I’ve noticed a lot of people complaining about Corey Patterson being a Cincinnati Red. I was at BW3’s near UD last night after a class and when he came up against Gagne in the 9th, a few guys to my right started talking about how awful Patterson is. After he took Gagne deep, I looked over to them and said “Yeah, but Gagne is even worse.” A little bit of “outcome based evaluation” is ok.

So, how bad is Corey Patterson? Is he really a scar in the lineup sucking up outs and playing time that should go to someone else (well, call him J. Bruce to protect anonymity)? Or does Corey Patterson bring enough to the table to justify not just a roster spot but a job starting in centerfield for the Reds? I’ll be up front…I’m partial to the signing of Patterson to hold centerfield until everyone’s designated messiah is promoted.

Patterson was a highly touted high-school baseball player and a first round pick by the Cubs (3rd overall) in 1998. He made his first appearance in the majors in 2000 as a late season callup and was starting full-time in centerfield by 2002. He was traded to the Orioles in the winter of 2006 and played in Baltimore through this past season and released at the end of the season. The Reds signed him to a minor league contract during spring training (for some reason a contract that bumped his salary to 3 MIL if he made the major league team) and he was added to the 40 man roster before the season started.

First and foremost, the consensus is that Corey Patterson is a very good centerfielder. I was at the opening day game and he made three very nice catches, two on balls that I thought were in for hits when they left the bat. A good centerfielder in Great American Ballpark is a necessity due to the Reds playing two borderline statues in the corners. The scouts say he’s very good in centerfield and so do I (which should mean nothing to anyone except my family). What do the numbers say? We’ll look at how he ranks among other centerfielders over the past 3 seasons. Range factor is the number of chances the player gets per game. The limitation with this stat is it is heavily influenced by the kind of a pitching staff the team has. Zone Rating is the number of balls hit into that player’s “zone” that he turned into outs. (stats from ESPN)

Season

Fielding%

Range Factor

Rank

Zone Rating

Rank

Assists

2007

0.990

2.46

16 (of 18)

0.885

10 (of 18)

8

2006

0.989

2.94

2 (of 20)

0.926

1 (of 20)

7

2005

0.980

2.23

19 (of 20)

0.900

8 (of 20)

6

2006 was a great defensive year for Patterson according to both Range Factor and Zone Rating. 2005 and 2007, not as much acording to Range Factor. Though he was about average in 2005 and 2007 according to Zone Rating.

Defensive statistics have come a long way, though, and the folks at Baseball Info Solutions have done some incredible work at improving the way defense is evaluated. You may want to read this, to know where they are coming from, before looking at their numbers listed below. Their stat is a simple +/-, though, so it is easier to understand.

Season      +/- Rank   
2006  34  1 
2004-2006  45  2 
2005-2007  31  6 

2006 was a great defensive season for Patterson, no matter what statistics we use. They don’t have his 2007 or 2005 numbers individually but he wasn’t among the leaders or trailers in 2007. If we look at the 3 year totals they have, we can get a basic idea of his other seasons, though. If we remove his +34 from his 2005-2007 totals, that leaves a -3 total for his 2005 and 2007 seasons. Slightly below average. If you subtract his 2006 season from his 2004-2006 numbers, it leaves a +11 for his 2004-2005 seasons. A solidly above average number.

Using this collective information, and understanding that fielding is like hitting, players have below, average and above average seasons, I’m very comfortable saying that Patterson is an above average and sometimes outstanding centerfielder. With any team, especially this one, there is definitely value in that.

How about offensively? Well, everyone knows he doesn’t walk or get on base much, so there really is no reason to rehash that. He strikes out a fair amount, too. And the only time he should be at the plate with a lefty on the mound is if the rest of the team is in the hospital suffering from food poisoning. That’s the bad stuff. Patterson does have some pop in his bat, as we’ve already seen in the first week of the season. He has a career ISO (Slg-Ave) of .158. That’s against both righties and lefties as ESPN doesn’t have those split for his career numbers. But a .158 ISO is pretty good. Not elite, but for a centerfielder, it’s above average.

Patterson is also a VERY good base-stealer, stealing bases at an 80% success rate for his career. Tim Raines is the career leader at 84.7%. It’s tough to find any kind of comprehensive study or rankings on baserunning, though. So at least we know he’s a good base-stealer and likely a good overall baserunner.

So what do we have with Corey Patterson? We have a defensive sub who can’t get on base, walk, hit lefties and strikes out too much? Is that fair? Maybe. But one of the gripes I have about the Cincinnati media’s and, in turn, fans’ take on Adam Dunn is they concentrate too much on what he can’t do and don’t enjoy him for what he does do. Have too many people made the same mistake with Patterson (the opposite of Dunn in most categories)? We have a very good defensive outfielder on a team that really needs one. He can put up a decent (vague term, I know) OPS against righties and he’s very good at stealing bases and probably running the bases in general. I’ll take that in centerfield.

Now, I think there are two things that people let shade their opinions on Patterson.

  1. Dusty Baker insists on batting him leadoff.
  2. Everyone’s designated messiah playing centerfield in AAA.

Number one is a perfectly legitimate gripe. Number 2 is a complex topic without a clear solution that deserves it’s own post (Not sure if it’ll get it).

Patterson’s teams should have a right-handed caddy to platoon with him (Norris Hopper anyone?) and shouldn’t bat him any higher than 7th, preferably 8th. If they do that, there’s no reason Patterson’s defense and pop versus righties can’t help push the Reds towards division title in 2008.