How did we all miss on Eric Campbell?

Chances are that if you’re reading this article, you’re a pretty die-hard Mets fan. You go to the games, you watch the games and you read about the games. It seems safe to say that you’re pretty knowledgeable about the club. This also means that you have strong opinions about the team, too. Perhaps you knew that Jacob deGrom would be a good starter if given a chance. Maybe you had faith in Curtis Granderson after his dismal start. And I’m sure you knew that keeping Lucas Duda was the right choice. But I bet you didn’t see Eric Campbell coming.

He didn’t make my Top 10 prospects list. He didn’t make Amazin’ Avenue’s Top 25 prospects list. And he wasn’t among the 40 players in the Mets’ farm system that John Sickels profiled. It seems safe to say that he flew underneath everyone’s radar.

The strong play of Josh Satin last year seemed to eliminate any chance of Campbell coming up and making an impact this year. He certainly turned heads with a strong Grapefruit League season but the deck was stacked against him, especially with everyone’s eagerness to see Wilmer Flores get a shot. So, Campbell went down to Las Vegas and did what he did in 2013 – hit the cover off the ball. Last year he put up a .413 wOBA for the 51s and this year he put up a .430 mark. Last year, when everyone thought Flores had such a good year in Triple-A, he recorded a .384 wOBA.

When given the chance in the majors, Campbell has simply done what he did in the high minors – hit. My favorite thing about him is how the ball seems to jump off of his bat. Unfortunately, HITf/x is not freely available to the public. It would be nice to see the speed of the ball off Campbell’s bat. Here’s some video of Campbell’s hits, courtesy of mlb.com.

Now, you may be thinking two things: First, they don’t show the dribblers and bloops on mlb.com. Second, everyone hits the ball hard when they’re going good. Both of those things are true enough. The latter is the one that interests me. We’ve seen guys come up and have immediate success before – Justin Turner and Kirk Nieuwenhuis jump immediately to mind. We saw with those two how they rode an unsustainable BABIP to a quick start. And you can point out how Campbell’s BABIP is unsustainable, too.

But that would be underselling things.

After delivering a pinch-hit single yesterday, Campbell’s BABIP sits at .452 after 109 PA. As you might guess, that’s the highest mark this season among players with at least 100 PA. What might surprise you is how that ranks historically. If the season ended Saturday, Campbell’s BABIP would be the third-highest mark since 1900 among those who logged 100 PA. In fact, it would be one of just seven seasons in the modern era to finish with a mark over .440 for the year.

Six of the seven players on the list had 123 or fewer PA and the other was 1911 Ty Cobb when he hit .420 for the season.

It seems not a big limb to go out on to say that Campbell is not the second coming of Cobb. The more he plays, the more the BABIP will regress to normal. But what should we consider “normal” for him? The default is a BABIP somewhere near .300 but everyone has their own personal normal. What’s normal for David Wright is different for what’s normal for Lucas Duda. Campbell doesn’t have enough PA in the majors to say what normal is for him. What we can do is look to his batted ball profile to see what his hit data suggests his BABIP should be.

A few years ago, Jeff Zimmerman published an xBABIP calculator. If we use that, we see that Campbell’s current batted ball profile spits out at a .362 BABIP, which is higher than even Wright’s career marks. As impressive as that is, it still falls way short of his actual output to date.

Still, with the way he’s swinging the bat, it would be nice if he would get more starts during this hot spell. When Campbell first came up, he was a revelation. Then he failed to get consistent ABs and the shine wore off as he was sitting on the bench. But when he played every day while Wright was out, the ball seemed to jump off his bat once again.

We have no idea how long the hot streak will last. But it seems silly not to take advantage of things while it lasts. Recent Mets history is filled with guys who continued to get regular playing time well after the hot streak faded, with 2013 John Buck jumping immediately to mind. That makes Campbell’s sporadic play all the more frustrating.

The big issue is that there’s no obvious place to play him. He’s a third baseman but he’s willing to play anywhere you ask him. Mets fans are familiar with that description, as it applies to Daniel Murphy, too. You just think that a team that isn’t steamrolling opponents could find a place in the lineup for a guy smacking the ball like Campbell currently is.

