Over the last two weeks, Melky Cabrera has hit .377. He has 20 hits, 10 RBI, and 4 SB during that time. He’s having the best year of his career with a line of .281/.340/.430 and a wOBA of .337. When one considers his ’08 season, it’s safe to say that Melky has rebounded. However, for discussion’s sake, how does one explain Melky’s resurgent year?
Well, in order to “get” Melky’s 2009, we must first look to his 2008 season. Last year, when Melky hit a disappointing .249, one of his biggest problems was that he had deserted what had worked for him in previous seasons. In 2006-7, Melky was keeping the ball on the ground. His ground ball to fly ball ratio in ’06 was 1.48. He didn’t have much power then so keeping the ball out of the air and on the ground worked for him. In 2007, he continued that trend and had a ground ball to fly ball ratio of 1.75. He had actually cut down on his fly ball rate and had increased his ground ball rate. It worked in ’07 as Melky hit .273 and put together a solid campaign.
However, in 2008, things began to unravel. Last season, his ground ball to fly ball ratio was 1.33—the lowest it had ever been as a full-time player. Melky was trying to lift more balls and ended up hurting himself in the process (for instance, his infield fly ball percentage skyrocketed to 15.3% after being a mere 11.6% in 2007). That year, only Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi—the two primary power hitters—had higher fly ball percentages (in 200 PA’s or more). Given his skill set, Melky should have been emulating Derek Jeter or Robinson Cano rather than A-Rod and Giambi.
In 2009, Melky has, essentially, corrected the problem. This year, his ground ball to fly ball ratio is 1.65. His fly ball percentage is 30.2%—down nearly 5% since 2008, while his ground ball rate is up. In fact, his 49.9% rate leaves him second only to Derek Jeter. He has also added some power to his repertoire, too, as 10.7% of his fly balls have ended up being home runs. In previous seasons, that rate had not surpassed 6.5%. Therefore, while he is keeping the ball on the ground—for the most part—his fly balls are more valuable in 2009 (one could tie that to Yankee Stadium although his splits have evened out over the year).
While I’ve provided a rather long-winded analysis of Melky’s bounceback season, the bottom line is fairly simple. If Melky can keep the ball on the ground while limiting his fly ball rate, then he’ll continue to be a useful big league hitter. That’s what we’ve seen in 2009 and that is what has worked for him in the past. When he tries to deviate from that formula, things become problematic for him. This, of course, can change if he matures as a hitter and develops some more power, but, until then, he should stick with what works.
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