Justifying my position: Melky Cabrera

T-Shirts for some third-world countries
How to manage the bullpen without really trying

Lots of disagreeing in Yankeeland nowadays; streaks of poor hitting and pitching down the stretch tends to do that to us. Everyone is going to have a different opinion on each individual player, but it seems we’re to the point of thinking less of one another because of our various opinions. For instance, one commenter suggest that the only bad thing about this site is our collective view on Melky. Well, let’s take a look at Mr. Cabrera month to month:

April: .200/.237/.213 in 75 AB

People were coming to Melky’s defense in April, saying that he needed regular playing time to get in a groove. Yeah, that’s all fine and good, but he had one more at bat than Jorge Posada in April, so he can’t be complaining too much about limited playing time.

May: .254/.338/.424 in 59 AB

So the “he needs more consistent playing time” crew was proven wrong this month. Not a terrible line, and I appreciate the eight walks and five XBH over his 59 AB. You’d like to see more than a .254 BA from a slap hitter, though.

June: .298/.364/.447 in 94 AB

If this was normal Melky, I’d have no problem whatsoever with him starting in center. So you chalk up April to a poor streak, May is a slight recover, and June is the real Melky. However, we just don’t know if this is the real Melky. July will provide a case in this favor, however.

July: .368/.410/.528 in 106 AB

Clearly an outlier for Melk, but we’ll take it. Once again, if he has one month like this, one month like May, and the rest of the months like June over the course of the season, he’s a winner.

August: .306/.350/.468 in 111 AB

Perfect. Just like June.

September: .186/.234/.221 in 86 AB — and that counts last Saturday, when you all were calling us out on being harsh on Melky

So what are we to believe now? He had two torrid months, two solid months, and two horrid months. That’s not what you’re looking for out of a starting center fielder. Yes, he’s young, and could certainly adapt better in coming years. Part of our problem with Melky, though, is his approach, which is not seen in the results.

It’s hard to define approach, but the gist of Melky’s is that he swings at everything. Clearly an exaggeration, it speaks to Melky’s tendencies to think he has to swing at every pitch that is near the zone, regardless of the count. A good hitter in those situations might take a strike if it’s not a particularly good one (low and outside, for example). After all, it’s not like his at bat will be over if the ump calls a strike. But Melky swings at a lot of those pitches, and many of them go for easy outs.

I wish there was a month-by-month breakdown of this data, but check out Melky’s Baseball Reference page. Click on the Pitch Data option. Now you can see a breakdown of what Melky did at the plate, pitch by pitch.

All his numbers are moving in the wrong direction from last year. The ones I want to note are his percentages of strikes looking, his percentage of pitches swung at, and the percentage of times he’s swung at the first pitch — plus some count data.

Percentage of strikes looking: 26%, down from 29% last year. To me, that says that he’s swinging at more pitches that are near the zone, rather than holding back and hoping for a better pitch. Yeah, you have to swing with two strikes, but it’s not like Melky strolls up to the plate already in an 0-2 hole (though it may seem that way sometimes).

Percentage of pitches swung at: 48%, up from 43% last year. This not insignificant. This is Melky swinging at 5% more pitches than last year — in a year he’s already seen nearly 250 more pitches. So that’s 823 pitches he swung at last year, vs. 1037 this year. If Melky is going to be consistent, he’s going to have to take more pitches, strikes or not.

Percentage of times swung at the first pitch: 28% up from 23% last year. Yet again, another 5% gain on last year. This is not good. That means he has swung at the first pitch in 166 of his 596 plate appearances. And Joe Torre has the audacity to put this guy in the leadoff spot? By contrast, Johnny Damon — who everyone has ripped on this year — has swung at 11% of the first pitches in his 587 plate appearances: just 64 times. That’s a leadoff hitter. Also by contrast, Damon has seen 34% of his strikes in the looking fashion, and has swung at just 41% of all pitches.

As for count data, he’s seen 3-0 counts just 4% of the time (down from 6 last year), 2-0 counts 13% of the time (down from 15 last year), and 3-1 counts 8% of the time (down from 9 last year).

