As I have said before, Melky Cabrera is a polarizing figure amongst Yankees fans. While most love his exuberance and obvious love for the game, his talent has been questioned by many, including myself. Even when things were going well for Melky in the past, you always felt like the other shoe was bound to drop. he did not seem to have the swing to make consistent solid contact, and his approach at the plate was often awful. Yet all of that has changed. Melky is hitting .328/.374/.492, good enough for 6th in the majors in OPS for center fielders. He has also played an excellent outfield, with a UZR/150 of 19.2. While I would point to last year and say that Melky has started quickly before, the truth is that May is almost over. It will soon be time for us to stop calling it a good stretch and starting calling it a good season. Most importantly, Melky’s approach and ability to drive the ball seem to have improved enough for us to look at his performance and not expect him to totally collapse at some point. From Tyler Kepner:
“He’s hitting the ball hard and seeing a lot of pitches, taking great at-bats,” Long said.
Long said he based that on both personal observation and statistics not quantified in box scores. After every game, Long evaluates each at-bat, like a hitting-coach version of Roger Ebert: thumbs up or thumbs down.
Cabrera, he said, has had 61 percent “good at-bats” this season, the highest percentage of any player on the Yankees. To Long, a good at-bat is defined as any hit, walk or hit-by-pitch, or any at-bat that consumes a lot of pitches or ends in an especially hard-hit ball.
As for those hard-hit balls, Long keeps track of those, too. He said Cabrera has hit the ball hard in 51 percent of his at-bats, also tops on the team. Fifty-one percent is an extremely high figure, he said. By Long’s calculations, a very good hitter will hit the ball on the sweet spot only about 40 percent of the time.
Melky lost his job at the end of 2008 and was told to work on his plate discipline and approach at the plate. By being more selective, he is eating up more pitches per at-bat and making better and more consistent contact. He lost the job coming out of spring training, but it is hard not to be impressed with the way he handled that situation and prepared himself for his opportunity. He has had a wonderful start to the season, and his at-bats are no longer a sight to avoid. A few more weeks of play like this, and I think those of us who did not believe in Melky will be gladly forced to admit that we were wrong. I look forward to it.
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