What should baseball general managers make of Melky Cabrera? The same question could be asked of fantasy owners. How can we predict, with any confidence, what type of season Cabrera will produce next year? The Blue Jays felt confident enough to give Cabrera a two-year, $16 million contract. And, honestly, Cabrera doesn’t have to be all that good in order to live up to that contract, as my colleague Jeff Sullivan recently explained. But fantasy owners are hoping for more than just a decent performance from Melky going forward. Based on his recent history, how he’ll perform is really anyone’s guess.
The two biggest questions surrounding Melky deal with how much the PED he was taking was driving his performance, and whether he can replicate his higher-than-normal BABIP. The answer to the first question is difficult to assess. There’s a lot of debate concerning whether PEDs actually increase baseball performance. What does seem to be clear is that while taking them, you begin to feel like the Hulk. Recover times are faster and stamina is increased, but it’s not going to grant a person magical baseball powers. For a good read on one man’s experience taking PEDs, I would recommend this article. It’s just one person’s experience, but it’s an interesting read.
The answer to the BABIP question is a resounding no. There’s just no way we can expect Cabrera to have a .379 BABIP again. But what about a return to his 2011 numbers? Cabrera hit .305/.339/.470 in 706 plate appearances for the Royals that year. His numbers were helped a little bit by an inflated .332 BABIP. The Bill James projections seem to think Cabrera will come close to his 2011 numbers, but expects some decline. The projections have Cabrera hitting .295/.348/.432 with a .325 BABIP next year.
In order for Cabrera to reach those stats, he would still have to experience some luck. While a .329 BABIP is a step down from Cabrera’s performance over the last two years, it would still be higher than usual for Cabrera. In the six seasons prior to his BABIP explosion, Cabrera’s highest performance in the category was just .309. There’s been very little change in Cabrera’s batted ball numbers over his career, so there’s really no reason to expect him to routinely post high BABIPs going forward. Even if his BABIP regresses to normal levels, Cabrera should still hit for a solid average. He’s a career .284 hitter.
Cabrera’s recent power is also in question, and could have a significant impact on his value next year. The Bill James projections are influenced more by Cabrera’s career numbers, and doesn’t tend to buy into his last two years as much, which is to be expected. At the same time, Cabrera has reached an age where we probably should expect his power numbers to increase. And with Cabrera entering his age-28 season, there’s some reason to believe he’ll continue to hit for power like he has over the past two seasons. Though, a return to his 2011 levels is probably the smarter bet.
He’s also going to be playing in a ballpark that promotes power. The home run factor for lefties is an average 100, but it jumps to 118 for righties, according to statcorner.com. It’s also much easier to hit for doubles and triples in Toronto, where the park factors are 125 for lefties and 113 for righties. That’s quite an increase from San Francisco, where the park factors for home runs were way down last year. San Francisco had a 66 park factor for lefties and a 69 for righties last season. That’s a big upgrade for Cabrera.
He’s also moving to a team that has had success developing power hitters. Both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion have had tremendous power outbursts since they joined the Blue Jays. The team has ranked sixth, fifth, first, and fifth in home runs over the past four seasons. Cabrera has never flashed that type of power, so a sudden 40 home run outburst would be insane. But a chance at matching his career-high of 18 could be possible.
Cabrera will likely wind up being one of the more difficult players to rank next season. But there are some reasons to believe he’ll remain useful. A return to his 2011 numbers would make him a valuable asset, and a continued power outburst could help make up for the expected BABIP decline. Let your league-mates be scared off by the PED issues, he looks like a high-end number three outfielder with a chance to be a mid-to-low end number two.