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You can understand why folks gravitate to Tony Campana. He’s got a great story (childhood cancer survivor, worked hard to get here, etc.), he seems like a nice guy, and, frankly, he’s small. Those types always get positive buzz.

Much like with Darwin Barney, I *want* to like Campana as a baseball player. I’ll cheer for him as hard as I can. It would be a swell story if he ended up a meaningful contributor in 2012 for the Chicago Cubs.

But we all know that, no matter how hard we pull for him, Tony Campana is not going to be a useful MLB regular – or even spot starter – unless he figures out how to get on base. Campana, a career .303 hitter in the minors with a .359 OPB, went just .259/.303 in those categories in the bigs. With average defense and premium speed, it really does all come down to getting on base for Campana. And as good at it as he was in the minors, he was terrible at it in the Majors last year.

Why the big shift down? Well, a number of factors contributed, but let’s first rule out bad luck associated with his batting average. Campana’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was .321 in the bigs last year, which is high, as you’d expect for a speedster. Obviously his batting average wasn’t crushed but an unluckily low BABIP.

A big part of the story was his slightly increased K rate, which jumped to 19.4% in the bigs (still better than average) from about 16% in the minors. That slight increase can actually crush your batting average. Think of it this way: if 32/33% of the balls you put in play are good for hits, but you suddenly strike out in 3.5% more at bats, that’s 3.5% fewer balls in play, and thus about 1.2% fewer hits. That would take a .300 batting average down to .288, and would offer a commensurate drop in the OBP.

As for the rest of the drop in Campana’s batting average, my guess is a combination of weaker contact and better defense took a chunk.

But another big contributor to the drop in OBP was Campana’s walk rate, which fell all the way down to 5.16% in the bigs, after hovering around 8% in the minors (league average in the bigs is about 8.5%, for what it’s worth). The math there is pretty easy to see – if you start walking in 3% fewer plate appearances, your OBP will drop by .030. Oof.

Take it all together, and you’ve got a guy who goes from being extremely valuable at a .359 OBP in the minors, to being a super fast guy whom you can’t afford to start because of his rough .303 OBP.

Campana does have at least one thing going for him: he’s about average when it comes to seeing pitches. At 3.78 pitches per plate appearance last year, Campana would have placed been 87th in baseball if he’d qualified, but would have been fourth on the Cubs behind only Carlos Pena (gone), Kosuke Fukudome (gone), and Darwin Barney. That’s a testament to just how bad the Cubs were at seeing pitches last year, but that’s another story. The point is, Campana is already at least average at seeing pitches. Now he just needs to learn to take a few more of the questionable ones, and put a few more of the good ones on the ground. Easy for me to say, obviously.

Another bit of good news for Campana? He knows what he needs to work on, and is doing it:

“I have to go out and show I can hold my own offensively. And if I can show them what I can do offensively, maybe I’ll get my chance. They’ll probably start out that I’ll get my spots and it’ll increase from there.”

He has to show he can get on base. Told that a veteran scout suggested Campana should be fined every time he hits the ball in the air, the outfielder nodded.

“I agree,” Campana said. “Me hitting the ball in the air, I’m not making any money up there. I’m not going to hit even 10 home runs a year — maybe a couple. Why would you hit the ball in the air?

“You can hit line drives, and I have to be able to hit the ball in gaps, so I can get a little respect,” he said. “You don’t want outfielders playing 10 feet from the infielders. I got a little stronger so I think I’ll get that respect. Then it’s just putting bat on ball.” …

Campana has a career .303 batting average and .359 on-base percentage in the Minors. He’s working on improving his bunting, but knows he also has to be able to make contact, especially if the opposing third baseman is so far in on the grass he can shake Campana’s hand.

“There’s a lot of advantages of me being able to bunt,” Campana said. “Bringing [the third baseman] in will make it easier for me.”

So where does this all leave Campana? Unless there’s a trade, he’s still going to be fighting just to make the team, let alone to win some starts.

If he can cut down on his strikeouts slightly (which you’d expect in a guy’s second year), and take a few more walks (you’d expect a slight increase as Campana refines his approach), he’ll see a modest increase in his OBP (various projections actually do have all of those things happening, and have Campana with an OBP closer to .330 in 2012). But if he’s going to get that OBP back to where it was in the minors, and at a level where the Cubs can’t afford not to start him, he’ll have to increase his batting average dramatically. That means more ground balls, more bunts, and, of course, more line drives.

It’s good to know that’s exactly what he’s been working on.

  • BFiddy

    I love that I was just reading several defenses of Soriano in the comments on the last story. Here we are, presented with the fact that Campana’s .303 OBP means you “can’t afford to start him.” Meanwhile, Soriano had a .289 OBP in 475 At Bats last season.

