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.