A Tale of Two Pitchers
Daniel Cabrera must be manic depressive. His highs are really high and his lows are extraordinarily low. At his best, Cabrera is as good as any pitcher in the major leagues. At his worst, he is as bad as any pitcher in the big leagues.
Case in point: Saturday, August 7, 2005. Baltimore Orioles vs. Texas Rangers, the top-scoring team in MLB, at Ameriquest Field in Arlington. Cabrera opens the game by striking out David Dellucci, Michael Young, and Mark Texeira. Now those are three pretty good hitters. Their combined on-base plus slugging (OPS) is roughly .900 this year.
Fifteen pitches. Ten strikes. Five balls. Not one ball in play. According to the game story, Cabrera was reaching the high-90s with his fastball in that inning.
OK, let's check to see how the big right-hander fared in the second inning.
Six runs on three hits and no errors. Did I mention three walks? Two with the bases loaded? Aargh! Amazingly, the three batters that Cabrera walked all had two strikes on them. He had Mench 2-2 and Matthews 0-2. Yes, with one out in the second and the bases loaded, Cabrera threw a called strike and another one past a swinging Matthews. Strike him out and then any ol' out will suffice to escape the inning unharmed. Instead, he loses Matthews by throwing four balls (with a foul ball mixed in there) and then follows that up by walking Alomar, too.
Now I'll grant you that Matthews (career .249/.327/.397) is no longer the easy out he once was. He's hit 11 home runs since June 29, but you gotta go after him in that situation. We're not talking about Eddie Mathews or his Dad's former teammate Willie Mays here. Heck, the son of Sarge has played for six different teams (including two separate stops with the San Diego Padres), excluding a winter with the Atlanta Braves.
With respect to Alomar, this is Sandy (circa 2005), not Roberto (circa 1993-2001). Junior has only walked 20 times in a season twice! The last time he had that many free passes was more than a decade ago. His career high? 25, for goodness sakes. I mean, this guy walks less than a chauffeured aristocrat.
How can a guy so good be so bad? Well, I'll let Cabrera try to explain that.
"The first inning was good. Everything felt right. The next inning, I gave up two base hits and that's when the problem started. My problem was walks. I was trying to make the perfect pitch."
Cabrera pitched a scoreless third, then got Alomar to ground out and Dellucci to strike out for the second time to open the fourth. Just when it looked like the native of San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic was back on track, he walked Young after getting ahead of him 1-2 and gives up a two-run dinger to Texeira. Exit Cabrera with the following line for the game:
IP H R ER BB SO 3.2 5 8 8 5 7
Of the 11 outs, Cabrera whiffed seven and retired three more on groundballs. Let me tell you, I like guys who get more than 90% of their outs via Ks and on the ground. Unfortunately, he faced 21 batters in all. Ten of the 21 reached base successfully. Five hits and five walks. Aargh! Two of the five hits were home runs. Both were to left-handed hitters.
Cabrera's lefty-righty splits are about as wide as I have ever seen:
SPLIT AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BAA OBP SLG OPS vs. LHB 251 74 14 3 10 46 49 53 .295 .416 .494 .910 vs. RHB 228 37 7 0 1 20 22 69 .162 .248 .206 .454
Cabrera absolutely dominates right-handed hitters (if you can even call them that). Check that line once again. One HR in over 250 plate appearances. A slugging average of .206. How good is that? Well, no batter from 1900-present with 400 or more plate appearances has ever finished a season with a slugging average lower than that. Not Hal Lanier (.239) in 1968. Not even Goat Anderson (.225) in 1907.
Looked at it another way, Cabrera has been almost as unhittable vs. RHB as Bob Gibson was in 1968--in a year some have argued is the best ever by a pitcher--when the Hall of Famer produced the lowest single-season ERA (1.12) in the post-Dead Ball era.
Cabrera ('05) and Gibson ('68) vs. Right-Handed Hitters
BAA OBP SLG Cabrera .162 .248 .206 Gibson .160 .203 .197
Aside from the huge differential in batters faced, the only real variation is OBP. And that is totally a function of the number of walks allowed by Cabrera vis-a-vis Gibson. Cabrera actually hasn't been all that wild when facing RHB (one per 11.5/PA). It's just that Gibson was so damn stingy (one per 19.6/PA) vs. such batters. Other than that, we're looking at two peas in a pod--at least when it comes to facing righties.
Some of you may not give a Hoot, but Cabrera's numbers arguably are even more impressive than Gibson's when adjusted for context. In 1968, the N.L. hit .243/.300/.341. In 2005, the A.L. has hit .269/.332/.427. The difference between the two years in AVG and OBP is approximately 10% and the disparity in SLG is roughly 25%, yet Cabrera's BAA and SLG numbers vs. RHB are almost on top of Gibson's.
Cabrera even stacks up nicely with Pedro Martinez in 2000 when the latter posted the best adjusted ERA (285) in modern baseball history. The league AVG, OBP, and SLG were about 3-5% higher five years ago.
Cabrera ('05) and Martinez ('00) vs. Right-Handed Hitters
BAA OBP SLG Cabrera .162 .248 .206 Martinez .185 .238 .306
Other than Cabrera's inability to get LHB out, what are his problems? Well, from a statistical viewpoint, he walks too many batters (5.0 BB/9, the worst in the majors among pitchers with 100 or more IP). Daniel also goes deep into too many counts (4.04 P/PA). As a result, he throws far too many pitches (17.9/IP). In addition, Cabrera doesn't pitch nearly as well with runners on base (.256/.381/.433) as he does with nobody on (.214/.304/.301). The power pitcher has been lights out in the first inning (.198/.309/.272 with more than one K per 4/PA), facing the opposing team's best hitters. He apparently has pitched in bad luck away from Camden Yards as his 7.09 ERA on the road belies his .245/.352/.399 component averages.
With respect to mechanics, Cabrera has been known to have an inconsistent release point, which leads to high walk totals and erratic intra-game performances. Stuff-wise, the man who stands 6-foot-7 has an excellent fastball (which sits in the mid-90s and can reach the upper-90s) as well as an above-average curveball. He needs to develop a more formidable off-speed pitch, such as the changeup he began throwing for the first time when he reached the majors last year.
Cabrera vs. C. Zambrano, 2005
K/9 HR/9 G/F Cabrera 8.6 0.78 1.71 Zambrano 8.0 0.72 1.79
The biggest difference between the two pitchers is that the Big Z, unlike DC, has been almost as effective against LHB (.225/.333/.347) as he has RHB (.201/.273/.297). Zambrano has also learned to throw more strikes than Cabrera, plus he has induced opposing batters to hit into 10 more double plays than his counterpart. However, Cabrera throws a "heavy" fastball, too, so one would think that he could eventually rival Carlos when it comes to getting DP.
Cabrera's downside is probably that of a closer. He has the heat, the two pitches, the ability to get a strikeout when needed, and the high G/F that you like to see in a late-inning reliever. That said, I hope Cabrera can make it as a starter because I think he has an incredibly high ceiling. I know one thing, if I were a general manager, Daniel Alberto Cabrera would be high on my shopping list this winter.