On Thursday, the Boston Red Sox designated outfielder Mike Cameron for assignment.
Even considering that Cameron is 38 years old and under-productive, I don't think his playing days are over just yet. The end is near, though. And what this transaction does is give us an opportunity to reflect on the career of a guy who's been a contributor, but whose abilities have been criminally underrated.
Nobody's ever thought that Mike Cameron was bad. A Google search for "Mike Cameron" + "pretty good" yields 155,000 results. He's posted a .782 lifetime OPS. He's gotten to within binocular distance of 2,000 hits, 300 home runs and 1,000 RBI. He's stolen nearly 300 bases. And he's done this not just as a center fielder, but as an awesome center fielder. If I could take a shot at guessing the consensus, it would be that Mike Cameron struck out a little too often, but he was a fine player. A good support piece.
But I would submit that this sells him short. Because while Mike Cameron's career numbers are fine, they were crippled by his home environments.
Cameron debuted with the White Sox, then got dealt to Cincinnati in exchange for Paul Konerko in November, 1998. There, he spent one season establishing himself as a regular before going to Seattle as part of the Ken Griffey Jr. trade. This is when his misfortune began.
Cameron was 27 years old on Opening Day of the 2000 season. A lot of people like to say that 27 is around when position players peak. But between 2000-2009, Cameron spent ten consecutive years playing for Seattle, New York (NL), San Diego, and Milwaukee, four teams who played in ballparks that make things hard on right-handed hitters.
These park factors are reflected in Cameron's numbers. A stroll through his splits:
|Year||Team(s)||Home OPS||Road OPS|
Over 3,765 career plate appearances at home, Cameron has posted a .757 OPS, with 120 homers. Over 3,955 career plate appearances on the road, Cameron has posted an .806 OPS with 152 homers. If you simply extrapolate Cameron's road performance over everything, he starts to look like a better player, and this ignores the fact that most players hit better at home.
It's a real shame that Cameron's best years were spent in Seattle. I mean, it isn't a shame overall - those teams won 393 games - but it's a shame for Cameron's personal record, because he was not built to hit in Safeco. Few righties were, and who knows what Cameron's reputation might've been had he spent those years somewhere else?
Not that New York, San Diego or Milwaukee made things much easier on him. I've joked before about Kevin Kouzmanoff getting screwed by going from San Diego to Oakland. Cameron spent the bulk of his career in difficult hitting environments, and it messed with the way he was perceived. Cameron had the ability to be an offensive force, and too often that ability was masked.
Of course, the other reason Mike Cameron's been underrated is that people might not truly appreciate how good a defensive center fielder he really was. It's hard to put a number on his talent, but there were few catchable balls that Mike Cameron didn't catch, and he caught a few of the uncatchable ones, too.
In a just world, Cameron would've spent more time in balanced or even hitter-friendly ballparks, and he'd be thought of at least in the way that Torii Hunter is thought of. Instead, he had the misfortune of playing in stadiums for which he wasn't quite suited, and as a consequence he stands as one of the more underrated players of his time. Adrian Gonzalez got a boost by being traded from San Diego to Boston. Mike Cameron never had that kind of luck.