Cabrera’s Power Stroke Driving Indians Offense

The Cleveland Indians have scored the third-most runs per game in the American League. That’s one line I never expected to type, no matter how early in the season. What’s more, they’ve already swept the Boston Red Sox, and have won their last eight games after dropping their first two. While the pitching staff has certainly done its job, the offense has stepped up big time. A number of guys are contributing in big ways, but perhaps none has advanced his team more than Asdrubal Cabrera.

When he debuted in 2007, Cabrera was barely even a blip on the Indians’ prospect radar. He came over from the Mariners a season earlier, in the trade that netted Cleveland Shin-Soo Choo. Before the 2007 season Baseball America ranked him the Indians’ No. 15 prospect, noting that he “won’t be an offensive force.” In his first four big-league seasons he pretty much proved his critics right, though he did produce a .354 wOBA in 2009. But no one expected this.

Last night, Cabrera homered for the fourth time this season. He has now eclipsed his entire 2010 total, in just about 10 percent of the plate appearances. The power streak has led to 6.2 Runs Above Replacement, or about 10 percent of his career total to date. His torrid production early on is a big reason why the Indians have gotten off to this hot start. He has hit 31% of the team’s homers, has driven in 19% of their runs, has accounted for 18.2% of their total bases, and has scored 14.3% of their runs. Unsurprisingly, he leads the team in all of those categories.

While this most certainly isn’t a sustainable output level — for anyone, really, never mind Cabrera himself — there does appear to be something different about his game. Peaks in fly-ball percentage and strikeout rate go along with his power surge. We’re still a while from seeing those number stabilize, but nevertheless they do give us a snapshot of Cabrera at this point in time. The increased strikeout rate (and increased swinging-strike rate), plus fly-ball rate, might suggest that he’s tweaked something with his swing. Maybe it’s coincidental and it won’t take; after all, we’ve seen a number of players unexpectedly go on tears, only to fall flat on their faces later in the season. But there still could be something here.

Before the 2006 season, Ben Zobrist missed the Top 10 for Baseball America’s Astros prospects list. They rated him as having the best strike-zone discipline, but he didn’t profile to have nearly enough power. As with Cabrera, Zobrist showed in his first few seasons that the scouting reports might not have been that far off. Of course, he then exploded in 2009. He didn’t open as emphatically as Cabrera, but he did have 11 extra-base hits in April. It was easy to write it off as a hot start that would even out soon enough. But throughout the season Zobrist continued to prove his worth. He’s cooled down since then, but it still appears as though he’s much better than he was given credit for early in his career.

Could we be seeing the same thing with Cabrera this year? Chances are that’s not the case, but chances were that wasn’t the case with Zobrist, either. That is, we can’t simply write off early season results just because they came early in the season. Most of the time we’ll see the overperforming player cool down and become his old self in due time. But every once in a while we get an unexpected breakout player. If Cabrera really has made chances to his swing, perhaps he’ll fall into the latter category.

At FanGraphs we deal with numbers and statistical profiles, so our scope only extends so far. At this point the more likely answer is that Cabrera is experiencing an impossibly hot start and will revert to his normal, light-hitting self before long. But there are indications that something has clicked, and that he’s approaching his at-bats differently in the past. It will take more of a scouting eye to determine whether he has made any changes, and whether these changes can lead to sustained success. For right now, we can credit Cabrera as the driving force on an overachieving 8-2 team. But keep an eye out for him as the season progresses. While he won’t slug anywhere near .659 on the season, I think there’s a chance we see improved numbers from him this year. Or, at least, I’m not willing to write off the possibility at this point.




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Joe also writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues.


23 Responses to “Cabrera’s Power Stroke Driving Indians Offense”

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  1. dwhit110 says:

    The Indians netted Choo and Cabrera in separate trades. If memory serves, Cleveland traded Eduardo Perez for Cabrera. It was Ben Broussard who was dealt for Choo.

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    • Joe Pawlikowski says:

      Eh. They happened within a month of each other. Might as well have been the same trade.

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      • AK707 says:

        Especially since they made up the indians first base platoon at the time. I still don’t understand why Bavasi wanted them…

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      • Justin Bailey says:

        Probably the same reason Bavasi thought it would be a good idea to have Adrian Beltre have about half his PAs in Safeco Field every year. Which is to say, we’ll probably never know.

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      • Editor says:

        But they weren’t the same trade … now I’m wondering what else about your posts you have “Eh’d” on.

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      • joser says:

        Well, to give the author a bit of credit, to those of us who were following it at the time they certainly seemed to be related trades, or even one trade spread out over two transactions. Which made the whole thing make even less sense, because it looked like Bavasi got what he (for some insane reason) wanted by paying less in each trade but more overall, like some kind of Krazy Eddy installment plan.

        But they were indeed separate trades… not that it really matters.

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      • alskor says:

        Who is minusing this…? It was clearly just a joke!

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      • Jay Levin says:

        Both the original comment and joser’s odd rationalization above are totally incorrect.

        The trades were in no way related to one another except that the same two teams were involved. The first trade did not anticipate or require the second in any way.

        joser says that “those who were following” the trades at the time felt they were part of the same transaction. In fact, only those who were NOT following the actual transactions, but rather just sort of lazily browsing the transactions, could have seen it this way. They were, simply, not at all related.

