My feelings for our young center fielder have been well-documented, and there will be more to come shortly in another venue. Without getting into the intangibles that he brings to the team, I'd like to take a statistical look at these two players. I hope Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenner brothers will take a quick look at these numbers before making a meaningless signing just so they can move the Melk Man.
Defense: The stats below came from The Hardball Times, follow the link for more. All stats are from the 2007 season. The categories we're going to compare below are innings, put outs, assists, errors (throwing and fielding), BIZ (balls in zone, zone is the area, adjusted for ballpark, in which a center fielder is expected to make a play, adjusted for position as well), Plays (the number of Balls in Zone that the player actually made the play on), RZR (percentage of Balls in Zone which were converted into outs), OOZ (number of balls hit outside of the Zone which were caught). Now the stats, then some perspective.
Those numbers are pretty even, except for three categories, assists (greatly favor Melky), OOZ (greatly favors Cameron), and innings (greatly favors Cameron). Melky was better on the balls a center fielder should catch, 4 less opportunities, 2 more plays made. Cameron was better on plays a center fielder shouldn't make, but that number is a bit deceiving. Cameron played nearly 250 more innings in center than Melky, at the same rate, if Melky had played an equal number of innings he would've had 44 out-of-zone plays. If you extrapolate his assists out at the same rate over the same number of innings as Cameron, his total would've been 19. Obviously, the math here is a flawed, we aren't comparing like things. Cameron's ratio of balls in zone to innings was extremely low compared to Melky's. I'm not sure how the balls in zone relates to out of zone balls, but he had 243 more innings to run down an extra 32 balls in the gap. The players had an fairly even number of attempts to throw runners out.
To boil it down, Mike Cameron, a three-time Gold Glove winner, who is considered an excellent center fielder had a lower fielding percentage than Melky (who is considered by most to be an adequate center fielder with a strong arm), a lower RRZ than Cabrera and threw out half as many runners on the bases as Melky. If you want to put this into a pure outs basis, Cabrera was responsible for 360 outs in 1072 innings (Put outs + assists). Cameron was responsible for 372 outs in 1329 innings. As we move onto the offensive side of things, keep in mind that Cameron is 35 years-old, and will serve a mandatory 25-game suspension to start the season.
Offense: On offense, we'll take a look at the key sabermetric indicators, as well as some interesting splits numbers from 2007. OPSvR is OPS vs. right-handed pitchers, OPSvL is OPS vs. left-handed pitchers.
Of course, Melky was playing his second full season in the majors, and didn't take over the full-time center field job until the end of May, and Mike Cameron is 35 and fading fast.
Statistically speaking, I'd bet Cameron and Melky would probably be pretty close in 2008 if Cameron didn't have that 25-game suspension looming. My prediction: Melky will outperform Cameron this year and in 2009, with the gap widening each year, no matter what uniform he's wearing. Truth be told, at this point of his career Cameron should be a platoon player. Melky is just coming into his own.
There are plenty of reasons not to make these moves, more than I can count actually, so I'll leave you with just one. Nothing kills a rally more than a strike out. Put Mike Cameron in your lineup and you're effectively putting a black hole at the bottom of the order, and taking away a guy who does the little things with the bat (bunt, hit and run, move runners over, score runners from third with less than 2 outs) that turn Ls into Ws.