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Asdrubal Cabrera, plate discipline, and bouncing back

Analyzing the changes in Cabrera's plate discipline and if he can rebound

Asdrubal Cabrera, plate discipline, and bouncing back
December 21, 2013
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Asdrubal Cabrera was an All-Star in 2011 and 2012, yet when Cleveland finally made the playoffs in 2013, the shortstop had arguably the worst season of his career. You can live with his below-average defense at shortstop when he is hitting, but after seeing his offensive line sink to .242/.299/.402 -- only good for a 95 wRC+ -- Cabrera ended 2013 essentially as a replacement-level player.

With mega-prospect Francisco Lindor honing in on a major league spot and Cabrera only one year from free agency, many fans are ready to move on from the incumbent shortstop following his down season. Lindor is not quite ready yet and should start the season in Double-A Akron, leaving the shortstop position free for at least a few months.

But who should fill that spot in the near-future? Would it be worth bringing Cabrera back for one more season?

To answer that, we should delve into why Cabrera's 2013 season was as bad as it was. On the surface it looks like a little bad BABIP luck -- Cabrera's lowest BABIP before 2013 was .302; his mark in 2013 was .283 -- but BABIP is not just luck-driven. A higher BABIP can come from swinging at good pitches, and vice versa. If Cabrera suddenly started swinging at more bad pitches, thus making worse contact, we should expect his BABIP to drop.

Which is precisely what happened in 2013, at least when Cabrera was hitting left-handed.

In the past, Cabrera swung at fewer pitches that were low-and-away (as denoted by the picture below). As time passed, however, he increased the number of times he pulled the trigger at pitches in that area. Cabrera actually did some damage with pitches low-and-away in 2011 and 2012, but last year, he lost the ability to punish anything down there.

2013 Asdrubal  Cabrera Low-and-Away Chart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year

RHP Low & Away Swing %

RHP Low & Away ISO

2013

42.00%

0.044

2012

39.32%

0.145

2011

37.38%

0.158

As long as right-handed pitchers kept the ball low-and-away from Cabrera in 2013, he was more likely to swing at it and not do anything with it. So, can Cabrera reign in his wild swinging?

History says quite possibly. Cabrera's contact on pitches outside of the strike zone dropped from 69.8 percent in 2012 to 65.9 percent in 2013. In the PITCHf/x era (since 2007), three hitters have experienced similar drops. How did they fare in year three?

They all bounced back in year three, making roughly the same amount of contact on pitches outside of the zone as they did in year one. That powerful beast known as regression to the mean rendered that middle year as an outlier and something each player moved past.

Year

Name

Team

O-Contact%

BB%

K%

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

2008

Aubrey Huff

Orioles

70.10%

8.00%

13.50%

0.310

0.304

0.360

0.552

134

2009

Aubrey Huff

- - -

66.90%

8.50%

14.60%

0.260

0.241

0.310

0.384

77

2010

Aubrey Huff

Giants

70.20%

12.40%

13.60%

0.303

0.290

0.385

0.506

144

2009

Brian McCann

Braves

70.80%

8.90%

15.10%

0.297

0.281

0.349

0.486

119

2010

Brian McCann

Braves

66.20%

13.10%

17.30%

0.297

0.269

0.375

0.453

123

2011

Brian McCann

Braves

71.10%

10.80%

16.90%

0.287

0.270

0.351

0.466

122

2007

Casey Blake

Indians

69.10%

8.20%

18.60%

0.312

0.270

0.339

0.437

106

2008

Casey Blake

- - -

65.80%

8.20%

20.00%

0.316

0.274

0.345

0.463

111

2009

Casey Blake

Dodgers

68.20%

11.20%

20.50%

0.327

0.280

0.363

0.468

120

There is hope for Cabrera chasing pitches low-and-away as a left-handed hitter, but that is not Cabrera's only issue. When hitting from the right side, Cabrera saw his ability to make contact on pitches within the strike zone plummet. Making contact on pitches in the zone used to be something Cabrera excelled at, but in recent years, that ability has faded.

Year

LHP In-Zone Whiff%

LHP In-Zone ISO

2013

16.75%

0.209

2012

11.42%

0.130

2011

5.85%

0.216

2007-2010

10.16%

0.112

Cabrera can still punish a pitch in the zone when he makes contact with it, so the question is can he stop missing on those swings?

Since 2007, 11 hitters have experienced similar results in their contact rate on pitches within the strike zone as Cabrera's 2012 and 2013 season. What happened to those hitters in year three?