    I know that Soriano’s power lets you put up with him getting on base less than someone like Campana…but .289??

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Soriano’s bat is more valuable than Campana’s (in terms of expectations for 2012, anyway), but it’s not like you’re going to find anyone calling Soriano a great option either.

      • Deer

        Soriano’s a great option on this power deprived team. half-serious

        • Wilbur

          I half agree …

        • ferrets_bueller

          No.

  • http://www.viewfromthebleachers.com Norm

    I think the short answer is ‘No’.

  • 2much2say

    As a ball player even Soriano, once properly coached, can improve. 37 for his body type is not old. Time to suck it up and hope he is used properly.

  • SirCub

    It’ll definitely be fun to watch to see if he is able to take that next step. Cause if so, he has serious game changing speed. He can turn routine ground balls into singles, bloop singles into doubles, and doubles in the gap into triples and inside the park homers.

  • DocWimsey

    The K-rate is troubling, but the increase might not mean much. A guy who K’s in 16% of his PA’s can expect to deviate from 25 K’s in 155 PAs by this much (for good or ill) 20% of the time. So, 10% of batters will do this poorly (relative to their norm) over 155 PAs.

    However, a 16% K rate from a guy who walks so little and has so little power is pretty awful! At that rate, I want 80+ walks and 25+ HR.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Randomness and variability are certainly part of the equation.

    • dw

      List of players who qualify for those stipulations (2011):
      Bautista
      Texiera
      Fielder
      Kinsler
      Berkman
      A. Gonzalez
      David Ortiz
      Miguel Cabrera
      Evan Longoria

  • MichiganGoat

    No! As you said unless a trade is made his chance of making the team are less than 50%. I’m see Campana being the new Colvin, tons of scrappy love and cries to give him a chance throughout the season. Maybe he can be Theo comp?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Luke

      I’d say his chances are right at 50%.  Assuming the Cubs carry five outfielders and there are no roster changes before the end of spring training, the outfield looks like this:  LF- Soriano, CF – Byrd, RF – DeJesus, 4th – Johnson, 5th – either Campana or Sappelt.

      Campana has game changing speed, but can’t get on base.  Sappelt is a good average hitter, but doesn’t do anything else.  I can make a case for taking either of them.

  • rocky8263

    As much as I like Sori as a citizen, coaching won’t, can’t change him. Old dog, new tricks. You still see him almost do the little jump when he catches the ball. How hard could it be to stop that? And you want him to be coached on baseball skills? C’mon.Blows my mind the Cub’s are saddled for three more years.

  • bluekoolaidaholic

    Tony, you da man, take the walks, hit grounders and beat ‘em out. Hit the bloopers, hit ‘em where dey aint. etc. etc.
    Maybe Rudy and Dale can help him become Ricky Henderson or Willy Mays Hays.
    God I love the way he drives opponents nuts.
    He may be the only excitement we get this year.

  • BD

    It would be awesome to see his OBP at .350 (or higher, since I’m dreaming right now), if only because he is so fast. That kind of speed can wreak havoc on the bases, combined with the fact that the Cubs haven’t consistently had a guy like that, and that the new FO wants guys with speed/base-running to manufacture runs.

  • Mike Foster

    I wonder if every GM in MLB thinks to himself just before they sign a long contract “is this a Soirano deal?” It wasn’t Sori’s fault for taking the money…..

  • cubmig

    It always leaves me wondering what scouts see in recruiting a guy for the Cubs’ minors. What I mean is talent must not be enough to get pass the “front door”, or be a ticket for advancing to the Bigs. Is heart (and all that means) the intangible to making it?

    Campana is case in point. I like the guy and what he brings to the club. He exudes “heart” (imho), but obviously his first year stats have marginalized him like a surgical knife doing its thing (snark), that one is left to wonder why continue to risk investing on a “maybe” —-especially when the Pie, Patterson, et al are out there as past history? And then there’s the Cespedes type, or even the Soler types…….what assurance do the analyses on them project for matching the reality of the Bigs?

    My blood bleeds Blue, but may growing skepticism has grayed it some……I need to rediscover the trust my blind loyalty that kept me hopeful.

    • DocWimsey

      They see (or saw) Derek Jeter. However, there are two Derek Jeters: the one that the old-school loves (heart, hustle, clutch, highlight plays) and the one that the new school loves (batting eye, above average slugging, passable fielding). Hendry’s Cubs look for the old-school description of Derek Jeter. Epstein’s Sox looked for the new-school description of Derek Jeter.

