Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Crystal Ball: Corey Patterson

Although I am a die-hard O’s fan, the Cubs are my NL team and I have followed them for years. When drafted, Corey Patterson was going to be a Gold Glove centerfielder with 30-30 ability and the next big star for the Cubbies. That never materialized primarily because Corey never developed any kind of plate discipline, striking out at an alarming rate and walking rarely. It got so bad that Patterson was sent down to AAA Iowa in the middle of the 2005 season.

The O’s acquired him in the offseason and I was cautiously excited. I still thought he had a great upside but there certainly was evidence that he had fallen apart. He had hit only .215 for the Cubs in ’05 and you never know how a guy might react to that kind of failure. Still, I thought he would play a great centerfield, hit around .250 with 15 HRs and 25-30 SB which would have been a great improvement over Baltimore’s previous set of centerfield candidates.

Corey Patterson exceeded expectations, even the most optimistic, by hitting .276 with 16 HRs. He scored 75 runs, drove in 53 from way down in the order and put up an OPS of .757. His plate discipline was poor but much improved over his career baselines. He bunted more, for hits and sacrifices. He stole 45 bases at an excellent 83% success rate. As expected, he also played like a Gold Glover in center posting the second highest Range Factor of any AL centerfielder not named Joey Gathright.

Will this performance continue or will he regress? That’s the big question. If you believe Terry Crowley worked some magic by adjusting Corey’s approach to focus his aggressive nature more to his benefit and less to his detriment, you have to love this addition and see a centerfield solution for years to come. If you think it was a fluke or a career season, then this guy will add to the centerfield teases of recent years. (Are you listening Luis Matos?)

If he keeps bunting, hitting it on the ground and legging out singles (note to Orioles ground crew: Let that infield grass grow a bit long this year) he should be able to maintain his batting average in the .265-.275 range. His speed will be the key to making up for the strikeouts. I like his contribution from the 7 spot. It would be nice to sit him against tougher lefties as he hit only .207 vs. LHP last year.

All in all, I expect Patterson to at least approach his offensive numbers and continue to play a fantastic centerfield.

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