Asdrubal Cabrera: Is the Home Run Spike Real?

Asdrubal Cabrera has always shown the ability to hit the ball, but he is hitting significantly more home runs this season. His fantasy owners will be happy to know that there are signs that the increase in power looks sustainable.

In 1610 PA before this season, he hit 18 home runs, or 1 every 89 PA. This season, the twenty-five year old has almost equaled his career total in only 445 PA with 17 HRs — or 1 every 26 PA. These new home runs have really increased his value, especially since he is a shortstop. By looking at his contact rate, batted ball profile, batted ball angle and distance, let’s try to determine if the increase is from luck or a change in his ability.

Contact – The switch hitter is making contact 1% more often this season when compared to his career numbers. He is putting a few more balls into play, but not a significant percentage more.

Batted Ball Profile – Cabrera is definitely hitting more fly balls this season when compared to his previous 4 seasons. In those 4 seasons, he hit an FB 32% of the time. In 2011, that value is at 37%.

Hitting 5% points more fly balls will definitely help increase his HR total, but not to the level to triple the number hit. The key is not that he is hitting more FB, but about half as many of the FB (13.8%) are going for HR’s compared to his career numbers (7.2%).

Batted Ball Direction – Using the direction that the ball is hit, we can decide if he is turning on the ball more and putting it in the short porches in left and right field. Using an angle with -45 degrees as the left field line and 45 degrees as the right field line, the average direction of his fly balls and home runs can be determined. Since he is a switch hitter, the the average angles from both sides of the plate need to be examined (most of his home runs are from the left side of the plate):

Batting Right Handed (angle in degrees)
2007 = -3
2008 = +3
2009 = +9
2010 = -7
2011 = +8

Batting Left Handed
2007 = -6
2008 = -4
2009 = -5
2010 = -4
2011 = 0

Looking at when he is hitting right handed, he is definitely not pulling the ball more. Most of his home runs, 13 of the 17, have come when he is batting left handed where he is pulling the ball more this season then in any previous season. It is not a whole lot, but enough to make a difference.

Batted Ball Distance: Besides the angle, the actual distance the ball travels can be examined for when he hits left and right handed

Distance (in feet)

Bating Right Handed
2007 = 270 ft
2008 = 269 ft
2009 = 273 ft
2010 = 273 ft
2011 = 281 ft

Batting Left Handed
2007 = 281 ft
2008 = 276 ft
2009 = 300 ft
2010 = 273 ft
2011 = 286 ft

In 2011, Cabrera hit the ball further than in any season except for one year. He is generally hitting the ball around 10 ft further in 2011 than in the past from either side of the plate.

Conclusion: Even though Cabrera is making the same amount of contact with the baseball compared to past seasons, he is hitting more fly balls, hitting them further and towards the OF corners. The rise in home runs per fly ball may seem a bit high for Cabrera, but there are signs that the increase seen this season is not all luck.

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Jeff writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first season in Tout Wars, he won the H2H league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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His season reminds me a lot of Jimmy Rollins’ 2007. Granted Rollins was a bit older during his power spike season, they’re fairly similar players with similar track records up until this point and similar spikes in production.