Monday, June 9, 2008

The Continuing Transformation of Daniel Cabrera

Daniel Cabrera continues his remarkable season. Even if you don't find his results remarkable, it is certainly a remarkable season with respect to how he is reinventing himself. With the help of, I'm going to take a look what's different and where these changes will lead. The blue lines represent league averages, the green lines are Cabrera's performances.

First, his K/9 rate and his BB/9 rate:

The important thing you will notice on these graphs are the three year trends. Cabrera's K rate has dropped from more than 9 per 9 innings to just under 5 per 9 this year. For most pitchers this would be a really bad sign but Cabrera's notoriously high walk rate has also dropped precipitously from off-the-charts bad (literally) to right around league average. Ironically, his K/BB ratio is about the same as it ever was.

So Cabrera gave up some K's for improved control. And that has led to fewer men on base:

But fewer K's mean more balls in play. What's happening with all that extra contact? Well, some of that contact is putting balls over the fence:

This is what concerns me the most about the new Daniel Cabrera. He was always excellent at keeping the ball in the park but that home run rate has spiked. It's not as bad as I thought though. Even with the spike, he's right around league average and as long as that WHIP stays down, he should be OK.

But this is the graph that reflects the real value of the "new and improved" Daniel Cabrera:

Note the three-year rise in Ground Ball Percentage from Cabrera and the corresponding three year drop in Line Drive and Fly Ball Percentage. This is the most telling trend and will be the most valuable component to Cabrera's continued success.

Daniel Cabrera has:

1) Sacrificed strikeouts for better control of his pitches.
2) Pitched to contact more and challenged batters to put the ball in play.
3) Has transformed himself from a struggling strikeout king to a groundball inducing innings eater.

The projections for Cabrera once he finally "got it" always pointed towards a Randy Johnson-type development; power pitcher, lots of strikeouts, periods of sheer dominance of opposing hitters. But dramatically and unexpectedly, he has morphed into a pitcher whose projection looks a lot more like Andy Pettite; moderate strikeouts, lots of groundballs, keeping down the walks! Now how many people would have guessed you could have described Daniel Cabrera as a guy who could keep the walk rates low.

Does this mean Cabrera will become a righthanded version of Andy Pettite? No. The low strikeout rate and the homers given up will prevent him from being a star caliber pitcher. But when you see him in the rotation behind Jeremy Guthrie, Garrett Olson and Matt Albers/Radhames Liz over the next two years? A guy with legitimate number two starter talent in the 3rd or 4th spot in your rotation? That's very valuable.

And last season nobody thought that would be possible.

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