Cabrera’s Velocity

Back in 2005, Daniel Cabrera‘s fastball averaged 96.2 MPH and his slider was 87.5 MPH – both were the fastest of any starting pitcher in baseball. Even with horrible command, he managed a 4.02 FIP by accumulating ground balls and strikeouts with a power repertoire.

The pitcher masquerading as Cabrera for the Nationals is not that guy. In his first start of the year, his fastball averaged 91.9 MPH and his slider averaged 78.2 MPH.

Today, he started against the Philadelphia Phillies. He threw 94 pitches. According to Pitch F/x data, the fastest of those pitches was 91.4 MPH. 19 of the 94 pitches were faster than 90 MPH. His fastball averaged 89.2 MPH. His slider averaged 75 MPH.

We’re talking about a 7 MPH drop in his fastball velocity and a 13 MPH drop (!) in his slider velocity. He’s gone from an A.J. Burnett type arm to a Dustin Moseley type arm in five years. I find it hard to believe that there’s not some kind of underlying injury here, because this kind of loss of stuff is practically unprecedented.

Yes, stuff declines as a pitcher ages, but not like this. 96 MPH fastballs don’t turn into 89 MPH fastballs without some kind of reason. You don’t go from throwing a power slider into throwing a HS breaking ball just due to normal wear and tear. There has to be an explanation for why Cabrera is suddenly a 6’7 soft-tosser, doesn’t there?

For Nationals fans, whether he’s hurt or not isn’t particularly relevant. He’s only with the team on a one year deal as they tried to squeeze some value out of a reclamation project. If he’s not healthy, that experiment is down the drain. Of course, given his current stuff, that experiment is already down the drain. Cabrera, with an 89 MPH fastball, has no upside.

Unless someone can figure out what went wrong and fix it, he’s going to go down as one of the more spectacular examples of pitcher attrition we’ve ever seen.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

15 Responses to “Cabrera’s Velocity”

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  1. cheapmeat says:


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    • LukeW says:

      Hanging out with Albert Belle too long behind the Gatorade cooler in the back of the clubhouse…

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  2. Connecticut Mike says:

    Dave, I am not very familiar with Cabrera’s mechanics, but is it possible a change in mechanics could for some of the change in velocity? I am not suggesting it is all attributable to mechanics, but is some of it? Has his delivery changed significantly?

    Throughout the years I feel as though a variety of pitching coaches have made an attempt to help Cabrera harness his potentially dominant stuff. Did anyone tinker with his delivery? I distinctly recall watching a game in 2006 against Tampa where he struck out 10 and walked 9. For years I would draft him in the last round of fantasy drafts in the hope that THIS would be the year he would put in together.

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  3. Will says:

    Cabrera isn’t alone. There’s something going on with Nats pitchers. Scott Olsen’s lost 4 MPH on his fastball and slider (he’s three years younger than Cabrera to boot).

    Hat tip to FireJimBowden:

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    • Teej says:

      Cabrera and Olsen were both losing considerable velocity before they were part of the Nationals organization.

      Cabrera’s fastball
      2005: 96.2
      2006: 94.8
      2007: 94.3
      2008: 92.6

      Olsen’s fastball
      2006: 90.9
      2007: 90.1
      2008: 87.8

      Looks like speedy outfielders aren’t the only thing Bowden had a crush on.

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  4. CH says:

    Maybe he’s trying to cut down on those awful BB numbers by scaling back the velocity?

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  5. excatcher says:

    Before people start wondering if it’s the stadium gun, his severe decrease in velocity was noted and well documented last year. The Orioles coaching staff got tired of him leading the league in BB, RA, and HBP, and told him to focus more on control. I don’t know to what extent they messed around with his mechanics.

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  6. Dionysus says:

    Even if he was told to sacrifice velocity for control, it sure hasn’t helped at all. He was a mess all over the zone today. He may have only walked two, but from what I saw he was consistently missing by quite a bit and was more helped out by Phillies hitters than his own pitching. MLB’s worst team keeps getting worse.

