It’s crazy how much baseball commentary and analysis has changed over the last ten years or so. People used to use wins, ERA, runs batted in and runs scored to analyze a player’s value, but now it’s all about WAR, wOBA, FIP, and linear weights. Of course it’s all for the better because people are understanding the game in all new ways and we are coming up with better ways to value players and predict how they will do in the future.
This being said, sometimes these stats tell us something, but leave out a bigger piece of the puzzle. Stats are always very important, but sometimes they keep us from seeing the whole picture. There are some things that stats just can’t explain and I feel like this is what has happened with Melky Cabrera.
Cabrera, 27, played with the Royals in 2011 and had something of a break out (or outlier depending on how you want to see it) season hitting .305/.339/.470 which adds up to a .349 wOBA and a 118 wRC+. These are clearly great numbers, especially coming from a guy who can play center field and played in 155 games.
But people were cautiously optimistic about Melky, and rightfully so. After all, he was coming off an awful year with Atlanta (70 wRC+) in 2010 and had posted a career-high BABIP (.332), so maybe it was just luck. And maybe Kansas City saw it the same way as they traded him to San Francisco.
This year Melky has continued to rake and has even taken it to a whole different level taking his slash up to a .356/.398/.529 and is up to a 152 wRC+, which once again has been fueled by a high BABIP (this time .389). Maybe this is really high, but this is now 1122 plate appearances in which he is batting .324/.361/.491 so I don’t think it qualifies as a small sample anymore.
Now as a prospect, Cabrera was seen as a guy who made a ton of contact and could always hit. Baseball America even said in one of their scouting reports that he could hit 18-20 homers annually when physically mature. This isn’t just some organizational guy who came out of nowhere, he was thought of as a decent prospect. According to what his coaches have said, he just needed a kick in the butt, and it looks like that’s what has happened. Between this and the fact that he is entering his theoretical prime as a hitter, he should be starting to come into his own as a player.
Maybe Melky starts to slow down as this season starts to wind down, or maybe he makes his money on the open market and then falls of a cliff. We really don’t know, but stranger things have happened (see Crawford, Carl). My point is that after a while we need to stop being stubborn and realize that players could be turning things around, rather than waiting for his BABIP to regress. I’ve seen a lot of talk on Twitter about writing him off, but when does it stop being a small sample, and when does it get taken for what it is?