a good team

  • In reply to Andrew:

    There are definitely a lot of little things and they can add up. I don't think Jackson is coming up until at least after the all-star break, so we'll get a good look to see how it all comes together.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    To add to your list of positives that are nearly impossible to factor into Campana's value, think about his ability to score from 1B on a double versus an average major league baserunner. Or his ability to score from 2B on a single. That's huge -- because if that runner doesn't score, then you have to hope for another base hit, a slow-rolling grounder, a wild pitch, a sac fly, etc.

    In this fashion, Campana bolsters the RBI totals of all who hit below him. As a whole, the team scores more.

    Come to think of it, is there a baserunning average? This would be the number of times a player scores, divided by the number of times he gets on base. Seems to me that Campana's would be high and that it would bring his statistical value up closer to what it looks like from the naked eye.

  • In reply to Taft:

    Players do get a baserunning value on sites like Fangraphs and in the WAR calculator that I used.

    I gave Campana the top grade for baserunning on one example earlier in the comments section.

    In fact, Campana's value last season all came from his baserunning and his defense. His hitting actually had negative value.

  • fb_avatar

    Amazing analysis John, articles like these are why this is my number one site in terms of cubs info. I like what I see from Campana and other young players like clevenger, dolis, etc and I think the key to all of this is Dale and his willingness to play them. Unlike Quade he is not delusional about the state of his team. In his head he knows this is a project above all else and if you can give guys like campana a shot this is the season to do it and he is not afraid to do that. I believe that plays a crucial part in their development and confidence. I'd feel good coming up to Wrigley from AAA because I know I will get a chance to play. Last season was absurd when (given our situation) our younger players got played so sparingly when they did play it had to have a name (kids day) at that point in the season every day should have been kids day.......sigh

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    Thanks Marcel. This was fun because it was always something I've sort of wondered about. And I try to go into any analysis with an open mind, so by the end sometimes I learn a lot myself.

    And I like the idea of just trying some guys out while they have nothing to lose. I think it's Steve who said that this is something of an evaluation year. Who knows, as some commenters have pointed out, there are little things that may factor in and make a difference -- and if Campana can have a .350 OBP, then maybe they have themselves a find in an unexpected place.

  • It's hard to evaluate a guy like Campana with statistics. The old saying "you can't steal first base" applies to him more than anyone.

    But...IMO, if he can figure out how to get on he's a major distraction for pitchers and defenders, just a big general headache for opponents. And that's valuable.

    There just is no statistic for what I call "The Pest Factor".

  • In reply to eaton53:

    The statistic that's most fair to use with Campana is OBP. That is the single most important objective because his value on offense is almost completely tied into his ability as a baserunner.

    Once he's on, then he's a difference maker in many ways, both statistically and in terms of those kinds of intangibles.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Like I said, you can't steal first base. He has to figure out any means necessary to get there because a popless player like him is pretty useless unless he can become a pest.

    Once on he's a big problem. He is a major distraction to half the defense, plus the Cubs are a team that has to manufacture runs. 3-run HRs are nice, but you gotta face reality here... the Cubs aren't a team that would make Earl Weaver proud in that area.

  • Great article and analysis, John. The emotional aspect of watching him is hard not to like him. He changed the game last night. The fascinating thing about guys without power is that in today's game, they pitch to these guys. They simply challenge the hitters to put it into play.

    Last night, it seemed like Halladay changed his pitching approach e.g. lost his rhythm after Campana got on base. Then he was pitching away from Campana the next time he faced him. Campana slapped it for an infield single. I think Halladay was not going to allow him to drag a bunt down first base by leaving anything over the inner part of the plate. So, in a strange way, he was being cautious with him. Campana's similar to Pierre. Bust him in with fastballs and let him hit it to the second baseman or pitch him away and let him hit lazy flyballs to left.

    I hope he can get his OBP to .350 and makes things interesting. Again, valuable article and insight. Keep up the good work!

  • In reply to Greg Shuey:

    Thanks Greg.

    Pierre is probably a fair comparison or hopeful outcome, at least. We saw that when Pierre had is OBP in the .360-.370 range and playing good defense, he was a weapon. When the OBP and defense fell, he was more of a 4th OF'er. I think that's a pretty good barometer for Campana.

  • I've always thought that the great basestealers created havoc in a close game by not just distracting the other team but raising the level of stress considerably. It's one thing to have a man on second who's going to stay there unless the ball is hit. It's another to have someone who can just take off at any time and stretch wild pitches, errors, and singles into runs. I also was wondering if there was anyway to determine the batting average of the team when Campana was on base to see how that differs with when he isn't on base.

