Asdrubal Cabrera Vs. Carlos Baerga Revisited
By Jeff Ellis
September 11, 2013
Going all the way back to the first week of December last year I wrote an article comparing Asdrubal Cabrera to Carlos Baerga. With Cabrera's struggles this season now seemed like the perfect time to revisit that Cabrera/Baerga piece.
For those who missed the article - which is linked in the sentence above - the basic idea was that both players were very good bats in the middle infield whose defense and conditioning were both subpar. At their peak they were both arguably the top offensive player at their position.
My argument was the lack of conditioning over the years caused a premature end to the career of Carlos Baerga, who fell apart at the age of 27. At the time I was looking at a possible trade to the Diamondbacks or the Cardinals for Asdrubal Cabrera since he had been a hot trade rumor guy. I looked at the data, compared their careers and saw a reason to be concerned. I argued that the Indians needed to trade Asdrubal now because it really struck me that he could be in for a collapse.
I recently did a ten part series comparing the Indians position to position over the last three years. I am going to use the same statistics from that series in this article as they are really the core statistics I use when I sit down to evaluate players.
I will put up three sets of numbers for each player, the first is what they did in the age 27 year, the second is what their three year average was in the three years previous, and the third is the change in those numbers. This gives a base line for typical production before the collapse year. In turn we can then compare the amount of collpase for each player, sort of like the old change in x/y problems from math and science.
One last note Cabrera had a pretty terrible year three years ago so it does not help him in comparison as his overall average numbers are down, whereas Baerga never had a down year until age 27.
|Age 27 Slash Line||AVG||OBP||SLG|
|Avg Slash Line Age 24-26||AVG||OBP||SLG|
|Change from 24-26 to 27||AVG||OBP||SLG|
On first glance the basic drop in average it appears that Baerga had a much worse decline, yet in terms of percentage of drop Baerga was down 19% and Cabrera down 14% in terms of average, which is much closer than one would think at first look.
Now the issue here is that average is not the best stat because of variance and specifically when you look at the stat BABIP which shows how a hitter might not have had a down year as much as just being unlucky. Baerga had a career low BABIP that year - over 50 points below his average - whereas Cabrera is only 14 points below his career average. In other words, Cabrera would actually be a worse rebound candidate.
In terms of on-base percentage this is where things get very interesting as the total percentage change between the two players was under a three percent difference. Cabrera had a 13% change and Baerga had a 15.8% change. For Cabrera it is nearly the same drop that he had in his average, and as mentioned before his BABIP does not show that he has been unlucky. It is interesting that both players had a bigger decline in average than OBP, which shows me that their walk rates stayed more static. In other words, the bigger issue is on balls in play as there is something wrong with the swing more than the eye can see.
The last part of the slash line is slugging percentage and this is the one area where we do see drastically different changes for Cabrera and Baerga. Cabrera has had only an 8% drop compared to Baerga’s 22% drop. Now, this is where we see some hope as maybe Cabrera is just a bit unlucky and can rebound next year as his power isn’t down too much. Maybe next year he can hit better, but best case still looks like a guy with about a .700 OPS which is not worth the $10 million he is going to make next season.
Now let’s look at the WAR data for these two players.
|Wins Above Replacement (WAR)||Age 27||Age 24-26 AVG|
For as much as this comparison seemed to work we see a few more issues with it here. Both players decline in WAR had a lot to do with perceived defense as both got worse every year from 24 to 27. They went from above average to well below average defenders; it was the first thing that changed for both of them.
The reason Baerga’s completely imploded, even more so than Cabrera, was his power also declined. First the defense, then the power, and in three more years he wasn’t even a starter. WAR is interesting because of the addition of defensive statistics. I am not sure if this was due in part to conditioning or lack of effort but this might be something to watch in players in general as defensive regression might be the first sign of something worse to come.
The last statistic to look at is wRC+.
|wRC+||Age 27||Age 24-26 AVG|
Again, for as bad as Cabrera has been the decline that Baerga had was even worse. His runs created dropped almost in half. Asdrubal is below average but still in the top ten for his position, that’s just how horrible shortstop play is right now in baseball.
If you knew the top offensive shortstop this year in baseball was Ian Desmond, well either you have him on your fantasy team or you are a huge baseball fan. Baerga’s collapse was just so complete that year as his numbers across the board were down. Cabrera has been able to maintain his power, which has allowed him to only be about 15% worse than your typical replacement bat this year.
Overall, this was an interesting comparison Baerga and Cabrera because of how similar they are as players and the career path Cabrera appears to be on. They were both minor pieces in trades who surprised and became All Stars up the middle, slowly had a decline in defense, and then at age 27 when most players hit their peak they both imploded.
While it would be a better story if the collapses of these two players were identical, they actually are quite a bit different when looking at the statistics. Baerga’s power completely deserted him and never returned, but he was incredibly unlucky that season. He did bounce back to hit near .300 the next year, showing that there was a matter of luck involved.
Cabrera on the other hand has not been unlucky and his power is in line with his typical numbers. So instead, he is making less contact and striking out a lot more - five percent more than his career average. It is enough to make you wonder if something is wrong mechanically, but with an experienced coaching staff like Cleveland one has to think it would have been noticed if he had developed a hitch or had another issue.
This all brings me to my final point. I do think there is one common issue that would explain both of these players’ age 27 issues. The only thing that makes sense to me is a loss in bat speed. All of the sudden Baerga could not generate the same power in his swing. It’s a basic physics problem: force equals mass times acceleration. Cabrera is behind on pitches because he just can’t turn around on them like he used to, leading to more strikeouts and less hits. It is hard to measure bat speed as it is something that you have to observe, but the statistical decline I think is best explained by a loss in bat speed for both players.
If this is the case then Cabrera is a $10 million dollar loss for next season. He is a top ten player for his position thanks to how weak shortstop is, but the cost is not something a team like the Indians can afford unless he can rebound and show that this season was just an aberration. He looks untradeable at this point and the Indians might have to bank on him having a big rebound season next year in his free agent year - though I am very doubtful of a rebound happening.
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I'm not optimistic about a rebound either, but Cabrera is a good contact hitter with some strength. His heavy lower half will probably hurt his defense more than his offense -- Asdrubal never really struck me as a guy that had impressive bat speed even when he was good, so I think it's possible he'll do better next year than this year offensively but I do share your concerns and this is one of the better pieces I've read on IBI in a while. Nice work