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Athletics 2014 season review: Craig Gentry

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Gentry used his kitten-like reflexes to make many impressive catches in the outfield.
Gentry used his kitten-like reflexes to make many impressive catches in the outfield.
Rich Schultz

In our first player review capsule, we looked at No. 1, Nick Punto. The Oakland Athletics haven't had a No. 2 since Cliff Pennington, so we'll skip straight to No. 3: Craig Gentry.

Player profile

Name: Craig Gentry, aka Kitten Face
Position: LF, CF, RF
Stats: .254/.319/.289, 258 PAs, 0 HR, 20 SB, plus-10 DRS*
WAR: 2.0 bWAR, 1.4 fWAR
How he got here: Acquired from Texas Rangers prior to 2014
2014 Salary: $1.145 million
2015 Status: 2nd-year arbitration, under team control
2015 Salary: Estimated $1.8 million

* (Defensive Runs Saved, an advanced defensive metric ... plus-10 in 560 innings is really, really good.)

Season summary

Billy Beane made a bold move to acquire Gentry last winter, in what turned out to be a year full of bold moves. He sent MLB-ready top outfield prospect Michael Choice and minor league infielder Chris Bostick to the division rival Rangers in exchange for Gentry and replacement-level pitcher Josh Lindblom. It was a clear win-now move to acquire a useful and versatile outfielder who is capable of providing a couple of wins worth of value with his glove alone.

Gentry's intended role was to be a fourth outfielder who could excel at all three positions, hit decently, start some games against left-handers, and complement Coco Crisp in the running game. The upside was Gentry contributing to a championship contender, and the risk was Choice blossoming as a young slugger on a division rival. Choice turned out to be a disaster in Texas (negative-1.9 bWAR in 86 games), but Gentry's results were mixed as well.

Punto was an example of good fielding making up for poor hitting, but Gentry is an even more extreme case. He had a career-worst season at the plate -- after posting identical .759 OPS marks in 2012 and '13, he dropped to .608 this year. The culprit was ... everything. His average dropped from the .280-.300 range down to .254, and it wasn't just BABIP issues (.314, down from his career average of .333). He actually set a career high in infield hits, with half of them coming on bunts. But his walk rate was down, his strikeout rate was up, and he managed only seven extra-base hits -- power isn't part of his game, but even for him an .034 isolated slugging percentage is unacceptable. It probably didn't help that he was forced into playing against righties nearly as much as lefties due to team injury situations, but he's never been used in a strict platoon so that isn't an excuse for his relatively suppressed numbers -- besides, he didn't hit well against lefties anyway. On the bright side, he stole 20 bases in 22 attempts, which is phenomenal and representative of his running skills.

Ah, but that glove. How good was Gentry's defense? His 10 Defensive Runs Saved ranked tied for 16th among all MLB outfielders, despite the fact that most of the others around him on the list played way more innings than his total of 560 -- up to the 1300s for everyday players. He was one of the most prolific defenders in baseball despite playing less than half-time. The eyeball test supports that as well -- he has insane range thanks to his speed and instincts, he can lay out for a diving catch, leap up to rob a homer, or throw out a runner with his strong arm (eight outfield assists this year). He's a stud in center.

Craig Gentry
Pictured: The eyeball test. -- Photo credit: Thearon W. Henderson

Put it all together, and you have a surprisingly valuable player. Despite an OPS+ of only 75 (in other words, 25 percent worse than average), Gentry was still worth as many as two wins overall thanks to his ability to change games by locking down opponents' offenses and preventing runs from scoring.

But hold on, there's one more downside. Gentry can be injury-prone, likely due to the ferocity with which he plays the game, and 2014 was no exception. He missed spring training and the first 10 games of the season with a back problem, he fractured his hand on a bunt attempt in late July and missed 22 games, and his season ended on Sept. 9 when he collided with Chicago defender Carlos Sanchez while running to first and suffered a scary-looking concussion. All told, that is 49 games lost to injury (make that 50, as he missed one more in June with a sore knee), many of them down the stretch when the team needed all the help it could get.

All told, Gentry was simultaneously satisfactory and a disappointment. He was still a productive player, but his season seems like a shell of what it could have been. The defense is real, but he can hit quite a bit better than he did in 2014 and his 50 missed games are double his mark from the last three season combined. He turns 31 in November, which doesn't bode well for his future health outlook, but I will offer two suggestions for solace. One is that none of his injuries involved his legs, which are his biggest asset. The other is that the hand and the concussion both happened on total fluke plays and did not represent his body simply wearing down from the rigors of baseball. He should be good to go next year.

Still, it would have been really nice to have Kitten Face in left field rather than Jonny Gomes in the late innings of that Wild Card game. You know which play I'm talking about.

2014 season grade, relative to expectations: B- ... He wasn't supposed to be a star, or even a full-time starter. He could have hit at a league-average level to earn an A, but it's hard to be mad about two wins of value in under a half-season of playing time. A 91 percent success rate on 20 steals is pretty cool, too. He earned the minus on his B with his injuries, though -- doesn't matter how good you are if you can't get on the field for a full third of the season.

2014 season grade, overall: C+ ... Again, two bWAR in half a season. That's fantastic for any player, much less a bench player. I just did the high-level math, and that would be four bWAR over a full season, a mark which exactly one Athletic exceeded this year. I'm docking him slightly for not being a full-time player, but I think that even if some team did let Gentry start 162 game in center he would make it worth their while. And again, he's docked once more on top of that for the injuries.

(I would like to note that I like Gentry more than those grades suggest, and that they are merely reflective of his 2014 season; he's capable of earning an A grade if all goes well next year.)

Video highlights

Gentry didn't really make any stunning highlights with his bat, so this will be more like a Web Gem collection of him taking different angles on incredible catches. Let's start with the leaping grab in that picture above.

In this one, he ranges deep again but this time gets more horizontal. Note that this was the first batter of the game.

Next, he doesn't range deep or shallow but rather straight into the left-center gap.

See if you can identify the moment when you realize, "Holy crap, he's going to catch that, isn't he?"

And finally, here he charges in toward the diamond to snatch a flare before it drops.

He's got an arm, too.

Obligatory clip of Gentry stealing a base off of Buster Posey and the Giants.

But sadly, the year ended on a down note. Here's the video of Gentry getting blown up at first in an unfortunate "wrong place, wrong time" situation.

***

Meow.