  • Seven rebounded back to their contact rate in year one. Two of those were modest rebounds, but their contact rate increased all the same
  • Two stayed essentially at the same level as year two
  • Three saw their contact rate drop even farther

The seven players that saw their contact rate on pitches in the zone bounce back also saw their strikeouts and walks rebound back to their previous levels. Considering that Cabrera had issues with walks and strikeouts in 2013, there could be hope on that front.

Season

Name

BB%

K%

2012

Asdrubal Cabrera

8.40%

16.10%

2013

Asdrubal Cabrera

6.20%

20.30%

Yr. 1

Composite Up

8.77%

15.76%

Yr. 2

Composite Up

7.39%

17.44%

Yr. 3

Composite Up

8.46%

15.24%

But what if Cabrera's contact rate on pitches within the zone does not bounce back? Well, those three players made up for it by increasing their power output.

Season

Name

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

Yr. 1

Composite Down

10.65%

16.08%

0.189

0.315

0.287

0.366

0.476

125

Yr. 2

Composite Down

11.19%

20.38%

0.176

0.332

0.279

0.366

0.455

122

Yr. 3

Composite Down

10.60%

21.44%

0.213

0.347

0.304

0.372

0.507

137

Those three hitters ended up selling out for more power, ending up with better results even though their contact on pitches within the zone fell even more. More strikeouts followed, but the final product added more value than the past two years.

As a right-handed hitter, it would seem Cabrera's contact on pitches within the strike zone will either (a) bounce back, allowing his results to stabilize, or (b) will fall further, something Cabrera can counteract by swinging for more power.

Either way, both Cabrera's issues with low-and-away pitches as a left-handed hitter and with pitches in the strike zone as a right-handed hitter seem likely to regress in 2014. Outside of Cabrera simply peaking in 2011 and 2012 -- a relatively unlikely result for a 28-year-old -- 2013 looks like what should be a bump in the road for an otherwise above-average regular at a premium position.

Cabrera's defense and limited range will likely always keep him from putting up any elite seasons, but the shortstop appears primed to hit much better in 2014. Since his value in a trade is probably down following that rough 2013 season, I would like to see Cleveland hold on to Cabrera heading into 2014.

Either Cabrera bounces back, adding value to a team that plans to contend, or they can let him go at the end of the year. Plus, if Lindor forces his way to Cleveland, Cabrera can either be benched if he is not playing well or traded if he is.

Cleveland can make the decision on Cabrera later than this offseason; the Boston Red Sox traded franchise cornerstone Nomar Garciaparra at the trade deadline in 2004 and ultimately won a World Series title. Not selling low and hoping for some regression to the mean Cabrera is the best path currently available.

If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at jpiasci1@gmail.com. If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.

User Comments

LeaguePark
December 23, 2013 - 10:52 AM EST
I'm sure Asdrubal will have a big season because it's his walk year and he sees dollar signs. Unfortunately, a lot of these bums only play hard when they can become a free agent. That tells you all you need to know about their character.
Hiram
December 22, 2013 - 11:05 AM EST
Excellent piece
Jim
December 22, 2013 - 8:08 AM EST
Great piece Jim...

Walter...yes...the Indians can offer two Qualifying offers...
Mike
December 22, 2013 - 1:14 AM EST
Hey Hans. How about some sources before you spew that garbage!?!?!?
Hans Blix
December 21, 2013 - 8:26 PM EST
No discussion about his problems with boozin? That was his downfall last year. No more clubbin = better Droobs
Walter
December 21, 2013 - 1:27 PM EST
If Cabrera does have a bounce back year to 2011 levels , my question would the Indians be able to offer 2 QA to Cabrera and Masterson?
Willie
December 21, 2013 - 12:24 PM EST
ACab is one of my favorite Indians, but I can't see keeping him if he is keeping the team from signing a long term controllable talent.

I agree, there's a good possibility ACab is in for a rebound yr. Actually, I would offer that expect him to rebound and that's why he does have value outside of his offensive potential from largely a defensive position.

Another thought, I've heard little consideration on is ACab suffered a quad injury that really seemed to nag him. He seemed out of sync all season, and I get the feeling it was the injury that really took a toll on him.

I think if one yr of ACab is preventing the Indians from making a longer term / more effective addition, they should move him, even if it means paying a small portion ($2-3M) of his contract, in similar fashion to Sin Soo Choo. I'm not suggesting a salary dump type move, because I suspect at the very least they could add a few of raw talented (A-ball) prospects. The concession for the Tribe might equal taking back younger talent than they intend, if they can land controllable talent in the form of a FA.
Mike
December 21, 2013 - 11:51 AM EST
If Cabrera has a very good offensive season, near his 2011 year, then the Indians could potentially keep him and then offer him a QA. Assuming that they are in the hunt all season and keeping him makes sense.

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