In this year's X-Factor series, we're going to take a look at a player who is slipping a bit under the radar that could have a huge impact on the team in 2013.
In my mind, the X-Factor for the 2013 Houston Astros is center fielder Justin Maxwell. The Astros brought him in at the beginning of April after the Yankees DFAed him, and installed him in their outfield. Maxwell played all three positions in 2012, and is slotted as the every day center fielder for 2013.
His best role might be in a platoon. This past season against lefties, Maxwell had an .892 OPS in 124 plate appearances, compared to just .697 in 228 plate appearances against righties. His preference towards hitting lefites is something that has also held true throughout his career, thuogh he has only logged 612 plate appearances at the major league level.
During his brief major league career, Maxwell has shown he can hit for power (.210 career ISO, .232 in 2012). To give you an idea about how solid that is, Chris Davis's ISO in 2012 was .231, and he was a 30 homer man for the Orioles who gets labeled as a guy who has nothing *but* his power to fall back on during his career.
Maxwell is also an excellent defender in center field, putting together eye-popping numbers on both DRS and UZR in a hair over 400 innings last season in center for Houston. But because of how erratic defensive statistics are, it's not best to go overly crazy about that.
At 2.3 fWAR in 2012, Maxwell is the only returning two win hitter on the Astros in 2013. In fact, Maxwell, Jose Altuve (1.8), and Jason Castro (1.1) are the only returning *one* win hitters on the team. There's going to be some pressure on him to produce (well, as much pressure are there can be in Houston), and even at 29, Maxwell could have a breakout year for the Astros.
Just because he had a good year doesn't mean that Maxwell is going to be successful in 2013 without any doubts. He struck out in nearly a third of his plate appearances last season, and that high homer total probably had a lot to do with his 22.8% HR/FB rate. Various projections from around the web have Maxwell putting together a two to three win seeason, and I could definitely see him doing that with an ample amount of playing time.
Maxwell isn't a superstar, but he could give the Astros a ton of value this season. With a solid first half, he could be a guy that Houston looks to deal to a contender as well, since he'll be hitting arbitration for the first time after this season and begin to get expensive. A high-power center fielder with good defense and decent speed is a guy who a lot of teams would covet for a bench role going down the stretch, and some might even be willing to part with something valuable for a player like Maxwell. Not bad for a waiver claim.