…Out of Center Field

Apologies to Elmore Leonard, whose death yesterday at the age of 87 inspired this post, if you can believe it.*


When Cameron Maybin went down with his knee injury, Bud Black‘s choices to play center field were two fourth outfielders — Will Venable & Chris Denorfia — and a utility player who was seen by most as just an emergency outfielder, Alexi Amarista.

With Carlos Quentin‘s knees out for likely the rest of the season (Don’t get me started on that.)Jaff Decker has come up from AAA Tucson and filled in quite nicely in left field. And Logan Forsythe, while primarily an infielder, is passable in one of the corner outfield spots should someone need a rest.

Therefore, Black, who according to reports looks at and analyzes stats before making out the lineup card every game, only had one decision to make regarding the outfield:

Is it Venable or Denorfia starting in center field today?

Neither. It’s Amarista. Why? I’m still trying to figure that out.

Here’s the Padres’ Ultimate Zone Ratings (UZR) in center field according to Fangraphs, prior to yesterday’s game:
(Which had Amarista starting in center, ironically.)

  • Venable‘s UZR in 37 starts in CF is 5.2
  • Norf‘s UZR in 32 starts in CF is 1.1
  • Amarista‘s UZR in 42 starts in CF is -7.3

You read that right, 7.3. As in “Negative, Ghost Rider. The pattern is full.

I don’t know why that shocks me. I mean, Amarista is always taking weird routes to the ball. At best, his speed allows him to get there in time to make the catch, albeit in a completely awkward way. At worst, well…

As you can see, Amarista has gotten most of the starts in CF this year since Maybin went on the DL. Recently, with Everth Cabrera‘s suspension for his involvement with Biogenesis, Amarista has seen more time at shortstop, as Black has started Venable in center the majority of the last two weeks’ games.

Look, I’m not saying Black has a whole lot of options here. Maybin’s 2011 UZR/150 in center field was 10.3. It dropped down to 4.1 in 2012. Compare that to 2011 Venable’s CF UZR/150 of -26.2 (which went “up” to -12.1 in 2012) or Norf’s -1.6 (-34.5 in 2012). Amarista had a CF UZR/150 of -38.3 in 2012, the first year he’d ever played CF in the majors. (So far, Amarista has a -22.2 UZR/150 in center this season.) That’s a huge hole that Maybin’s injury left open for the Padres.

But, there has been a better choice than Amarista the entire time. Black just hasn’t been selecting that choice. He kept throwing Amarista out there for some reason.

Now do you see what I’ve been complaining about?



*You may be asking yourself, “How in the Hell did Elmore Leonard’s passing inspire a stat-based examination of Amarista’s time in center field?” Allow me to explain. I heard about Leonard’s death yesterday morning and the first thing I thought of was how much I liked “Get Shorty,” both the movie and the book. Amarista is short.** The Padres need to get Shorty out of center field. There you go.

**José Altuve-esque shortness, in fact, as the video below demonstrates. How have I not seen this before?

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  • Drew Tweedie

    Not an Amarista CF fan, but interesting enough he’s only recorded a -1 DRS in 400+ innings this year. For comparison, Venable ias at an nice, round 0 DRS in about 800 innings split between CF and RF, and Denorfia has accumulated 8 DRS in 775 innings playing all three outfield positions.

  • The eyeball test says that Alexi Amarista is a disaster in CF. All of the fielding ratings systems say you should accumulate 3 years of data before making evaluations. I say, “Gahhhhhhh. I can’t wait that long!”

    • Three years of Amarista in CF would be Hell on Earth.

      • Drew Tweedie

        AKA Padres baseball.

  • Tom Waits

    Anything that leads to an Elmore Leonard discussion = good. Like Chili Palmer, Bud Black sometimes seems to be making **** up on the fly. Unlike Chili, Black’s plans often blow up in his face.

    Amarista is classic false value. Announcers and reporters seem to think he’s Jerry Hairston Jr Jr. He’s not. He can only play the OF in the sense that any fast kid can play it. He can’t play on the left side of the infield if you want to turn ground balls into outs. He’s not useless at the plate or as a pinch-runner, regardless of the low SBs, but his OF starts should be rare to the point of extinction.

    Come September, Fuentes and Maybe-in™ should spell the end of Amarista in center.