So by now you have certainly heard and/or read about the off-season’s first blockbuster. This time, two general managers typically panned by stat nerds locked horns. Yesterday, Jack Moore looked at the Giants acquisition of Melky Cabrera from a real baseball perspective. Today, I will dive into the fantasy impact of Cabrera’s move to the land of Rice-A-Roni. Will Melk(y) do a Giants fan’s body good?
To most everyone’s surprise, Cabrera was the 15th most valuable fantasy hitter in 2011 according to CBS Sports’ fantasy valuation system. There were several reasons for the breakout fantasy performance. One of the easiest explanations is that he exceeded his previous career high at-bat total by 113. In most leagues, playing time is king and Cabrera is good proof of that. Next, his BABIP jumped to a career best .332, after rising above .300 just once previously. This BABIP spike led to a batting average above .280 for the first time. Last, he posted the second highest HR/FB ratio of his career and more than triple what he put up during his disappointing 2010 stint with the Braves.
Heading into 2012, let’s take a gander at what we may have expected from Cabrera if he remained with the Royals. Given his performance in 2011 and lack of other obvious options, he likely would have hit near the top of the order and another 600 at-bats would have been a reasonable projection. It is unlikely that after five seasons of a below league average BABIP (except for 2006), he suddenly learned the art of hitting them where they ain’t. But, if his increased power is at least partially legit, that should help him keep some of his gains. So we’ll say his BABIP drops down to about .300-.310.
His contact rate declined a bit, but no more than what normal fluctuation might suggest. We should project a bit of a rebound next year, which could help him remain comfortably in the mid-teens in home runs. Speaking of which, he has posted a HR/FB ratio as high as 10.3% before, and at age 27, there is little reason to believe the power spike is a fluke. As far as projections go though, a slight regression to around 9.0% would be smart. Last, he stole 20 bases in 30 attempts, both numbers easily eclipsing his previous highs of 13 and 18 respectively. Given the Royals poor offense, we would expect him to have continued running, though maybe with a tiny drop-off given the mediocre success rate.
So far, if he had stayed on the Royals, I would have projected Cabrera to hold onto most of his gains, but with slightly worse numbers all around. Maybe a 600 at-bat season going .285-15-70-85-17. That would still represent pretty solid fantasy value, but obviously nowhere near a top 15 overall hitter. Now let’s check on how the move to the National League and San Francisco will affect him.
Derek Carty studied the effect switching leagues had on hitters and published the results for various categories over the summer. In general, hitters perform better in the National League, as they walk more, hit for a higher batting average and post a higher BABIP, and enjoy an increased HR/FB ratio. All else equal, this augurs well for Melky, even if he was a massive bust during his first tour of duty in the league.
Next we turn to park factors, and both parks are perceived as excellent pitcher’s parks. According to StatCorner, Kauffman Stadium suppressed lefty home runs by a whopping 29% in 2011. Though AT&T Park is no hitter’s paradise, it was a bit more forgiving, as it sported a park factor for lefty homers that was 18% below league average. The ballpark switch means that he may very well sustain the rebound in HR/FB ratio. Cabrera’s 2011 ISO was also a career best and boosted by 44 doubles. This was no doubt inflated by Kauffman’s doubles park factor that was 17% higher than average. Luckily, AT&T isn’t that far behind, as it too increases doubles, by 9%.
All the other park factors related to hits tell us the story that each park increases non-home runs, but Kauffman does so just a little bit better. However, AT&T’s higher home run park factor will mostly offset the fewer non-home run hits Cabrera will record. Last, Kauffman decreased strikeouts, whereas AT&T was close to the league average. Since we should have expected Cabrera’s strikeout rate to rebound a bit if he remained in Kansas City, the park factors suggest that the jump may stick now. Throw all these factors into a blender, and what we come up with is a lower BABIP than in Kansas City, a higher HR/FB ratio, but a similar home run total and batting average.
Since Melky is likely slated to hit atop the Giants batting order, we will likely see little change in his at-bat projection, while his runs projection increases to 90 and RBI projection drops to around 65. Last year, the Giants ranked 7th to last in stolen bases, while the Royals ranked 3rd. Whether this was more the result of the composition of the roster or Bruce Bochy‘s philosophy, we cannot be sure. But it makes it more likely that Cabrera returns to the 10-15 steal level. Of course, if he hits lead off, that might offset any philosophical change.
So now that I have thoroughly confused everyone, the bottom line is that Cabrera has little chance of repeating his fantasy stats from 2010 and won’t sniff the top 15 in overall fantasy value. But, he is approaching his prime years and this is when power spikes do happen. He should again be a solid all-around contributor for fantasy teams and the move to another weak offense and poor hitter’s park doesn’t change his fantasy prospects much.