Comparing Everth Cabrera to the likes of Davey Lopes, Willie Wilson, Otis Nixon and Tim Raines would be ridiculous, but Cabrera has something in common with all of them. Only ten players in Major League Baseball history have had fewer than 450 plate appearances and stolen 44 or more bases. Cabrera is one of them.
As you know, Cabrera wasn’t originally in the San Diego Padres’ plans for 2012. They started the season with Orlando Hudson at second base and Jason Bartlett at shortstop. After miserable starts for both (and an injury to Bartlett), the Padres recalled Cabrera in late May and he summarily turned in a nice little season.
In his 115 games, Cabrera stole 44 bases, tops in the National League. Not only that, but he was efficient in doing so — being caught only four times, giving him a stolen base percentage of 92%. Of all players in 2012 who stole more than 30 bases, only four had success at a 90% or better clip – Cabrera, Coco Crisp, Mike Trout, and Desmond Jennings.
Now, Cabrera didn’t do much else, really, which is why he wound up ranked not particularly high on Zach Sanders’ spellbinding end of the year rankings list, valued at about the cost of a grande latte. But hey, stolen bases are a category, and a category that a lot of us ignore, deplore, and a word ending in “ore” that means chase, if you have one. And chances are if you threw Cabrera in your lineup sometime around mid-August, he might have carried the whole category for you.
In his last 39 games from August 16, Cabrera stole 25 bases. Twenty five bags! In his last month of play, he stole fully 19 bases. In one month he stole more than Denard Span stole all year. His late season impact really was pretty tremendous because not only was he running like his life depended on it, he was actually pretty useful in other counting stat categories. From that period starting August 16, Cabrera hit .273/.339/.320 with 19 runs over those 39 games. Prior to that period, he was hitting just .230/.315/.327 with 30 runs over 76 games.
Cabrera turns just 26 on November 17, so it’s not out of the question that his best days are still in front of him. His seven year minor league slash line is .292/.382/.387, so he’s demonstrated a much better ability to hit for average and get on base in the past. Even at AAA, his slash line over 107 games was .308/.377/.397, so he’s done it at a high level.
But his contact rates and his free swinging ways on the big stage don’t really portend anything much beyond what we saw in 2012. With a 60%-plus ground ball rate, he’ll have a higher BABIP as long as his legs stay healthy, but it would probably need to start approaching .375 before we could count on a batting average north of .270.
His place in the order is likely to have as big an impact on his value in 2013 as anything. When batting 7th, 8th, or 9th in the order, Cabrera hit just .248 with only 11 stolen bases over 247 plate appearances. When batting 1st in the order, he hit .282 with a .352 OBP, stealing 23 bases in just 124 plate appearances.
By September, Cabrera was pretty much their go to lead-off batter. Should he come into 2013 with the same gig, you could expect very big things in the stolen base department, and he just might not be such a black hole relative to runs and maybe even his batting average. It might be asking far too much, but a full season of what we saw out of Cabrera in the last couple of months would add up to an awfully valuable shortstop — and right now, he’s likely one that can be had cheaply.