It took me ~230 plate appearances, but I’m ready. Like most of you I was skeptical in the beginning. That’s evident in the lack of articles written about Cabrera’s amazing start. There’s only been one and it was written 12 days into the season, and it wasn’t on RotoGraphs. That’s my fault. I cover shortstops for this site, but up until now I wasn’t sure how to properly address the situation.
When looking at this peripheral statistics nothing substantial jumps out at you. The only major change you see is a drop in his line drive rate and an uptick in fly balls. Other that there’s no radical change in his batted ball data and no wild fluctuations in his plate discipline. Yet, he’s crushing the ball. That’s the major difference between this season and his 2009 campaign. I’m not including his 2010 season in this post because I buy into the fact that he wasn’t fully recovered from a forearm injury and that’s what was mainly accountable for his sub par performance. Here are his 2009 and 2011 seasons for comparison:
He’s swinging at a few more pitches outside of the strike zone as well, and making contact on more of them, but nothing to suggest a .96 point jump in ISO. I searched for anything I could find regarding a change Cabrera may have made in his swing this season and found an article from April 11th from Ohio.com. In that piece the author says:
“At the suggestion of Orlando Cabrera, Asdrubal is taking bigger hacks at certain pitches. Moreover, he no longer chokes up on the bat unless he has two strikes on him.”
As Joe Pawl wrote in his April 12th piece on Cabrera, this sounds awfully familiar to the approach Ben Zobrist took in his breakout season of 2009. If it took Orlando Cabrera being Asdrubal’s personal bat whisperer to unleash this power then so be it. Our ZiPS projection isn’t a believer, forecasting him to hit 9 more homers with 47 RBI over the rest of the season. Even if Cabrera does exactly that he’d finish with 19 home runs, 82 RBI and an average in the .290-.300 range. He also already has seven steals, putting him in the 15-20 range for the season. That type of production is outstanding in this weak crop of shortstops.
Considering where Cabrera was drafted he’s one of the biggest steals of the season. If you’re not a believer, I understand. It’s hard to believe someone who has never done it before will sustain this type of success over the course of a full season. The aforementioned Ben Zobrist did it. So did Jose Bautista. I’m not directly comparing Cabrera to those two players; there’s no way I think he’ll be one of the best players in the game. But they kept doing it and doing it until people finally bought in. Cabrera is beginning to do the same for me. There’s no reason Cabrera couldn’t finish the season as one of the top 3-5 shortstops in fantasy. That’s not something I could have believed myself saying on April 1st. I do now.