Coming into the 2011 season, Cody Ross was on top of the world. The San Francisco Giants outfielder was named the NCLS MVP after a fantastic series against the favored Philadelphia Phillies. He returned to the Giants as a post-season hero and fans had high hopes for the versatile outfielder for the 2011 season. Unfortunately, Ross had one of his worst seasons, both at the plate and in the field.
Ross hit .240/.325/.405 in 2011 over 461 plate appearances. While his .325 OBP is in line with his .323 career norm, a hair under league average, however his power was significantly down. On his career, Ross has slugged .456 and had an ISO of .195 well above that .405 SLG and the accompanying .165 ISO last year. Adding to his troubles, Ross had a lousy .279 BABIP, down from his career norm of .301. AT&T Park is certainly a factor in these struggles. With Ross moving to a far friendlier environment, it pays to look at his underlying skills and see what we can expect in 2012.
Ross is a dead pull hitter and as a righty he is entering a home environment well suited to his style. In San Francisco, Ross was hitting into an area of AT&T Park that made home runs difficult, suppressing them about 4% and as we might expect, his slugging suffered at home, where it was .399 versus .411 on the road. Fenway is actually quite neutral for righty home runs, but it is a great environment for boasting righty batting averages, as the presence of the Green Monster adds around 9% to righty batting averages.
Beyond giving Ross a better hitting environment, the Boston Red Sox may help boast his production by using him in a platoon situation in right field. The right handed Ross is better against lefties, and with a Boston lineup that has a large number of lefty bats, can match Ross with either Ryan Sweeney or Ryan Kalish and maximize the production from right field. Ross is a career .289/.349/.563 line against left handed pitching, good for a wRC+ of 135. He has just a 91 wRC+ when facing righties, making it hard to justify playing him full time over the lefty options. But with so many Red Sox everyday players being lefties, a platoon role for Ross makes perfect sense. Facing top lefties like David Price, Matt Moore, and C.C. Sabathia,Bostonstands to gain a great deal from Ross and his additional right handed power.
Despite some signs of decreasing power, there were some positive signs in Ross’s 2011 season. Mainly, he posted his highest ever walk rate, 10.6%. That number was even stronger in the limited at bats he saw against lefties, who gave Ross 12.7% free passes in 110 plate appearances. While this may not be sustainable over a larger sample, Ross’ superior discipline against lefties will fit right in withBoston’s overall approach at the plate, helping them to keep those tough AL East lefties limited to five or six innings per start.
Ross is one of a hand full of players that causes problems for the different defensive metrics. Ross has seen a fair amount of time in all three outfield positions, logging the most innings in center during his career, but playing more in left last year with the Giants. Total Zone has a pretty positive view of his glove in the corners, with 20 runs saved in right and 6 runs saved in left over his career. That system hates Ross’ work in center field, charging him with costing his teams 12 runs there.
UZR pegs Ross as being just about average everywhere, with a -1.3 runs in left, -0.4 in center and -0.4 in right per 150 games. The system favored by Fangraphs is all over the place when it comes to Ross, crediting him with seasons of excellent marks in the finicky stat and others where he is extremely poor by their estimations.
The Fielding Bible metric, Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), which is slowly becoming my favorite, has Ross worth 1 run in his total time as a left fielder, 6 as a center fielder and 9 as a right fielder, which translates to a more or less average player, best suited for right field.
That is the place Ross is likely to see most of his action this season, at least once Carl Crawford returns from his wrist injury. Regardless of the system of evolution, you tend to find that Cody Ross is a player who can handle any outfield position, though with slightly declining range, he is best suited for the corners. So basically, he is a decent back up and part time player. His best chance for being an impact player on the Red Sox this year is in a fairly limited capacity, as a right-handed platoon player, fourth outfielder and a reasonably powerful bat off the bench.