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 has an wOBA of .350, which is a career high and 10th among all qualified center fielders. Typically worse from the right side, he is hitting lefties at a .303/.378/.525 clip. In the field, his UZR is -.2, but is .8 in center. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers to identify exactly what is behind the resurgence of Melky Cabrera.
Power: Melky is driving the ball with more regularity, as evidenced by his 20.5% line drive rate, which is the highest of his career. This has lead to an ISO of .169 and a SLG of .457, both career highs by a large margin. While some would suggest that he has been helped by Yankee Stadium, as he has 7 home runs at home and 3 on the road, his slugging numbers are actually pretty similar at home (.463) and on the road (.449), and his OPS is slightly higher on the road(.811 v. .806). Of course, the question remains, what has caused this increase in power? Why is Melky hitting more line drives? I think the next section can help uncover some answers.
Plate Discipline: Melky’s changed approach at the plate has been apparent to the naked eye. He seems less anxious at the plate, and has become less prone to swinging at a pitch near his eyes, something that had plagued him for much of his career. The numbers support this observation. Melky is walking at his highest rate since 2006 (9.3%), and is seeing slightly more pitches per PA (3.9) than he has in the past. He has also brought his K-rate (12.9%) back to 2006 levels after having it balloon on him last season. His O-Swing % (percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the zone) is his lowest since 2006 (24.6%). Pitchers can no longer throw pitches in the dirt or at Melky’s eyes and expect him to swing, which makes it more likely that he will see some good pitches to hit.
What do these numbers tell us? They suggest that Melky has become a bit more selective at the plate this season when compared to his last two abysmal seasons. This has lead to more walks, fewer strikeouts, and is allowing him to wait for his pitch and drive the ball with regularity. Is this turnaround sustainable? Who knows. It is important to remember that he is only 24. We often forget that Melky was in the majors for good at 21, and view him as a finished product. Considering that many players do not even see the majors until they hit Melky’s current age, it is difficult to say that he has reached his ceiling, or that his performance thus far is a fluke. It is reasonable to suggest that Melky could possibly have had another gear than what he had shown prior to 2009, and that he is just now realizing some of his potential.
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 solid season thus far, and his at-bats are no longer a sight to avoid. Another month or two 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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