Asdrubal Cabrera Signs Two Year Extension

The Cleveland Indians and Asdrubal Cabrera came to terms on a two-year contract extension on Sunday that will pay the shortstop $16.5 million over the 2013-14 seasons. The deal buys out his final year of arbitration eligibility as well as his first free agent year.

Given the price, the minimal commitment, and the ability for Cabrera to test the market while still a relatively young player at a premium position, the deal lacks risk for both sides. If Cabrera’s bat continues to develop, or settles in the vicinity of last year’s production, the Indians have themselves an upper echelon shortstop on a very affordable deal. If he regresses a bit offensively and continues to struggle in the field, the deal will likely break even. That’s essentially the definition of a low-risk deal.

No matter the specific dollar-to-WAR calculation used — be it the primitive computation or one with more advanced inputs — Cabrera needs to produce somewhere around 4 WAR over 2013-14 to make the deal worthwhile. Even conservative estimates peg him surpassing that total.

But while this looks like a good deal for both sides, there are two related topics worth exploring: his poor defense with a groundball-heavy starting staff, and his trade value after last season — should the Indians have sold high on him?

Since 2009, Cabrera has an awful -24 UZR, which is the second-worst mark for shortstops in that span, behind only Yuniesky Betancourt. Even Hanley Ramirez fielded more effectively over the last three seasons. Total Zone and other fielding metrics agree that his defense is lackluster, even if the relative degrees of putridity vary. This is of more material concern for the Indians, who boast a groundball-heavy starting rotation.

Derek Lowe brings with him a career 63 percent groundball rate. Ubaldo Jimenez has a career 50 percent rate. Justin Masterson keeps the ball on the ground 56 percent of the time. And Fausto Carmona has a career 59 percent rate.

Since 2010, 86 pitchers threw at least 300 innings, and the current Indians rotation members had the following GB-rate ranks: Lowe – 2nd (58.9%), Masterson – 4th (57.3%), Carmona – 6th (55.2%), Jimenez – 31st (48.0%). The Indians starting staff isn’t just above average at inducing grounders — they are elite in that respect, and have the potential to post the highest groundball rate for an overall rotation.

With all those groundballs put into play, it seems suboptimal to keep one of the worst fielding shortstops around. The numbers don’t lie, either. At the recent SABR Analytics Conference, Mark Shapiro alluded to the fact that the Indians had great gloves at the infield corners, but were weak up the middle. And in an interview with David Laurila in January, manager Manny Acta — a noted progressive thinker — acknowledged the poor fielding ratings but spoke highly of Cabrera’s ability to field the routine plays well.

When building a pitching staff that specializes in this specific area, the next logical step is to ensure that the infield will convert those grounders into outs at the highest possible rate. The Indians won’t do that with Cabrera, so while the two-year deal will likely work out for both sides, it is questionable in that respect.

There is also the matter of his trade value to consider. Not to say that Cabrera won’t continue to improve — he’ll be 26 years old in 2012 — but it’s possible that his increased power was more fluky than a sign of things to come. He hit six home runs in 2008, six more in 2009, and just three in 2010, before pounding 25 home runs last season.

His ISO soared to .187 from a prior three-year average in the low-.100s, and his slugging percentage obviously rose, but he didn’t improve anywhere else. His walk rate remained in the 5-6% range and he struck out more frequently than over 2009-10. He wasn’t hitting many more line drives. He increased his swing percentage both in and out of the zone but saw significant decreases in making contact on both types of pitches.

Suffice to say, there are reasons to doubt Cabrera’s continued improvement and reasons to believe that some other team might have overpaid for his services based on his 4 WAR last season. The Indians consider themselves contenders, however, and were better off with Cabrera than a stopgap. But his signing speaks a lot to incorporating context into contract valuations.

Two years and $16.5 million seems harmless for both sides in a vacuum, but the idea of building one of the most groundball-prone pitching staffs of all time and running out one of the worst fielding shortstops in the game doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

The Indians have to hope Cabrera’s bat continues to improve, because while his WAR totals may justify the deal, he won’t be preventing outs at a rate that maximizes the effectiveness of the rotation.

Print This Post

Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

19 Responses to “Asdrubal Cabrera Signs Two Year Extension”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Uli440 says:

    The extension is only two years, so the length isn’t the issue. The girth (16.5 million!?) might be what fails to meet expectations.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. harry says:

    Who’s Fausto Carmona?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Adam says:

    Do you think there is any reason to believe Cabrera’s poor defensive marks could be a result of a sample size issue? If I remember correctly, we typically want to see about 3 season’s worth of defensive data to get a real grasp on the player’s ability, am I right about that?

    Even though Cabrera has logged a little over 3,000 innings at the short stop position, 2011 was really his first full season there. The Indians began to move him into SS and away from 2B around 08/09. 2010 would’ve been his first full year there, but he was hurt only played about 800 innings at the position.

    I’m not saying Cabrera is great by any means. He looks sluggish going to his right. But he has fantastic hands and turns the double play well. Ontop of that, DRS rated him at +1 for the 2011 season. So while his UZR marks have been very poor, his DRS marks have been okay. Is this enough reason to think that maybe the metrics simply haven’t grasped his true talent level yet? He was very highly regarded for his defense as he came up through the minors, and his glove is really the reason he made it to the big leagues.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Eric Seidman says:

      Honestly, no, I don’t believe it’s a small sample size. Not when it’s an extreme like that and he has logged a decent amount of innings at shortstop. Not to say he can’t improve, but I see no reason to think that UZR and Total Zone are wrong and that he is actually an average or better defender.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Adam says:

        Just seems odd to me. I remember as he was coming through the minors the word on him was that his glove was good enough to carry him and his bat had potential. Now he looks like a bat-first barely passable SS.

