Friday, January 25, 2008

The Crystal Ball '08: Daniel Cabrera

Before I start this post, let me just admit that I'm a sucker.

I'm deluded and unrealistic. I am overcome by wishful thinking. I am looking through rose colored glasses and I am an overly optimistic fool.

When it comes to Daniel Cabrera.

Before last season, Cabrera's strong finish in 2006 and the prospect of getting a full Spring Training with Leo Mazzone had me positively upbeat about his prospects for 2007.

While there were some good things about Cabrera's season, it was (obviously) poor overall. He allowed a career high (by far) 24 homeruns, his strikeout rate dropped, he posted a 5.55 ERA and he lost 18 games.

The bright side? He posted the lowest walk rate of his career (4.5/9 IP, a huge improvement over the 6.7 he posted in 2006), topped 200 innings pitched and struck out a career high 166 batters.

The real regression for Cabrera was all those homeruns he gave up. One of his strengths over his perplexing career is that he was at least able to keep the ball in the park. It's what has helped him survive all those walks. Last year he gave up homers at a rate that was 40% higher than his career average.

According to Hit Tracker, Cabrera gave up 8 homers that had "just enough" to get out of the park and two of those were "lucky" homers (homeruns that were aided so much by the weather that they would not have been out of the park in neutral conditions). You can't take all those homers away but it is reasonable to assume that if things had gone as they normally would that he probably would've given up somewhere in the neighborhood of 19 homers instead of 24 over 34 starts. Much more respectable.

Did you know that Cabrera threw his fastball 75% of the time last season? I thought he had utilized his slider much more than that. Can you believe the guy has gotten this far into his career with basically a fastball and no real secondary pitch? That how good that fastball is. According to Roch Kubatko, Cabrera is throwing his changeup a lot in the Dominican Winter League this offseason. This is good news considering he only threw it about 2% of the time in 2007. Does this signal a change in Cabrera's pitching philosophy? If he can mix in his slider and a passable changeup this year, he could be unstoppable.

And this may be my undying optimism talking again but I really think Cabrera just had an off year in 2007. He wasn't great to begin with and he looked really bad during that down year. It happens to all pitchers but looked really bad on Cabrera.

There are only two possibilities for Daniel Cabrera this season: he will either improve as a starter or will end up in the bullpen, trying to reinvent himself as a closer. He will probably break my heart but I think he will make strides, maybe big strides as a starter. I'm thinking he tops 200 IP, posts a 4.50 ERA, racks up 180 strikeouts and cuts down on the longballs.

Yes, I am crazy. And a sucker.

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