The Mets need to make him their Tony Phillips-like super sub. In 1991 for the Tigers, Phillips started 10 or more games at seven different positions and made six starts in CF, too. Campbell should be getting regular starts in LF and should fill in at all four infield positions. We know Ruben Tejada cannot start every single day at short and it certainly wouldn’t kill Murphy and Wright to get two days off a month, either. As long as Campbell is hot, he should be starting five days a week in this lineup.

While it’s frustrating to see him ride the pine right now, his overall play in 2014 is a reminder that the game never runs out of ways to surprise us. Most of us would have called Campbell a fringe player at the end of March, perhaps a Quad-A guy. And here he is winning games with his hitting. Mets fans are lucky in this regard. Last year we got to witness Juan Lagares come up and surprise everyone with his Gold Glove-level defense and now Campbell is coming from nowhere to wow us with his bat.

If only we got to see him more often.

7 comments for “How did we all miss on Eric Campbell?

  1. Steevy
    July 13, 2014 at 11:16 am

    I think we overlooked him mostly because of his age.The Zach Lutz,Josh Satin type of guy who is not really a prospect.Also,he has nothing in his game that jumps out at you.Not a power hitter,no great speed.I like his swing too,but let’s remember that we only have a tiny sample size.Certainly,he should play consistently while he is hot,there is no reason to play Chris Young over him( despite last night’s heroics).

    • July 13, 2014 at 11:36 am

      Your point about his age is noted.

      Still, he led the PCL last year both in wOBA (.413) and wRC+ (148) and those things usually raise an eyebrow. The guy doing that this year is Joc Pederson.

  2. Metsense
    July 13, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Eric Campbell fell off the radar when he posted a .688 OPS in 2011 at Binghampton.
    I also think that he should be getting more playing time than the current platoon with Duda. Granderson should also be added to the rest cycle.
    TC has a tendency to burn out his bullpen and a tendency to burn out his starting players. July and August are hot and travel compounds the fatigue. Fatigue could lead to injuries or possibly slumps. Increased playing time for Eric may solve player burn out and fatigue.

    • Jerry Grote
      July 13, 2014 at 11:40 am

      Looking ahead to schedule:

      As of now, August is going to be particularly brutal. Something like 17 of 28 games are against divisional leaders/near leaders and 9 of those are in a row.

      September cools, the rest of July isn’t bad.

      Brian, FWIW, didn’t we recently see where Collins said something to the effect that Campbell *would not* get a regular role, essentially relegating him to a platoon player for Lucas?

      • July 13, 2014 at 12:11 pm

        I don’t recall seeing that but nothing Collins says surprises me.

        FWIW – He’s in the lineup today vs a LHP, giving a rest to Murphy. Duda gets the start versus a lefty.

  3. Name
    July 13, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Problem is, he’s (mostly) an infielder, and our infield is pretty set right now. Wright, of course, is not going to sit. Duda is still hotter than Campbell so he’s not going to displace him.
    He’s obviously a better hitter than Tejada, but do we trust him at SS to play him 1 or 2 days a week there?
    The one guy he is actually outproducing statistically is Murphy right now. However, Campbell has a much shorter sample size and is relying on that high BABIP as you stated. It also won’t help Murphy’s trade value if you sit him. However, if Murphy does get traded, it might be up for discussion whether Campbell should get the first shot over Wilmer Flores.

    We do have an “opening” in LF right now, but with our current 6-OF situation, it’s hard to envision getting any ABs there.

    So with our current roster and assuming he can’t play SS, I can’t even draw up a scenario where Campbell gets more than 3 starts a week, even if at that. Only way for him to get more time is if someone gets traded or hurt.

  4. Patrick Albanesius
    July 14, 2014 at 3:01 am

    At least two OFs would have to be traded away to see Campbell get regular time in LF. I do think he can play a day or two a week at SS, and should regularly spell the rest of the infield. Other than that, he’s locked out of any consistent time at any one position. Of course things change rapidly, but it would be nice to see that bat flash a bit more, and help this hot streak stay that way.

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