      • http://bleachernation loyal100more

        wait doc… your talking about heart now?

        • DocWimsey

          Yes, but in a negative context. My point is that “old-school” Jeter is a media-construct that (to the extent that it is even true) independent of the “new-school” Jeter, and that it is “new-school” Jeter that actually underlies the career 0.313/0.383/0.449 SS. (To have those numbers after a couple of years of decline is truly impressive, much as I hate to admit it….)

          • http://bleachernation loyal100more

            doc is so by the book and by the math of it all… and i love it. you also made good on your discription of heart from yesterday… im impressed.

  • die hard

    good analysis of Soriano and Campana showing why a Sori-pana LF will do ok as their combined strengths outweigh their combined deficiencies. Platooning them will rejuvenate Soriano and give Campana enough extra at bats to show that he can get on base when given more playing time

    • http://bleachernation loyal100more

      love that idea… and ive been saying all along its gonna take creativity with the roster to get extra wins. i think thats exactly the type of creativity they should go with in left… a two headed monster.

  • http://bleachernation loyal100more

    good managment in situations (utilizing our assets) could be the difference between winning 70-80 games. with a team like this good managing will definatly show up in the box scores as well as the win-loss.

  • Brian Myers

    Lets not forget this is a kid that has seen 129 ab’s in AAA and 143 ab’s in the show. Also he’s a guy that’s come off the bench a lot, so he’s not getting a lot of live pitching/situations to improve. If his numbers off the bench looked the way they did when he was a full time player in the minors, he would be crowned the second coming of Lou Brock. So if that’s the level of expectations, it’s an unfair one for him.

    I’m not stating he “should” be a starter… but if he got regular AB’s, he might develop into that leadoff hitter the Cubs badly need. It would probably do him good to start the year in the minors just to get the Reps in as, while the talent level is greatly different, he’s not that much different from Rizzo in terms of pro experience.

  • Dustin

    Tony Campana reminds me a little bit of Juan Pierre back in the day. I sure hope he gets on base and leads the league in steals.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I see a lot of similarities there.

      • TWC

        Is it the mustache?

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          I will take any excuse…

          juan pierre mustache

          • TWC

            god DAMN he’s handsome

    • http://bleachernation loyal100more

      brett butler?

      • Brian Myers

        A better example might be Ozzie Smith. True, the position is wrong, but the bat/speed could be very close.

      • die hard

        You mean Rhett Butler who doesnt give a d%^* ?

  • Cubbies4Life

    I actually found myself agreeing with Die Hard. Makes me think the Mayans might be right and the world’s gonna implode before the end of 2012! I like Tony Campana. I like everything about him, and if that makes me naive, nonsensical, sentimental, or just plain crazy, I don’t care. Loved watching him with the I-Cubs, and I love watching those close-up, high-def expressions on opposing first basemen when he beats the throw! I hope he can improve and contribute… much the same as everyone else on the team needs to do.

  • Noah

    I think the problem Campana is going to have is that unless he at least shows gap power, teams just aren’t going to walk him. They’ll pound the zone, knowing he probably can’t hurt them with his bat. The question is if he even has consistent gap power in him. I’d guess probably not, but I’d love to be pleasantly surprised on this one.

    • Turn Two

      In a “building” year, it seems obvious that it would be worth more to the club to give him consistent starting at bats and see if his eye improves and he starts sizing up pitching better, than it would to allow Marlon Byrd to minimally increase his trade value. This is not to say I think Campana is the answer to any question asked, but he does have a game changing attribute if he improves other skills, this year seems like the year to try something like this.

    • DocWimsey

      Brett Butler had no power and he still drew a ton of walks. He did it by simply not swinging at bad pitches. As he put it, there were a lot of pitchers who could not throw 3 unhittable strikes before they threw either a hittable one or 4 balls, so why help out the pitcher?

  • cubsnivy56

    I too would love to see him have some success.  it has been so long since we had anybody that could steal a base on a regualr basis.  It is fun to watch!

  • Jay Anderson Jr

    On this team that’s is not a “contender”, why in the hell is Campana fighting for a roster spot. Sori and Dejesus have guaranteed spots, Seppalt, Campana and Byrd(by default I guess) shout fight it out for center. Johnson should not even be in the equation. By years end, I believe Jackson and Campana will be everyday starters.

  • Leroy Kleimola

    I have a Campana jersey!!! He’s been my favorite player for a while. Inside the park homerun and he’s how tall? I am only 5’3″ and was told I’m not going to amount to much because of my size. Now I’m in the army and serving my country. I believed in myself and hope Campana does too!! Go get em Tony!!!

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