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What happened to former Yankees outfielder Cameron Maybin?

After a breakout 2019 season, Maybin has fallen back down to earth.

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League Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Prior to the 2019 offseason, Cameron Maybin was struggling to adapt his swing to the launch-angle revolution. As quoted in Lindsay Adler’s piece from The Athletic (subscription required), Maybin said, “I didn’t have the ingredients. I’ve gotta wait for somebody to give me the ingredients. So it’s like, I want the ingredients to how the swing works.”

Maybin tapped the grandfather of the launch-angle revolution himself, Craig Wallenbrock, to guide him through the grocery store. The same hitting coach that led J.D. Martinez’s famed transformation into a perennial league-leader (except this year), helped Maybin start to lift the ball with greater force. Unlike Martinez, Maybin was a highly touted amateur prospect—he was picked tenth overall in the 2005 MLB draft—who had yet to consistently produce anywhere near his projected potential. In 2019, it seemed like Wallenbrock had finally helped unlock Maybin’s potential, even after 12 years in the big leagues.

In 2019, Maybin hit the ball harder than he had since Statcast started tracking batted balls, and did so with nearly twice the launch angle. Further, his expected stats had all jumped scores, in addition to his strikeout percentage reaching a career high. Apparently, by becoming the kind of new-age hitter willing to sacrifice a few batting average points for his slugging, he’d increased his offensive production across the board.

The results of Wallenbrock’s assistance seemed direct and immediate. On a 2019 Yankees team with three position-playing All-Stars, not including Aaron Judge, nobody hit righties better than Cameron Maybin. His .915 OPS and 143 wRC+ against righties led all Yankees hitters across 161 at bats (239 total) in 76 games (82 total). Over the course of his previous 12 seasons, he’d never hit more than ten bombs in a season; at a a steady average of one every 57.7 at bats. In 2019, Maybin’s power surge of 11 homers reduced that season’s rate down to just 21.7 at bats per homer. Though not amongst the league’s best, it’s a mark that would have ranked him comfortably above league average among qualified hitters (had he too qualified).

Despite Maybin’s apparent age-32 breakout, he seems to have backslid into his previous tendencies this season. With only one homer through 77 at bats, Maybin’s season OPS currently rests at .682, just a stone’s throw from his career mark of .700, but a country mile behind last year’s .858.

The game’s best sluggers hit lots of balls with a launch angle of around 25 degrees above 90 miles per hour. Maybin still does both of these things, but rarely together. Last season, of the 37 balls that left his bat at over 100 mph, 15 of them were hit with at least a 20-degree launch angle, resulting in ten of his 11 homers. This year, of the 11 balls Maybin’s hit over 100 mph, only three have been hit with over a 20-degree launch angle. Despite his trouble with the curve, he’s still generating the top end exit velocity against (primarily) fastballs as frequently as he was last year (around 15% of the time). However, a much smaller percentage of these batted balls are being hit in that launch angle sweet spot, leading to much reduced success—about half, 20% compared to last year’s 40%.

A good chunk of this of this could be due to normal regression over a relatively small sample size. However, the one major adjustment that Maybin made from 2018 to 2019 has begun to creep back into his swing. In 2019, Wallenbrock helped Maybin loosen-up his swing to create more separation, and drive the ball with comfortable power. Look at how loose Maybin’s hands were last year all the way from his stance through his load. He looks totally at ease:

This year, he’s retained the upright stance and even balance he brought into the 2019 season, but Maybin’s upper body has tightened up, causing stiffness throughout his swing, limiting his separation and ability to lift the ball. The tight hands, forearms, and biceps impede the freedom of movement necessary to create the fastest, loosest, cleanest swing path possible.

This is the hardest ball Maybin hit this season, at 108.7 mph. Despite still being able to crank the ball with this tight swing on occasion, he can’t get through the zone cleanly to drive through the bottom half of the ball, giving himself a chance to elevate and celebrate.

The other contributing changed variable between this year and last, is that Maybin is no longer playing in the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. According to ESPN’s park factor, Yankee Stadium is the fifth most home-run friendly park, whereas Wrigley Field and Comerica Park, Maybin’s two home parks this season, are the 25th and 26th ranked fields, respectively. If Maybin were playing at Yankee Stadium this season, even with his decreased consistency driving the baseball, he’d have three homers instead of one. One ball, that bounced off the top of the right field fence at Comerica, would have cleared the short porch in right. The other, was a 426-foot bomb to Comerica’s cavernous centerfield that was robbed by Jake Cave:

Though Cameron Maybin’s 2020 setbacks have had at least as much to do with normal statistical regression as with the tightness in his swing, he shouldn’t be viewed as a lost cause. If he can loosen up at the plate again, he can still thrive in a particularly home run friendly park, something that he and potential suitors should keep in mind entering this offseason.