Trade Fallout: Melky Cabrera to Atlanta

Fresh off of the best season of his career, RHP Javier Vazquez is headed back to the Bronx as part of a five-player deal. Along with lefty Boone Logan, Vazquez has been traded to the Yankees for a package including RHP Arodys Vizcaino, LHP Michael Dunn and OF Melky Cabrera.

Later today, we’ll take a look at the implications of the trade for Vazquez. For now, let’s take a look at what the deal means for Cabrera.

The 25 year-old switch-hitter was signed by the Yankees out of the Dominican Republic back in 2001. Cabrera rapidly rose through the farm system, reaching the majors as a 20 year-old back in 2005. His career minor league line is .296/.349/.420. Melky didn’t show a lot of might at the plate (.124 ISO) and he swung from his heels, walking in 7.1 percent of his plate appearances. He rarely whiffed, with a 13.6 percent strikeout rate.

Getting regular playing time with the Yankees in 2006, Cabrera held up surprisingly well. His wRC+ was 101, meaning he was slightly above-average with the lumber once park and league factors are considered. Melky’s work in 2007 and 2008, by contrast, was disappointing. His wRC+ dipped to 91 in ’07 and checked in at a measly 71 in ’08. Cabrera’s plate discipline eroded:

2006: 10.9 BB%, 22.3 Outside-Swing%, 63.5 Z-Swing%
2007: 7.3 BB%, 29.5 O-Swing%, 65.8 Z-Swing%
2008: 6.5 BB%, 28.4 O-Swing%, 63.1 Z-Swing%

(the MLB average for O-Swing% is 25, and the average for Z-Swing% is about 66 percent)

Melky’s walk rate dropped considerably, as he offered at more pitches off the plate in ’07 and ’08. He was tentative against pitches within the zone in 2008, giving him the unwelcome double-whammy of swinging at more balls and taking more strikes.

Cabrera’s power remained mild: a .111 ISO in 2006, .117 in 2007 and a paltry .092 in 2008. Opposing pitchers bullied him with fastballs:

Cabrera’s Runs/100 Value against fastballs, 2006-2008

2006: +0.77
2007: -0.15
2008: -1.41

With big problems against heaters, Melky popped the ball up a ton in 2008. His infield/fly ball percentage was 15.3, 13th-highest among batters with 400+ PA.

Despite two stagnant seasons, Cabrera entered 2009 at 24 years old. While he didn’t drop any jaws this past year, he did reverse some of those troubling trends in the batter’s box.

In 540 PA, Cabrera posted a 102 wRC+. His walk rate didn’t bounce back to that 2006 level, but he drew a free pass 8.1% of the time. Melky’s O-Swing% was a league-average 24.9, and he took a cut at a few more pitches thrown over the plate (63.7 Z-Swing%). While not slamming fastballs (-0.02 runs per 100 pitches), Cabrera at least didn’t have the bat knocked out of his hands. His infield/fly ball rate fell to a more palatable 10.3%.

Cabrera also displayed a little more thump, with a .142 ISO and 13 home runs. He didn’t show much of a home/away platoon split. Though he’s not a huge stolen base threat, Cabrera did chip in 10 steals in 12 attempts.

In Atlanta, Cabrera figures to get a crack at the left field job. He has plenty of experience in center, but he has a career -5.9 UZR/150 in the middle pasture. Nate McLouth (career -7.1 UZR/150 in CF) hasn’t rated all that well either, though he did post a positive mark in 2009. Right field figures to be Jason Heyward‘s domain for the next decade. Jordan Schafer shouldn’t be counted out, either.

Melky could be part of a platoon with righty-hitting Matt Diaz. Over the past four seasons, Cabrera has an 88 sOPS+ against righty pitching (12 percent worse than the league average) and a 75 sOPS+ against lefties (25 percent worse).

Of course, one could make the argument that the 32 year-old Diaz would be the better option regardless of which side the pitcher winds up from. Since 2006, Diaz has a 105 sOPS+ against righties and a 135 sOPS+ vs. southpaws. CHONE’s 2010 projections for the two are pretty even:.284/.349/.427 for Cabrera, .280/.340/.436 for Diaz.

While the 19 year-old Vizcaino has the most star potential of Atlanta’s trade goodies, Cabrera is basically an average hitter with some defensive chops in an outfield corner. He’s not terribly exciting, but Melky has some value as a guy with a few years of team control and perhaps some development time left. For Cabrera to be a fantasy option, however, he will have to take another step forward offensively.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


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