In one of many trades that occurred on Tuesday, the Oakland A's send Michael Choice and Chris Bostick to Texas in exchange for Craig Gentry and Josh Lindblom. You may have missed it because half of the players in the league changed teams and Billy Beane acquired an entirely new bullpen along the way, but it was actually one of the more interesting moves of the day.
Michael Choice is a corner outfield prospect with lots of team control left who projects as an average to above average hitter, even if the power hasn't quite arrived. In other words, this is the kind of player the A's normally trade for. Instead, they're sending Choice east to Arlington for a 30 year old who had a career high 287 plate appearances in 2013. Bostick and Lindblom are useful players, but the meat of the deal is the Choice for Gentry. It doesn't sound like a classic A's trade, but when you dig a little bit deeper into the numbers, Craig Gentry is a player who belongs in green and yellow.
Craig Gentry, Amazing Baserunner
In 763 career plate appearances, Gentry has accumulated 12.2 BsR, which pro-rates out to 9.6 BsR per 600 plate appearances. Even if you expect him to get on base less frequently in a full-time role, he's still an extremely valuable baserunner. That 9.6 BsR would have ranked 5th in baseball this season, but even if you're conservative, he was the 18th best baserunner in the league during 2013 with 5.8 BsR in 287 PA.
He stole 24 bases in 2013 and his career success rate is 85%. You aren't quite getting Jacoby Ellsbury on the bases with Gentry, but you are getting a player with nearly as much baserunning value in exchange for Michael Choice rather than $153 million. In other words, Oakland got one of the best baserunners in the league for a replaceable prospect. That sounds like the A's.
Craig Gentry, Solid Hitter
Gentry has almost no power, but the rest of his game at the plate is extremely solid. This isn't a one-dimensional player like Quintin Berry, this is a pretty good hitter. Gentry's career OBP sits at .355 after a career high .373 in 2013 with a 96 wRC+ in his career after a 108 wRC+ in 2013. He walked in 10.1% of his PA in 2013 and strikes out less than league average.
In 2013, the average major league outfielder hit .258/.323/.408. Craig Gentry hit .280/.373/.386. He doesn't slug the ball the way they do, but he gets on base better than the average outfielder and can make up the extra bases with his legs.
Craig Gentry, Elite Defender
Most of Gentry's 1788.1 innings of work in the field has come in center, and in those 1483.1 innings in center field, he has racked up 34 defensive runs saved and a 31.9 UZR. When averaging that across a typical season, you get a 29.5 UZR/150 in center field. If those numbers don't mean a whole lot to you, that suggests that Gentry would be three wins better than the average center fielder over an entire season on defense alone.
We know that analyzing defensive metrics in 2000 inning samples is a little dangerous, but when the message is that he's a +30 defender, you have a pretty good idea that he's excellent, even if it isn't necessarily a precise figure. It certainly helps to see the DRS number tell the same story with plenty of agreement among those who have scouted him. Gentry is an elite defender in center and should continue to be over the next couple of seasons. Even at +10 or +15, he's an asset. If his true talent is higher, he's a borderline star.
So we figure that Gentry is right around average as a hitter, maybe a touch worse. He's a +5 runner and +10 defender if we're being extremely conservative, which adds up to something like a 3.5 to 4.0 WAR player over a full season. Maybe the extra playing time hurts his offense, but it shouldn't affect his defense and baserunning and we're being very cautious about buying those big defensive numbers. Gentry could be a six win player if those defensive ratings are accurate. It isn't likely, but that's something about which to dream.
Yet somehow, outside of nerdy baseball conversations, Craig Gentry isn't considered this desirable. We can see that he makes sense for the A's because he adds value in aspects of the game that are still undervalued while being a good offensive player,despite a lack of power. He's a player who is good in ways that are more difficult to evaluate and that's the whole idea out in Oakland.
But Gentry is a great pickup for the A's for a somewhat different reason. We know Oakland plays in a big ballpark, but their pitchers also induce more fly balls than any other staff. By quite a bit. Here are the top ten from 2013:
The A's added one of the best defensive outfielders to a team that allows more fly balls than anyone else. Not only are the A's picking up an under-appreciated player for a reasonable price, they're picking up a player that helps them more than he could possibly help anyone else. That sounds like an A's trade to me, even if it didn't look like it at first.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Neil Weinberg is a writer and editor at Beyond The Box Score, contributor to Gammons Daily, and can also be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter at @NeilWeinberg44.