I know this is long already, but indulge me as I post Melky’s month-by-month numbers from last year:

May: .318/.392/.394
June: .214/.312/.296
July: .313/.358/.475
August: .311/.397/.453
September: .247/.346/.315

So we’ve seen Melky go from fairly consistent in 2006 to hot and cold, hot and cold in 2007. I don’t think we’re at all in the wrong for criticizing Melky. He had a couple of good months, but his September is putting a real blemish on his season. Not to mention that he’s hit .213/.266/.248 since August 15. Not a good line for over a quarter of your season’s at bats (141 AB since 8/15, 531 overall).

Next up: Hideki Matsui

T-Shirts for some third-world countries
How to manage the bullpen without really trying
  • NYFan50

    I don’t think Melky is the most wonderful player in the world. However, he’s young and the best defensive option (by far) that we have in center.

    Before your Matsui post it is interesting to note this item from today’s NY Journal News: “Torre said that his likely postseason lineup would be using Johnny Damon in left field and Hideki Matsui as the designated hitter.” (http://www.nyjournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070926/SPORTS01/709260414/1035/SPORTS)

  • Batty

    I’d be interested to compare those lines to Abreu who was in a horrible slump at the beginning of the year.

    I think that the number of assists and plays he’s made in the outfield really help balance out a slump – and yeah, he’s slumping badly right now.

    Look at Cano after Long made him hold back. Perhaps Melky needs something similar? He’s young and discipline is something that can easily be taught and trained. He already has the ability to hit.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      I’m not sure everyone can be taught patience and discipline. Look at Juan Pierre. The dude can slap a baseball, but completely lacks discipline. Think about how much that would raise his game.

      Certain players can learn it. Perhaps one needs to be in the right environment to do so. If so, the Yanks certainly do have the best environment to foster such learning.

  • Ron

    While Melky is not someone you would want to build your team around, he fits fine in the Yankees line up (just not in the lead-off position). Maybe he’s just getting tired. He did save our bacon on Saturday.

  • The Scout

    Melky’s numbers suggest strongly fatigue over a long season. He’s played more games than ever before. If I remember correctly, he also played winter ball. The Yankees may want to discourage that this coming off-season.

  • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

    He’s obviously our best defensive outfielder, but I think he’s being over-rated in that regard by some. He takes some fugly routes, and he’s lucked out a few times by making up for it with his arm.

    Melk’s a nice player to have now, but wait a few years when he starts making $3 or $4M per, all of sudden he’s not so great.

    • NYFan50

      In a few years maybe we’ve got AJax out there. Maybe.

  • mehmattski

    Wouldn’t that be two horrid months, THREE solid months, and one horrid month, rather than two/two/two?

    As with the folks who once upon a time suggested trading A-Rod, the question becomes: if not Melky, then who? An outfield of Matsui/Damon/Abreu is much worse defensively, and means that Minky is the all-the-time first baseman, instead of occasionally having Giambi there. Trading CF defense for 1B defense is not a great idea.

    If you’re talking about the future, however… would you then recommend throwing piles of money at Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter this offseason? While giving more money to Posada, Rivera, and A-Rod? And while trying to find a permanent solution at 1B? That would also not be a great idea.

    Instead, Melky and his “inconsistency” stick around as the primary CF/4th outfielder until Austin Jackson comes and takes the job from him right around the time that he’s up for arbitration.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      “Instead, Melky and his “inconsistency” stick around as the primary CF/4th outfielder until Austin Jackson comes and takes the job from him right around the time that he’s up for arbitration.”

      As I said in an e-mail to a couple of friends this morning, as far as I’m concerned, Melky is keeping the seat warm for Ajax.

      I’m not railing against him playing. I’m just saying that his skills with the bat are far over-exaggerated by many fans.

      • mehmattski

        All right, we are pretty much in agreement then. It’s exciting to have a young player make an everyday contribution to the Yankees, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. And maybe Melky will find something (discipline, power) that takes it to another level. And if not, there are other options waiting. At least we won’t have to watch Johnny Damon struggle to throw the ball from deep CF in the new Yankee stadium.

  • http://greenmen.org/skyking162 Sky

    Thanks for taking the time to outline Melky’s skills. Good stuff. A few things…

    Consistency, on its own, isn’t really that big of a deal, and it’s not really something players can control. If you want Melky’s bad months to look more like his good months, then you really just want him to improve, not be more consistent.