        Another thing to note though, is that there have been several questions about his physical conditioning in the past few seasons. I think that’s probably reason enough to worry about Cabrera’s future at short, so that makes the 2 year deal less risky than going 3 years as had been discussed.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. novaether says:

    Lowe’s career GB rate is 63%, not 69%. I think you were looking at his LOB%.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. danwatson19 says:

    This extension makes a lot of sense with a look at the Indian’s minor league system, where they’re stocked with shortstop prospects at the lower levels. Hopefully one of them are ready to take the reigns in 2015.

    Also, having watched Cabrera for years, I’ve always felt that ESPN greatly over-rates his defense, while some of the metrics don’t give him enough credit. He has terrible range, especially to his right as another poster noted. But he has one of the better arms, both in terms of accuracy and strength, of any shortstop in the league, and amazingly quick hands. He makes a lot of “close” plays to first, and starts a lot of “close” double plays that other shortstops might not. I just don’t think those show up in the metrics.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Cidron says:

      So, he is another Shawon Dunston? Bat is plus, glove is .. questionable, range is poor, arm good. If that is a fair comparison, Dunston hung around the show for 7 or so years and had himself a decent career doing it.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Richie says:

    Even when we truly are resources, you politically can’t openly treat us that way. If you ‘sell high/buy low’ on me, my co-workers will take note, get cynical about the group effort, and their work ethic and production will suffer some.

    The stereo-typical MLB trade is ‘non-contending team trades established guy to contender for young guys’. ‘Established Guy’ is happy to go to a contender, young guys maybe are happy to go where they’ll get a quicker shot, but regardless, since they’re not part of the major league club fabric yet, tough noogies on them either way. How often is an established MLB regular traded outside of this rubric?

    A club telling its players ‘we are contenders’, there’s some cost in trading someone as important as Asdrubl Cabrera beyond whatever appears in WAR or ‘zone ratings’ or what have you.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Tom says:

    Just by watching him it is hard to think of him as that bad of a defender. He may lack some range and not be as consistent as most but he certainly doesn’t seem like a liability.

    To think that this guy:

    is one of the worst fielding shortstops around is just hard to accept. I know, I know…highlights. I just like stats to pass a basic sniff test. I’ll buy average to maybe even a bit below but I guess I’ll have to watch SSs a little closer this year. Anyway…how exactly do defensive metrics quantify when a SS has to make a bare handed grab and then a no look flip to 2nd to start a DP?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • juan pierres mustache says:

      well, i’d imagine he gets credit for completing that play, and where he loses credit is on the more basic grounders that he doesn’t have the range to get to. he might have 1-2 chances a year to make a spectacular barehanded grab etc etc, but those plays don’t make up for 15-20 grounders that would be outs if he was an average defender.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • abreutime says:

      What I observed from this video:

      Half of the balls were hit nearly right at him…. I think his behind-the-back flip is stronger than his normal throw…. His footwork is slow, causing him to struggle on balls that normal SS’s are able to handle without making it look as hard.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Chris says:

      I kind of have to agree with you there. Maybe he tries too hard to get the theatrics down and he ends up botching too many plays, but the guy is a walking defensive highlight reel.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • cs3 says:

      those highlights show that he has incredibly quick hands (that DP he started with the barehand/behind the back flip after the pitcher deflected the ball was downright amazing!), but not much else.
      range is the most important factor at SS, and I think the metrics are telling us he lacks that.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Tom says:

    He is definitely throwing a bit of a rainbow in a lot of those clips at least.

    Are there fielding splits anywhere? His offense really died as the season went on and I’m wondering if his defense went the same way.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Chike says:

    No matter how much sense it may make in a vacuum, the Indians had little to no chance of trading Asdrubal Cabrera during the offseason.

    Aside from being sandwiched in between two of the organization’s top prospects (Chisenhall at 3rd, Kipnis at 2nd), Asdrubal hit third for most of the year and carried the team offensively. What sort of message would management be sending to players/fans if they traded their lone(?) all-star representative while they view themselves as contenders?

    I like this deal. If they speed him through the system, Francisco Lindor (a fine defensive shortstop) should be ready to take over the position in 2014. In the meantime, they save face with the fan base while demonstrating commitment to productive players. Truly a win-win.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Nathan says:

      I’m pretty sure Chris Perez made the AS team last year, too. I think it would have made sense to trade him if that was the direction they decided upon last July, rather than trading for Ubaldo. Picking him up for the extra year keeps the core of the team entirely intact through that season. While he deosn’t grade well at short, he has the best instincts of any player I’ve watched, which I think recovers a small bit of his value. That said, I’d much prefer a true defender at short provided he could hit .260+. Hopefully Lindor can be the answer after Cabrera.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Sean says:

    Off-hand I can not think of more than a handful of ss that are as good as or better than drubal. He wore down last year, but was also the most games he has played in a year. The conditioning to a full season is something that is gained by experience. Also, he was the offense for the most part last year and this pressure from a developing player I’m sure added to him wearing down as season progressed. When the season started going south, he seemed to be pressing and missing at good and bad pitches. Numbers do say something but not the full story. The Indians had to resign him, the only legitimate hitters is C Santana and S Choo. Hafner can’t complete a full season and ball doesn’t fly off bat like before his surgery.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>