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On Melky Cabrera

November 20, 2011

I’m not going to hide it; I’m bullish on Melky Cabrera, or at least on the trade. I, like many others, initially wanted to punt a puppy and Sabean’s tires out of the Bay, but in retrospect I believe Sabean did something sensible for once given the following condition: Melky plays left field. Yes, left field, not center field.

Melky Cabrera as a center fielder is mediocre. Over the past 7 years at the CF position, Melky has accumulated a DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) of -16 runs and UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) rates him at -23.8 runs. Given that 1 win is roughly equal to 10 runs, his center field defense has roughly cost teams a total between -1.6 and -2.4 wins respectively; the accuracy of defensive metrics can be debated but obviously his center field play leaves something to be desired.

Playing in left field, Melky saved 18 runs over the same timespan by DRS, illustrating a stark 34 run/3.4 win differential in contrast to his CF defense and his UZR from 2005-2011 accumulates to -0.4,  producing a positive 23.4 run/2.34 win differential just from the shift. Melky won’t be a Gold Glover in left field, but he should be adequate enough, and much more valuable catching fly balls there than in center. Stats on Melky’s defense were found courtesy of FanGraphs.

But let’s talk Jonathan Sanchez right now. Regardless of whether he stayed or not, he’ll be always be remembered in Giants lore for his no-hitter against the Padres, his redeeming win over Mat Latos in Game 162 in 2010, and his spectacular pitching against the Braves in the NLDS. Needless to say, he’s made his impact in San Francisco. However, perhaps the most unforgettable hallmark of Jonathan Sanchez was is his erratic control. Since 2008, his BB/9 rate has steadily risen from 4.27 to 4.85 to 4.47 and to 5.86 last season and his lowest WHIP produced was 1.23 in his 2010 breakout season, while hovering around the 1.4 mark in his other seasons. Of course most of us didn’t need to use stats to figure out that he had a walks problem. It was clear as day when he was struggling with his control, and the Giants would have likely gone bankrupt had they started a Walks for Charity campaign.

However, while we knew we were in for some torture on the days where he couldn’t hit a barn, on the days he could he exhibited really great stuff. His strong fastball and wiffleball-like break combination was devastating when he was on, and when he was on, it was hard to find a brighter light in the stadium save for Lincecum. He was so tantalizingly polarizing, more volatile than Netflix stock, and he gave us fits. But he was so good. He was the quintessential high risk-high reward player who gave us lingering aftertastes of both, but he was so palatable when he did well.

So why trade him? Why trade him when he would be our fifth-starter on enviable young pitching staff? Why trade him when his value was at the lowest of lows for an outfielder coming off a peak-season who couldn’t possibly match what Jonathan could do at his best?

Because it makes sense. Sanchez, as incredulous as it sounds, is probably overvalued by much of the fan base. He has electric stuff, but unless he can put it to use, it’s not going to do him much good. His performance has been like a Lexus with a faulty engine: it usually doesn’t work, but when it does it rides great. His breakout 2010 season with a 3.07 ERA was cushioned by his career low .252 BABIP (compared to his .287 BABIP average) and career high 79.5% LOB percentage (compared to his average of 71.9%). He has high strikeout numbers, but when you look at his negatively-trending career 1.96 K/BB and 4.78 BB/9 ratios and take into account that he had a FIP below 4.00 only once, the numbers don’t portray the picture of a true number 2 starter.

Melky, coming off a disappointing stint with the Braves, broke out with the Royals producing a 4.2 WAR playing CF with a .305/.339/.470 line with 18 home runs…BLAH. Melky had a nice season, I’ll leave it at that. What the bottom line is, is that Melky is a moderately sizable upgrade for our OF who is saving us perhaps $2M in payroll from Sanchez. Accounting regression (which is to be expected) to Bill James’ 2012 projection of .279/.332/.413 with 13 SB, he’ll still be better than any of the outfielders we currently have on the active roster. Given that he just turned 27 and is in his contract year, it wouldn’t be too much to expect a slightly better performance than James’ projections, even at AT&T.

Put Melky in left field. Sign Coco to a 1-year contract with an option for 2013 and let him patrol center. Start Huff at 1B if he looks good and give Belt consistent playing time in Fresno to start the year. Honestly, I don’t think we have the short-term cash to match what Beltran’s looking for on the open market, and it would be fiscally irresponsible to considering our need to lock up Lincecum and Cain. But I digress.

Melky obviously isn’t the big bat that we need to make our offense somewhat respectable, but he is an upgrade. He might not produce the 4.2 WAR he had last season, but I’ll be willing to bet that he can produce 3 WAR for the team, which I’m sure will be more than welcomed on the roster. What’s important to take into account is that this is Sanchez’s last offseason before he becomes a free agent, making it almost necessary to trade him. Now Sanchez might fix some kink in his delivery and produce a 5 WAR season for the Royals, but I’d bet that being a distant possibility with 2-3 WAR season being more of the likelihood. Yes Sanchez has upside, and yes I do believe that he will be become a better pitcher in the future, but given our need for offense, our surplus of pitching, and our tight budget room to pursue better hitting, the trade followed the right strand of logic and I believe Melky will, in the aggregate, be a worthwhile addition to the team. Welcome to the club Cabrera.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Varun permalink
    November 20, 2011 8:05 PM

    So you propose Melky LF, Coco CF, and Sheirholtz RF? Though I find it hard to think that Coco(3.3 fwar), for the money we will have to spend, will be THAT much better than Torres(2.1 fwar).

    • November 20, 2011 8:18 PM

      Well assuming that 1 WAR is roughly equivalent to $5M of value, Coco could arguably be worth the upgrade over Torres.

  2. Gogogogogogrororoo permalink
    November 21, 2011 3:31 AM

    You write this Roy? Love the economic jokes if you did. But you forget that Sanchez has added value of being a lefty. And melky has had a year of feasting on horrendous pitching of AL Central besides Detroit for a third of the games he played. But I see the point you’re making. A decent trade for a team in need of a outfielder.

    • November 21, 2011 4:37 AM

      Good points about Sanchez being a lefty and the AL Central pitching. I read on another Giants blog that according to Fielding Bible’s Plus/Minus system, which is a way of calculating the value of defense, because of the Giants pitching, batters only need to score like 8.5 runs instead of the typical 10 runs to earn a win so Melky’s value should even out I think transitioning to the NL West. Appreciate the comments Goro.

  3. Justin permalink
    November 22, 2011 10:37 PM

    Great read!


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