Welcome back to another edition of the Pod hitter projections. Today I’ll look at one of last season’s biggest surprises, Asdrubal Cabrera. The primary contributor to this breakout was his power surge, as his ISO jumped to .187 and HR/FB spiked to 13.3%, both career highs. He was just 25 last year, so based on age alone, one might believe this is sustainable. Let’s dive into my projection and the thought process behind it.
At-Bats: 575. He had 604 last season, but hit second most often, which gave him additional at-bats. This year, he is set to hit near the top of the order, likely in the three hole he filled at the end of last season. Though he has missed time in past years, his injuries were of the one-time freak variety, so I don’t see any health risk. I do, however, have concerns about him remaining at the top of the lineup, as you will see shortly.
Contact Rate: 82%. Last season, his contact rate declined from 84% to 80% and really nosedived in the second half, as it fell to just 78%. It was really only a half season of weaker contact, which coincided with a spike in his fly ball rate. That looks more like a fluke, so I expect a rebound here.
GB%/LD%/FB%: 46%/18%/36%. Last season, his fly ball rate jumped to a career high 39%. When you couple the higher rate with the decline in contact rate, it certainly appears that he was consciously swinging for the fences. That said, given his history of much lower fly ball rates, it is more likely we see some regression. Of course, I cannot forecast a drop all the way back to the low 30% range he had posted from 2008-2010, because typically some of the increase is probably real.
BABIP: .315. He posted a .302 mark last year and sports a .323 career BABIP. That career mark is inflated by the .360 he posted in 2009, so ignoring that, he’s ranged from last season’s .302 to his 2007 mark of .323. The two expected BABIP formulas I use spit out .309 and .323. Taking all these numbers into account, .315 appears most reasonable.
HR/FB Ratio: 9%. This is the fun part and will likely be the only cause of debate. Last year, he posted a career high 13.3% mark. Before that, he never posted a mark above 6.7%, so last year’s was literally double his previous career high. This only brings his career average up to 7.8%. He was actually consistent from half to half, so that played no part in my projection for such a decline.
The biggest red flag can be found on the pages of ESPN Hit Tracker. If you take a look at its home page, you will notice a “Just Enoughs – AL” box in the middle of the second line of data boxes. Look whose name is second. In 2006 (the data has never been updated on the page), the league average was for 27% of home runs of the “just enough” variety. Cabrera, however, hit 15 of 25 home runs classified in the category, or 60%. He actually hit five homers that would have gone out in seven or fewer ballparks. That gives me little reason for optimism and hurts his chances for a repeat. I don’t expect his HR/FB ratio to drop all the way back to previous levels though, because let’s remember, he is still young and is at an age where his power should continue to develop.
RBI and Runs: 85 and 80. Usually a full-time three hole hitter would tally higher totals in these categories. However, as I first alluded to in the At-Bats explanation above, I am not overly confident Cabrera is going to remain hitting third. Since I don’t think he will repeat last year’s power, sooner or later the Indians are going to realize that Carlos Santana, Travis Hafner and Shin-Soo Choo (the projected 4-5-6 hitters according to MLB Depth Charts) are all better and should be hitting ahead of Cabrera. As such, he may find himself batting sixth at some point, or possibly second if Jason Kipnis disappoints. If he did return to the two hole, his RBI total would take a hit, but would make my projection look better. The At-Bats though would increase and my runs scored projection might be a tad low. If he drops to sixth, both RBI and Run projections would likely look pretty good.
SBs: 15. He has shown this type of speed in the past, so his 17 swipes from last year was no fluke. He really only has about league average speed though, so there isn’t much upside at this level and breaking 20 would be a reach.
That sums up all the numbers I manually project myself. They then get thrown into various formulas and spit out batting average and home runs. Here is my final projected batting line, along with Bill James, RotoChamp and Fans projections for comparison.