Thursday, April 17, 2008

Good Cabrera vs. Bad Cabrera

I wouldn't dig in there if I were you. I don't know where it's going. I swear to God.
- Crash Davis

I don't think all these PITCHfx posts will have the the same title but the title certainly fits for Danny.

Today, I'll be looking at Daniel's poor start on April 2nd and his fine (well, better) start on April 12th. The bonus here is that he pitched both games against the Tampa Bay (devil)Rays so both games are against nearly identical lineups.

First, his pitch movement on both starts:

Two things are immediately noticeable. First, the fact that he threw almost nothing but fastballs his second time seeing the Rays lineup (which we already knew). Second, his fastball was much more lively during the second game. The horizontal break on 4/12 is nearly five inches more severe. And while his slider was quite lively during his first start is was nearly straight in the second. (Those blue plots on the lower right on the second chart can't possibly be changeups. I'm assuming they are curveballs mislabeled by the PITCHfx system.

Now the placement of Cabrera's pitches. I've added a very rough estimation of the strike zone to these plots.

Well, it's no wonder that great breaking slider didn't help him much in the first start; he couldn't control it at all!

Obviously, his pitch location is a little more focused during the second game. Yes, he's throwing more strikes but when he misses it's not by as much or it seems to be with purpose as he misses to particular spots.

Tampa's lineup is very lefty heavy so he's missing away or up and away from Carl Crawford and the like. But he's not afraid to come inside with that fastball against righties either which has to be pretty intimidating.

Is this why he's had some of his best performances against lineups loaded with lefties? When he's on that 94 mph fastball breaks with some significance away from lefties inducing weak waves, foul balls and weak grounders to short. If it breaks inside on righties, better hitters can still turn on those pitches or more easily identify it as a ball.

So is this the new (old) formula for Danny? Even in the second game he couldn't place his changeup for strikes at all. With very limited use he was able to get his slider over but his fastball, even with nothing else contrasting it, is nearly unhittable.

The Tampa Bay announcers observed (correctly) that Cabrera is a horrible fielder and they didn't know why more teams didn't bunt on him to put more pressure on his defense skills. The problem is, that fastball is so lethal and lively that it's hard to even bunt the ball! The Rays tried that night and couldn't lay down a single successful bunt in fair territory, not even for a sacrifice.

Rick Kranitz has a reputation for focusing on what his pitchers do best and not trying to make them do things they aren't good at. With a fastball so wicked, maybe he's letting Daniel throw his best pitch almost exclusively and just trying to tweak the accuracy. It makes sense. If a guy hasn't mastered control of his best pitch, what are the odds he's going to be able to learn a new one?

And some wildness helps Cabrera. He got a ton of strikes on balls he threw out of the strike zone.

This is all probably much ado about nothing (with Cabrera it usually is) but I'd be curious to see what strategy he takes against another lefty heavy lineup...the Yankees...on Friday.

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