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March 4, 2007

Looking Ahead to 2007: Melky Cabrera
by SG

Melky sucks. He can't hit. That's my opinion from having seen him play. It is also the shared opinion of two Major League general managers.

John Sickels on Fri Mar 03, 2006 at 03:54:17 PM CST

I wonder if John would like to revise that comment?

After a very difficult callup in 2005, which saw Melky Cabrera misplay a fly ball into an inside the park HR in Fenway, Cabrera came back strong in 2006. He started the year off in Columbus, where he hit .385/.430/.566 over 31 games. When Gary Sheffield went down, Cabrera was called up on May 9. Melky hit .318/.392/.394 in May, earning himself a full-time role. Unfortunately, he followed that up with a June where he hit .214/.312/.296. From July 1 on, he hit .294/.369/.422.

Cabrera put up an OPS+ of 100, which means he was a league average offensive player. He made up for below average power by having an above average OBP. Since 1945, 120 different players have put up a league average OPS+ at an age of 22 or younger over 400 plate appearances. Since 1990, the list of players who have done this is:

Ken Griffey Jr. (1990)
John Olerud (1990)
Gary Sheffield (1990)
Travis Fryman (1991)
Juan Gonzalez (1991)
Ivan Rodriguez (1993)
Jason Kendall (1996)
Derek Jeter (1996)
Alex Rodriguez (1996)
Scott Rolen (1997)
Vlad Guerrero (1998)
Andrew Jones (1998)
Ben Grieve (1998)
Adrian Beltre (1999)
Carlos Beltran (1999)
Albert Pujols (2001)
Austin Kearns (2002)
Miguel Cabrera (2004)
Joe Mauer (2005)
Brian McCann (2006)
Prince Fielder (2006)
Ryan Zimmerman (2006)
Melky Cabrera (2006)

That's a pretty good list of players, although there are a few people who can probably be labeled as disappointments in there. That's the good news. The bad news is that Melky's power output was substandard, especially for a corner OF.

If you filter the list of players who had an OPS+ of 100 or better in a season where they were 22 or younger and remove all players who slugged over .400, you get a list of 38 players. Not one of those players ended up slugging .500 for their career, with Reggie Smith's .488 being the best of the bunch. However, there are several good players in the list, including Carl Yazstremski and Boog Powell who ended up hitting for a good amount of power.

This doesn't mean Melky can't be a productive player, but it does tell me that the likelihood of him adding a lot of power is small.

Here's how Melky projects in 2007.

The projection systems all feel Melky should add some pop in 2007, enough to be worth about eight runs above a league average hitter over a full season. However, if you position adjust him for LF, he ends up as a slightly below average LF offensively. Since he'll likely be moving around between LF, CF, and RF, we can probably reduce the positional adjustment a bit and assume he'll be around a league average OF.

Melky's defensive projections by zone rating are not very good, but with very little sample size to go on, I think they're basically useless.

Other metrics loved Melky's defense in 2006, so I think we need more data before we can try and assess Melky's ability on defense. Cabrera did show improvement over the season. He had a ZR of .769 over his first 31 games, which is equivalent to about a -30 over a full season. Over his last 85 games, he had a ZR of .837, which would equate to a rating of -4 over a full season. Considering the quality of defensive play the Yankees have typically gotten in the outfield recently, that's pretty good. Also, Melky's arm was rated very well in this article at the Hardball Times. He saved about 3 runs with his arm.

Poster b-man wondered if an alignment of Melky in LF, Hideki Matsui at DH, and Jason Giambi at 1B was better than the current projected alignment of Matsui in LF, Giambi at DH, and Doug Mientkiewicz at 1B. Using the offensive and defensive projections I've been using, it's pretty close.

Melky's defense could be better than projected, which could make Combo 2 better. If Jason Giambi continues to hit worse as a DH, it would also make Combo 2 better. Unfortunately, Giambi's inability to stay healthy as a full-time 1b probably makes Combo 2 less effective overall.

Lastly, here's a look at Melky's splits by month, including batted ball types.

After hitting the ball on the ground a lot in May, he began hitting more fly balls and line drives as the season progressed, and his production improved until he fell off a bit in September. His batting average on balls in play(BABIP) was well below what it should have been in that month, although he did better than expected in other months. But his final batting line ended up matching up pretty well with what we'd expect given his batted ball types. So overall he wasn't really lucky or unlucky in 2006.

Melky should get a decent amount of playing time this year, resting all three starting OF, and also covering any injuries which may pop up. I think he'll add a little more power this season, and look forward to watching his continued development.