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  7. cpebbles says:

    Right on his FanGraphs player page, the most recent Rotowire news on him is that the pitching coach is changing his mechanics and his velocity is down as a result.

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  8. Longgandhi says:

    Let’s see – the last two pitching coaches before he came to the Nationals tried to change his mechanics, he only got 12 innings of work this spring due to a neck strain and both of his starts this season have come when the gametime temperature was unseasonably cool. According to the broadcast guns in the Florida game, he touched 96 and was consistently 92-94. If he’s still throwing 90 when the weather warms up, then you can start panicking. Geez, it’s only the first week.

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  9. Rafa says:

    Is it any surprise that speed numbers are down? Power number are done since 2005 as well. If only something major happened in the past four years that had the potential to cause a decrease in power hitting and power pitching. Hmmm….what could it be?

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  10. Brian says:

    I am a Nats fan who used to go to a lot of Orioles games. I’d bet it is that he is now totally off steroids. he lost that neck wider than his head look that all steroid users have. Nonetheless, such a big gap from your fastball to your breaking pitch should get a bunch of guys out, so it is a marvel that Cabrera can’t fool guys with such a huge change in velocity. He pitches like he does not believe he can get guys out. So I think his problem is mostly in his head.

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  11. i, too, am a Nats fan that watches a lot of the Orioles, and having watched Cabrera the entirety of his career, i have several beliefs. but it starts with the undeniable truth that Daniel Cabrera has the least athetic ability of any recent major leaguer.

    the Orioles used to keep him out of srping training drills to avoid him getting hurt–or hurting someone else. watching him run is akin to wathcing a baby giraffe find its legs. his sac bunt yesterday was the first time in 16 at bats he’s ever made contact. watching him field is painful.

    his lack of athleticism leads to his robotic delivery; he basically is pitching from memory. he has no muscle memory, so every time he throws a pitch it’s like it’s the first time he’s ever done it; nothing is natural to him. when he can concentrate on just what he’s doing, he can be dominating. if ANYTHING disturbs his concentration–forget it. baserunners to him are fingernails on a chalkboard.

    it was typical yesterday, and i called it to the folks around me in our section. good first inning, then in the second Werth reached on a single. he coaxed a ground ball out of Raul Ibanez, but 2B Anderson Hernandez booted the routine double play ball. Cabrera then walked the next batter on four pitches and then walked in a run. he then allowed 46-year old Jamie Moyer to his a sac fly.

    anyway, i digress. here are my beliefs on Cabrera:

    1) Cabrera did not do steroids
    2) His lack of athelticism keeps him from being able to repeat any delivery
    2) His injury from the end of last season was not properly diagnosed/treated, and he will not pitch 60 innings for the Nats this season.

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  12. Carlos Jose Lugo says:


    I had the chance to watch all of Cabrera’s starts in winter league baseball this year, and the dropoff in his normal velocity was very visible. When the Tigres del Licey club acquired Cabrera and Denny Bautista from the Estrellas de Oriente in mid-season, I remember to mention repeatedly on the Licey broadcasts that Cabrera had arm issues at the end of the year with the Orioles. At first we argued on the ESPN broadcasts that he was still probably building a little arm strength, or pacing himself because he was going to be key on the post-season. Eventually, Cabrera’s fastball established velocity in winter-ball was aound 90-92, topping at 93-94 on rare ocassions. His patterns were pretty much the same, so even though the possibility of “a different pitching plan” was discussed (Juan Marichal floated the idea during the broadcasts) to me it was clear that Cabrera was working with diminished velocity.

    Since Cabrera pitched very well during the Round Robin playoffs (4R, 0ER, 14/6 K/BB ratio in 14 IP) the fastball velocity issue was hardly mentioned or noticed by the media in the Dominican.

    But it was real, and it’s an issue since winter ball.

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