  • In reply to cubster:

    I'm sure there is a stat like that somewhere. There's a stat for everything these days. I'll see if I can dig one up.

  • When Jackson comes up, who is removed. When Rizzo comes up
    does LaHare go to the outfield full time?. What will the outfield
    look like in 2-3 months.

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    Not sure. LaHair has had no time in the OF all year and there doesn't seem to be any plans to do that right now.

    I'm pretty sure the outfield will contain Jackson and DeJesus 3 months from now, but after that, I don't know. Maybe Soriano, maybe Campana, maybe LaHair.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    When Rizzo comes up, La Hair will have been dealt, IMO. Extrapolate his production by mid-July-- should make him very attractive to some team.

  • In reply to IVYADDICT:

    That's the most likely scenario. As much as I like LaHair, it seems like that's the plan and what's best for the team.

  • Man, I can't understand why Sveum wouldn't start Campana against the Phillies today, 24 hours after he terrorized them on the basepaths. Phils starter Joe Blanton is a righty, so Campana's lefty stick would match up well.

    OK, checking Baseball-Reference, it looks like Johnson has a homer, among five hits over 12 ABs against Blanton.

    Although Johnson's failed to reach base in his first two ABs tonight. I would have rather played the hot hand.

  • In reply to Taft:

    I've never been big on small size sample matchup numbers. I'm with you, should have played the hot player.

  • Very interesting article and subsequent discussion, John.

    Pulling on the Bryan LaHair thread a little more, I still can't understand why there are so many disbelievers wanting to move Bryan at the first opportunity.
    1) "He can't hit at the ML Level". Really? Last time I looked, he was leading the team in average and HRS, getting clutch and GW RBIs, and holding down the cleanup spot.
    2) "He's a poor defensive 1B". Really? Looks like he and the coaching team have done a great job improving his defense.
    3) "His defense will kill us in the outfield". He did not embarrass himself in the 3-4 games that Quade let him play in RF last year. And surely he'll do no worse in LF than recent inhabitants such as Soriana and Alou
    4) "Three years from now, he'll be over the hill at age 32". Last time I looked, Paul Konerko was 34 and is getting better every year. Nobody is talking about Josh Hamilton (31), Curtis Granderson (31), or Roy Halladay (34) heading downhill. Teams were so worried about Prince Fielder (28) and Albert Pujos (31) going downhill at 32, that they signed them to 9 and 10 year contracts. So, I'm not sure I agree that players peak at age 32.

    My point is that Bryan LaHair has consistently disproved the naysayers and we should not be so quick to be show him the gate.

    Me? If Soriano is still playing so badly come June 15, I would call Iowa and ask them if Rizzo has anything left to prove down there or has any major holes in his game. If the answer is no, give him a 1 way ticket to Chicago, release Soriano, and move LeHair to LF.

    Go CUBS!

  • In reply to DropThePuck:

    I like LaHair. I'm more concerned about him being able to play the OF as he gets older than hitting. I'm not opposed to trying him there short term if they can find a way to unload Soriano (no way they can play them both in the OF).

  • I'm a FanGraphs writer, and I have been calling for Campana to be a starter for a year plus. His offense is, eh, acceptable, but his range makes his defense potentially otherworldly.

  • In reply to bwoodrum:

    Thanks Brad! I did see his UZR/150 was great last year.
    Wanted to see a bigger sample from him on defense because sometimes it seems to me he doesn't get great jumps on the ball -- though he can still often run it down with his speed.

    But if that small sample he had last year is true, then his defense and baserunning alone make him a worthwhile guy to play, even with a .325 OBP or so.

  • In reply to bwoodrum:

    Castro's range to centre and left field is pretty good as well :P

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    Castro has the best pop-up range of a Cubs SS since Shawon Dunston, who'd go halfway into LF at times.

  • Perfect example vs. the Phils.

    Campana beats out infield hit. Steals 2nd despite a pitchout. Barney gets him over. Castro hits a grounder with the IF in but Campana beats throw to home, Castro safe. Floodgates open.

    Cubs get a crooked number because of the Campana Effect. IMO, a formula for victory.

  • In reply to eaton53:

    He is absolutely amazing on the bases. Disruptive, game-changer...both those words fit once he gets on. He's not just fast, he's very aggressive out there. It has to be unnerving to opponents.

Leave a comment