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      • 5KMD says:

        Yeah, why let facts get in the way of a good story.

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  2. KF says:

    Asdrubal has made a specific change in his batting approach, he used to choke up on the bat, but now he doesn’t do that and tries to make contact.

    http://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2011/04/cleveland_indians_power_way_to.html

    In the past, Cabrera has choked up on the bat and concentrated on putting the ball in play. In batting practice, however, he lets it rip. Newcomer Orlando Cabrera watched him in spring training and finally said something.

    The whole article goes into more depth, and a number of articles in that same several day span explored the topic as well. Another good one was
    http://www.ohio.com/news/top_stories/119668604.html

    Oh and Tribe fans have always considered the name of that platoon 1B that we traded to Seattle to be Benuardo, and got both Choo and Asdrubal back.

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  3. isavage30 says:

    Asdrubal has said he has changed his approach, he used to choke up on the bat a couple inches throughout the at bat, now he is swinging harder early on and only choking up if he gets 2 strikes. He said Orlando Cabrera and his hitting coach convinced him to make this change.

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  4. Brett Giblin says:

    I think that it is safe to say that the Choo/Cabrera for Broussard/Perez trades were symptomatic of the problems that resulted in Bavasi getting fired.

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    • Sean says:

      Don’t forget Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez!

      I can’t think of three trades that made me think “what the fuck are you doing, Bavasi?” more than those three.

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      • Nathaniel Dawson says:

        What, the 5-for-1 Bedard trade isn’t more than a blip on your “fuck you, Bavasi” radar?

        I actually disliked the Cabrera trade more than the Choo trade at the time. The Choo trade seemed to be defensible, while the Cabrera trade was just plain lunacy.

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  5. Bob B. says:

    ACab had 52 XBH (42/4/6) in 581 PA (an XBH every 11.2 PA) in 2009 as a 23 y.o. Now that his broken forearm has healed from 2010 and he’s added some muscle/bulk to his 6-ft, 180+lb body, I’m not surprised to see some of those doubles turn into HR. Especially since he’s taken a purposeful approach to swinging harder on some pitches. His current DP-mate OCab has suggested ACab can potentially hit 45 doubles and 15 HR in a season.

    To lend credence to OCab’s assertion, if ACab plays 150 games w/ an average of 4.61 PA/G in the #2 slot, he’ll have 691 PA. If he hits .280 w/ a very modest 7% BB/HBP/Sac rate per PA, he’ll have about 643 AB and 180 hits. If he gets on XBH every 10 PA, which isn’t unreasonable given is 2009 production and added power for 2011, he’d have 69 XBH, which could spread as 50/4/15 with 2-3 HR/mth the rest of 2011. That’s a .440 SLG and .160 ISO, neither of which is grossly higher than his minor league stats as a slender young player.

    Bottom line, I say don’t be surprised to see modest pop from ACab’s bat as time goes on.

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  6. phoenix2042 says:

    ASDRUBAL CABRERA IS 2011’S JOSE BAUTISTA.

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  7. mmoritz22 says:

    That would be pretty awesome if that were true haha

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  8. Jay Levin says:

    With all due respect, Al, it isn’t true that “no one expected” Cabrera to be a solid performer. In our coverage of the trade at LetsGoTribe, we made significant note of Cabrera’s impressive batting peripherals and defense, as well as the fact that he was extremely young at every level of the minors.

    http://www.letsgotribe.com/2006/6/30/131322/551

    In particular, Cabrera was the youngest player in Triple-A at age 20, which we discussed in a later piece. Two weeks later, in an “econometric” breakdown of the Indians farm system, Cabrera was deemed the team’s fourth best prospect.

    So, not to brag, but we did expect him to be a very good player and possibly a star. If anything, we’ve been surprised by his on-and-off defensive lapses.

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  9. Lewie Pollis says:

    For what it’s worth, Cabrera had a .650 Power Factor in Spring Training, compared to his .386 career mark through last year. ST stats obviously don’t mean much in a vacuum and so far this year and his 1.077 PF blows his spring mark out of the water, but that helps the case for Cabrera actually developing a more powerful stroke.

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  10. Shauntell says:

    I really don’t see him sustaining this. He’s just barely hitting them over the fence.

    Go have a look at hittrackeronline.com, he’s not hitting them that far. 3 of his homers are of the “just enough” variety.

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  11. LionoftheSenate says:

    There is some irony watching the stats geeks struggle to account for a sudden change in a player, reaching way back to gather some minor league scouting reports. Do stats geek really rely on such old data points? Really?

    Try getting some new scouting reports on the guy, that is the most important data in the entire story……(yes scouting reports are data).

    There is a wide shortage of Major League scouting reports. Many players change in the Majors, makes sense, because the best coaching is typically at that level. and players simply have to adjust to the incredible talent level. Yet, here we are, dusting off old scouting reports. I get they have value in seeing what was said then, but the question about Cabrera today has to do with what is different in 2011…….

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  12. Joe Nathan says:

    I remember seeing Andruw Jones playing third base at a Braves game when Chipper Jones went down with a fatal virus. That was my favorite game ever! I saw Andruw dive for a ball and throw to first base. His throw was so high it went in the stands and so Andruw got tossed from the game by the umpire

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