Up All Night To Vet Melky

Eos is extending her rosy middle finger in our direction, beckoning us to another day of Fantasy futility. Our weekly Fangraphs deadline is here, and once again, we have spent a restless night pondering, weak and weary, the question preoccupying all of Fantasyland: what’s going on with Melky Cabrera?

Since you’ve found your way here, you probably already know all there is to know about Melky, but let’s do a quick review, just for giggles. He turns 31 in August. He had some success early in his career with the Yankees, had an excellent 2011 with the Royals and an even better 2012 with the Giants, producing the highest batting average in MLB. He’d have won the official batting title, but MLB had other ideas after Melky was caught enjoying a mild stimulant composed of arrowroot, cyclopropane, and organic library paste.

He served a suspension, spent much of 2013 on the DL, then came back strong with Toronto last season (.301/.351/.458). He signed a big three-year contract with the White Sox during the off-season, and there was a broad consensus among forecasters about what would happen during 2015: Mild regression to the mean, with a slash line of roughly .290/.340/.440, a dozen or so home runs, about 75 runs scored, and maybe 65 RBIs.

In other words, a player of some Fantasy value, and he went for $10 in the Tout Wars mixed auction (same price as Joc Pederson!) and in the 12th round of the Tout Wars mixed draft. We ourselves got him in the 11th round of our NFBC draft, which was about his average draft position in the NFBC.

But here we are, 57 games into the season, nearly all of which Melky has started, and he’s produced a slash line of .233/.272/.269, including exactly one home run and five other extra base hits. His OBP, as you see, slightly exceeds his slugging percentage; indeed, he’s shown so little power that he appears to be approaching that event horizon where time and space buckle and his slugging percentage actually falls below his batting average.

It’s safe to say Cabrera’s disappointed his Reality Baseball owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and hasn’t inspired warm feelings in White Sox GM Kenny Williams. Williams, by his own account, is the guy who, by virtue of Reinsdorf’s deep pockets and competitiveness, felt able to “pick up the phone and say [to Reinsdorf] ‘Let’s figure out a way to bring Melky Cabrera in.’” We, on the other hand, no doubt like other Cabrera owners throughout Fantasyland, are saying (to ourselves, though if we had Reinsdorf’s phone number we’d say it to him too) “Let’s figure out a way to kick Melky Cabrera out.”

Not so fast, though. We Cabrera owners must tame our emotions and, in the spirit of dispassionate scientific inquiry, ask simply what we can expect from him over the rest of the season, and whether that package of stats is worth hanging on to. And these questions depend on whether there’s anything in Melky’s 2015 performance so far that suggests that his appalling 2015 numbers are who he is at this stage of his career.

Unfortunately for the White Sox, us, and perhaps you, the answer seems to be yes. Here are the things we notice as we study his subatomic stats and compare his career performance to his 2015 numbers: (1) Cabrera, a natural left-hander but a switch hitter, has always done about equally well, and shown equal power, against both flavors of pitcher, whereas (2) his performance against left-handers this season (.096/.125/.096 in 56 plate appearances) has been comically puny; (3) he’s always been able to pull the ball against left-handers, but (4) his pull rate against them has declined dramatically this season; (5) during his salad years of 2011-2012-2014, he feasted on fastballs; the difference between his 2005-2010 performance and his hitting thereafter can largely be accounted for by the difference in how he hit fastballs, but (6) this season he’s seeing more fastballs than he has for a while, and (7) not seeing them very well—he has the lowest wFB/C (fastball runs above or below average per hundred pitches, and we can’t believe this is the stuff we’re spending our time on) in the majors; (8) he is making way less hard contact against both kinds of pitcher than he has before, and (9) when he hits fly balls they’re not going for home runs (1.7% HR/FB), which could be insignificant, except (10) it looks to us from the spray chart that his fly balls, whether home runs or not, just aren’t going as far as they used to.

So here’s what we think we’re seeing: a professional hitter of a certain age and a certain endomorphy that accelerates his decline (we empathize, but somatotype is destiny and life is cruel, even for guys making $14M a year) who can’t make hard contact with fastballs any more, can’t hit them far enough when he does, and can’t even get around on them any more when he’s batting right-handed. Moreover, the increase in the number of fastballs he’s seeing suggests that the other teams in the league have started to figure this out. We think the Melky you’ve seen so far is the Melky you’re going to keep getting. We hope we’re wrong—though we’ve just benched Melky in favor of Randal Grichuk, who may be the best widely-available outfielder (is he really owned in only 3% of leagues?) now that Matt Holliday is hurt, he’s still on our roster for the moment—but we hereby designate him an official Birchwood Brothers Muscular Boy, which means you can drop him if you need the roster spot. And if you’re not persuaded by the foregoing, think Melky will make a comeback, but still can’t stand having him on your team for another instant, we understand.

The Birchwood Brothers are two guys with the improbable surname of Smirlock. Michael, the younger brother, brings his skills as a former Professor of Economics to bear on baseball statistics. Dan, the older brother, brings his skills as a former college English professor and recently-retired lawyer to bear on his brother's delphic mutterings. They seek to delight and instruct. They tweet when the spirit moves them @birchwoodbroth2.

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Dal Kaniels
8 years ago

Best headline of the season. Hilarious.