The demise and rise of Melky Cabrera

First off, I would like to introduce myself as one of the newest writers for Statistically Speaking. A few weeks ago, I founded a blog (http://4parl.wordpress.com/) along with some friends. Yesterday we were asked to join the SS staff and it was an invitation we had to say yes to. My name is Mike Cordisco and I’m a Yankees fan from South Jersey. When doing research, I try to stay as robotic as possible to give the best analysis. Other interests of mine include the History Channel, Cash Cab, and Pickleball (as you can tell, I’m not that funny even though I try).

Now back to the subject on hand, Melky Cabrera. Entering the 2009 season, many people expected little of Cabrera. He was coming off back to back atrocious seasons in 2007 and 2008. There were talks of sending him to Milwaukee for Mike Cameron (a deal I was in favor of). But through his first 100 games, Melky has improved dramatically and proven his doubters wrong.

After a good rookie season in 2006, when he was just 21, Melky faltered to post lines of .273/.327/.391/.317 (EDIT: For my slash stats I replace OPS with wOBA) and .249/.301/.341/.285 in 2007 and 2008 respectively. So far this season, the Melk Man a slash line of .288/.351/.457/.350 through 339 PA.

At first I thought it was a fluke season from Cabrera. He wasn’t supposed to do much except showcase a power arm from the out field. However, his peripherals indicate this is a performance he can continue as he grows.

His BABIP is .304, which falls in line with his career BABIP of .296. Moreover, his LD% is the highest of his career at 20.5%. His contact rate remains a good 88%, and his ISO is .169, up from a career average of .117.

The biggest difference is his approach at the plate. Melky was known as a free swinger, with a BB% of 7.3% in 2007 and 6.5% in 2008. In 2009, Melky is now walking in about 10% of his PA. Also, from 2007-2008 his 0-Swing% was standing near 30%, but this year he’s lowered it to 24.6%. This is good to know since Melky is not talented enough of a hitter to swing outside the zone a lot. His more disciplined approach is paying off as he’s 28th in the AL in P/PA at 4.0 and he’s increased his OBP from .301 in 2008 to .351 in 2009.

Other signs of Melky’s improvement can be seen in his Pitch Type Values on fangraphs. For his career, Melky was 6.5 runs below average against fastballs, -2.5 runs below average against the curve, and a whopping 10.1 runs below average against the changeup. This year, however, Melky is 0.6 runs above average against the fastball, a 7.1 run improvement. That is key since he faces fastballs 60.4% of the time over his career. Melky has improved to 0.7 runs above average against the curve, an improvement of 3.2 runs. The biggest difference in Melky’s game however, is his ability to hit the change. In 2009, Melky has been 2.8 runs above average against the change up, an improvement of 12.9 runs. This is really important since he faces change ups 14.4% of the time, meaning it’s the pitch he sees the most outside of the fastball. The fact that Melky has improved significantly in being able to hit the two pitches he sees 75% of the time has led him to an above average season at the dish.

Going forward, Melky could be able to be a 2-3 WAR player. This will be important for the Yankees because it could make Austin Jackson expendable in a trade for a big name player and it could also keep the Yankees from overpaying for a player such as Jason Bay, when they have a cheaper option already on their team.

Melky really shows little or no caution flags at all, and considering he is just 24, he should improve into a solid, everyday player for the Yankees.

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