    .260/.330/.420 league-average
    .280/.360/.391 Melky 2006
    .276/.329/.395 Melky 2007

    Melky’s pretty much league average, slightly above in 2006 and slightly below in 2007. From a center-fielder that’s good. From a center-fielder who plays a good center-field, that’s really good. League-average is about 2 win above replacement. CF is worth about 1 win, and Melky’s skill in CF could be anywhere from 1-3 wins (those 16 assists are sick, but likely won’t happen going forward). That’s a total of 4-6 wins above replacement, better than most people would think.

    As far as Melky’s drop in walk-rate goes, it’s a definitely possibility that he’s just being thrown a lot more strikes. I mean, if he’s going to slug under .400, is there a reason to risk walking him?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      Yes, but having watched most of Melky’s games this year, you can tell that he’s swinging at shit pitches. If he was being thrown more strikes, his average would be up near .300. No doubt he has the ability to slap singles. But yeah, this is an issue where observation is necessary given the limited objective data we have access to.

      • Jersey

        Sky is right on here. We’ve got two almost-full seasons’ worth of at-bats to look at, and it shows basically an average player. No more, no less.

        Despite his relative decline in offensive performance and approach this year, we can expect some improvement, which means we’ll have a slightly above average CF for the next few years. I’ll gladly take that. If Robbie can improve his selection and discipline, why not Melky?

  • http://breakingballs.riveraveblues.com Tommy

    You make interesting points about Melky’s plate discipline. I wonder if you’ve seen this:


    Batting lefty, Melky has made contact with every Pitch FX pitch he has swung at that was in the zone; in fact he leads all left handed batters in this category. Similarly, as a lefty, he is about league average in terms of swinging at pitches outside the zone. He is also above average as a lefty at making contact with balls he /does/ swing at that are out of the zone–he made contact 84% of the time, compared to a 73% league average. In fact, again as a lefty, Melky has swung at a below average number of strikes on non 3-0 pitches.

    Unfortunately, the article does not provide the data for Melky as a righty, but they only make up 158 of his 572 PA this season. I’m not sure Melky needs to improve his discipline as much as you suggest.

  • DKA

    He’s our starting centerfielder and should be for the next 10 years. He’s only going to get better.

    But….wait….Steve Finley can still walk upright! Isn’t he sitting at home?

  • Frank

    Didn’t someone here think they should have traded Melky for Gagne?

    Nah, the kid is legit. He just needs to find consistency in his stroke. He just turned twenty three and meanwhile look where things are in Boston. Melky is better than Crisp and more advanced than Ellsbury. He may not be a top 5 CF, but he’s certainly in the top half. That’s not a bad place to be. If he gets better, great. If not, then they can trade him in a season or two for a Grade B prospect when AJAX is ready.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

      For what it’s worth, I’d take Ellsbury over Melky 100 times out of 100.

      • http://breakingballs.riveraveblues.com Tommy

        Amen to that.

  • steve

    you guys are sure high on AJAX … don’t get me wrong i hope all the best for him but hes not even in AA yet (i know he played a few games there and AAA for the playoffs but still) next year is going to be a big year because AJAX and TABATA will be in AA … i can’t picture the yanks goign with an all home grown staff or an all home grown outfield (assuming ajax and tabata are the real things.) its going to be interesting in the years to come.

  • http://greenmen.org/skyking162 Sky

    My crowning of Melky as a +1 to +3 win CF might be premature. This zone rating system puts him at -1 win this year: http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pfk_WuYpfduzefA8-s0_iYw&gid=6

    UZR had him at about -8 runs over 150 games last year as a corner outfielder.

    That would make Melky about 2 runs above replacement over a full season, about a $5-6 million player on the open market.

  • http://www.redsoxmaniac.com RedsoxManiac

    Hey. I have been reading all of these articles and I am amazed beyond belief. I am a huge Red Sox fan but in my very virgin time ( 3 months ) going through sports blogs I have never seen an equivalent and nearly-objective yet passionate talk about the Sox. A lot of it is just bickering and placing rudimentary analysis ( ie: Manny doesn’t try hard because his average is .290) to hype their opinions. I love reading your blog, and hope your Yankees win so we can have a showdown in the LCS. Keep up the work

  • Pingback: MY BASEBALL BIAS - A BIASED LOOK AT THE NEW YORK YANKEES » Melky Cabrera the next Alex Rios?

  • Pingback: River Ave. Blues » Much ado about Melky

  • Pingback: River Ave. Blues » Twins questioning Melky’s offensive abilities

  • Pingback: Crazy little thing called Melky | River Avenue Blues