Everth Cabrera was a revelation as a Rule 5 pick last year, hitting .255/.342/.361 with 25 steals for the Padres, fresh off an underwhelming .760 OPS in Low-A.
He wasn’t a star by any means, but was something of an average shortstop starter. Given his low salary and the extremely low cost at which he was acquired, Cabrera was a huge find and is a good player to start at short for this young, cost-conscious team.
That said, deeper analysis of Cabrera does reveal one major issue.
Given his reputation as a light-hitting player who couldn’t do much more than slap at the ball and run (and to be fair, he did his 62.7% of his batted balls on the ground), there wasn’t much of a reason for pitchers to get “cute” with Cabrera.
He saw a slightly higher percentage of pitches in the zone (50%) than average (49.3%), and saw a league-average percentage of first-pitch strikes (58.2%).
Why would pitchers not pound the zone even more than that?
Cabrera spent about a third of the year batting eighth, exhibiting a better K/BB ratio there (20/13) than in the leadoff spot (58/29). He did lay off more pitches than average, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be able to maintain that walk rate in another spot in the order, putting him more in the .325-.330 OBP range.
However, location isn’t the only element of pitch selection that pitchers decide. There’s also pitch type, and given Cabrera’s lack of power, pitchers were not afraid to simply challenge him with fastballs, pumping heat 63.1% of the time.
That’s the second-highest percentage of fastballs seen out of the 12 Padres with at least 200 PAs last year, behind David Eckstein, who saw a whopping 73.8%.
Here’s the thing.
Cabrera is a very good fastball hitter, registering 1.12 runs above average per 100 fastballs according to Pitch Type Linear Weights.
However, he flailed against pretty much everything else: sliders (-1.89), cutters (-2.35), curves (-1.17), and changes (-2.17).
I would think that now that Cabrera’s been around the league for a year, the scouting reports will reflect his inability to handle offspeed stuff, and pitchers will pitch to his weaknesses more in 2010, which could hurt his batting average by 20 to 30 points.
Of course, nobody thought he’d adjust from Low-A to the majors, so figuring out offspeed stuff is a comparatively small issue, and it would be silly to just write the 23-year-old off.
I’m just saying that the way he’s pitched, and the way he adjusts to that, is something to keep an eye on in 2010. The ability to handle offspeed stuff could take Cabrera from a Nick Punto career path to a Rafael Furcal career path.
Cabrera has far fewer issues than he did at this time last year, but this is certainly one of them.