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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.