Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes has reported that out fielder Melky Cabrera has agreed to a two-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays worth $16M as general manager Alex Anthopoulos is working on building a major contender in the American League East.
Cabrera is coming off of a career year that was derailed thanks to high levels of testosterone that lead to a 50-game suspension. This suspension lead many to believe Melky would only get a one year deal, for fear that he could get suspended again or that PEDs actually had a hand in Melky’s performance.
The potential threat that PEDs had a hand in Melky’s performance or that they will be a problem moving forward is obviously a non-issue for Anthopoulos, given that he gave Melky a two year deal. I agree with AA here. But where my hesitation lies in giving Melky a two year deal is that his recent success has had more to do with luck than skill and I fear regression will rear it’s ugly head.
From his first plate appearance with the New York Yankees in 2005 until his final one in 2010 with the Atlant Braves, Melky Cabrera was barely a replacement level player. Melky totaled 2.5 fWAR in 716 games and 2657 plate appearances. He was a poor defender, albeit with a good arm, that never was a league average hitter. His wRC+ over that span was 85 and his best season was a 98. In fact, during that time frame (min 2500 PAs) only fading stars Ken Griffey, Jr. and Garret Anderson had a lower fWAR total among the 58 qualifying out fielders.
2011 came and Melky was on his third team in three seasons but the results were not the same. Melky was worth 4.2 fWAR to the Kansas City Royals as he posted a career best 119 wRC+ by hitting .305/.339/.470 and stole a career high 20 bases, despite lowest walk rate of his career and the highest strikeout rate of his career. Something didn’t add up.
Cabrera’s batting average on balls in play prior to 2011 was .290 and his BABIP in 2011 was an outlier .332 despite the rates showing a decline in plate discipline. It is possible for a player to improve on his BABIP if his fly ball and pop-up rates decrease, resulting in increased groundball and line-drive rates. His line-drive rate did increase but only from 19.1% to 20.3%. Not a big enough increase to believe his spike in BABIP was a result of skill but a result of luck.
I expected Melky to regress in 2012 as he was now on his fourth team in four seasons but his BABIP rose to new heights at an astounding .379. This time, though, his line-drive rate increased to over 21% and he brought his walk rate and strikeout rates closer to his career norms but his two year totals still showed declined walk rates and increased strikeout rates.
Has Melky simply become a better hitter? Is Melky’s increase in strikeouts and drop in walks something to worry about? Has Melky’s success been a bi-product of luck? Could it be possible that he is swinging harder and earlier in counts? His pitches-per-plate appearance has dropped from 3.72 (2005-2010) to 3.60 (2011-2012). Is it possible that PEDs turned some of his batted balls into line-drives and increased his BABIP? I doubt the latter.
There are a lot of questions that cloud our vision of which Melky will show up in Toronto. Will it be the one that had an 85 wRC+ over his first 2657 career plate appearances or the one who had a 131 wRC+ over his past 1207 plate appearances? I honestly do not know. All I know is that the Melky of the past two seasons has put up astronomically larger numbers than the former Melky and luck looks to be a major part of it. I am in the camp that thought a one-year gamble was worth the risk but two years? I’m not so sure.
But AA and his front office know more than I do and for them to gamble $16M over two years most likely means that he has done more homework than I have and he believes the Melky he is getting will be closer to the latter rather than the former. For his sake and the sake of Toronto fans, I hope he is right, although I fear he is wrong.
-Jonathan C. Mitchell can be found writing about the Tampa Bay Rays at DRaysBay and the Florida Marlins at ESPN’s SweetSpot site Marlins Daily. You can follow him on twitter at @FigureFilbert. Be sure to follow MLBdirt at @MLBdirt
Filed under: Digging Deep - Analysis Tagged: | Alex Anthopoulos, Free Agents, Garret Anderson, Kansas City Royals, Ken Griffey Jr., Melky Cab, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays