Nothing annoys me more with regards to baseball than seeing pitchers who have clearly lost all semblances of effectiveness still given opportunities to throw at the major league level (SEE: Sidney Ponson). However, I considered it to be a good deal when the Washington Nationals signed Daniel Cabrera this past offseason. After all, the commitment to Cabrera did not extend beyond the 2009 season and they would be paying him just $2.6 mil. All sorts of questions surrounding his health and abilities surfaced at the time of the signing but it seemed that the Nationals were willing to risk that Cabrera’s arm would hold up for at least one more year.
Nine games in, the plug has been pulled on the experiment. Cabrera has been designated for assignment after abysmally bad production. In fact, acting GM Mike Rizzo did not sugarcoat his thought process on the matter, saying specifically – “I was tired of watching him.”
In 40 innings of work, Cabrera surrendered 48 hits, walked 35, and managed just 16 strikeouts. No, that isn’t an error on my part, mixing up the walk and strikeout totals. Cabrera fanned 3.6 batters per nine with a 7.9 walk rate. His .313 BABIP did not necessarily portend insanely bad luck but a 2.08 WHIP coupled with a 57% strand rate isn’t going to do anything other than drive fans and executives crazy. With a 5.85 ERA and 6.44 FIP, the Nationals reached their breaking point and cut ties with the tall righthander.
Something is clearly wrong with Cabrera, as pitchers do not just magically lose four or five miles per hour on their fastball in under two seasons. If he has any hope of pitching in the majors, the health issues need to be rectified. A 0.46 K/BB is inexcusable at the major league level, even for the Nationals. Cabrera’s pitch selection should have been scrutinized more as well. You don’t throw a fastball with average of worse movement almost 70% of the time if it isn’t 93+ mph. Cabrera seemed to be sticking to his old guns, so to speak, even though the ammo had run out long ago.
Even in a penny-pinching market like the one experienced last season, I cannot fathom any team bringing him aboard at this point unless his health problems are resolved. A good pitching coach can teach a new pitch or potentially show a few mechanical pointers to increase velocity by fractions of miles per hour, but nobody can snap his fingers and provide what Cabrera currently lacks. For a few years, Cabrera was like the jerk boyfriend that all girls think they can change with a bit of guidance. Unfortunately for those who spent a great deal of time attempting to streamline the transition, it seems that the problems were not mechanical or mental, really, but physical.
I could see Cabrera having some sort of surgery and resurfacing in a couple of years like Kris Benson did, but his window as a young stud prospect bound for success if he corrects a few minor flaws has closed. Thankfully, nobody, including Rizzo, will have to watch this incarnation of Cabrera any more this season.