Sheehan: Melky’s break-out potential


In a piece available to non-Baseball Prospectus subscribers, Joe Sheehan talks about his break-out candidates for 2008. Making the list is none other than our own Melky Cabrera, and Sheehan likes what he sees:

Cabrera is listed at 5’11” and 200 pounds. He’s not Willy Taveras, but rather a player who should be developing power and learning how to drive the ball, rather than hitting the ball on the ground 60 percent of the time.

I’m reminded of Alex Rios, who doesn’t look a thing like Cabrera. Rios was largely disappointing in 2004 and 2005, hitting just 11 homers in more than 900 at-bats, with an isolated power of 117. The problem: Rios was hitting the ball on the ground too much, a 1.82 G/F in those two seasons. Starting in ’06, Rios put the ball in the air more than half the time, and became a star. When you look at Cabrera’s body, his established control of the strike zone, and his ability to hold his own at a young age, you recognize that all it’s going to take is for him to start elevating the ball. Cabrera may not get there in 2008, but he’s going to pop 80 extra-base hits and slug .500 in a season very, very soon.

Where to begin? Where to begin?

First off, if Melky is 5’11” and 200 pounds, then I’m 6’3″, 220. And trust me; I’m more like 5’9″, 170 in real life. While Melky may be listed at a robust 5’11” and 200, I’ve heard from people who have seen him that Melky Cabrera is not that tall. Now, usually, a player’s height doesn’t matter, but when Sheehan starts comparing Cabrera to the 6’5″ Alex Rios who has a fairly substantial wing span, something is not right.

But putting aside height, let’s look at the numbers. Melky Cabrera has a career slugging percentage of .388. His Minor League mark is .422, and for 135 plate appearances in AAA in 2006, Melky slugged .566. That’s the only time in his career his slugging percentage at any level of the game has topped .462. That is a far, far cry from .500.

Meanwhile, Baseball Prospectus’ own PECOTA doesn’t put Melky anywhere close to .500 “very, very soon.” At best, Melky looks to slug below .440 during his age 26 season. Those numbers will head south after his 2007 numbers are added to the equation. That too is a far, far cry from .500, and anything more than four years from now isn’t really “very, very soon.”

It’s no secret that we are skeptical of Melky Cabrera’s long-term outlook as a Major Leaguer. He’s never profiled to anything more than a 4th outfielder, and he has yet to show anything at any level to suggest otherwise. Feel free to point to Sheehan’s statement as an indication that we’re wrong about Melky, but when history is on our side, I bet our assessment is closer reality than the prediction that Melky will suddenly develop into one of the game’s best power hitters “very, very soon.”

Categories : Analysis
  • dan

    I feel snubbed :(

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      Dan: If I had to hat-tip everyone who sent this to me today, I think this post would have another 300 words at the end of it. It wasn’t personal.

      • dan

        Didn’t realize… My bad.

  • http://www.thebronxstop.com Mark McCray

    Don’t be so quick to dismiss Melky. This kid is only going to get better. He may never exactly be “one of the elite” power hitters in the game but like Sheehan said:

    “When you look at Cabrera’s body, his established control of the strike zone, and his ability to hold his own at a young age, you recognize that all it’s going to take is for him to start elevating the ball.”

    I have complete confidence that Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, and most importantly Kevin Long will do nothing but improve Melkys batting prowess. Stats aren’t everything (in my opinion). Give Melky a chance. :-) Great Blog guys!!!

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

    Melky has never struck me as patient at the plate. He hacks at alotta balls over his head.

    • Yankee Fan in Chicago

      Yeah. I think Sheehan missed the 07 season. Melky did have plate discipline in 06, but that was out of character given his minor league careeer. He reverted to form in 07.

      I’ll eat my shoe if he becomes a Rios type hitter.

  • trevor

    he did hit a big home run against cleveland in the alds, if that means anything. I still hate thinking about that fucking series.

  • mooks

    Strange, but one of my biggest gripes with Melky is his lack of discipline at the plate. It struck me as improving, but still not very good.

    He has an overly aggressive approach to hitting. I think if he worked at it, and refined that part of his game, he could hit for average, but his body size doesn’t suggest real power potential and neither does his type and style of swing. Here they are talking about his putting the ball in the air more, (i.e. adding loft to his swing), but that is a major fundamental change for a line drive and slap style hitter and trying to do so may cause more harm then good.

    I like Melky and could see him as a everyday leadoff hitter, or a solid 4th outfielder, but lets not start making him into something he isn’t.

  • http://mybaseballbias.com Jason

    Considering his age, I think it would be a mistake to simply say he’s not very good, never will be and anyone who disagrees is wrong.

    Having said that, slugging .500 is a tall order for any player considering only 38 players who qualified for the batting title in 2007 slugged .500 or better.

  • Joe

    What the hell is this guy talking about? I don’t know much about this guy and his credibility, where in God’s name does this guy get he impression Melky will do this. Has he even seen Melky play the game of Baseball. I imagine Melky will get better, but 500, really, this guy really believes that.? Are you sure this isn’t supposed to be a joke.

  • Rich

    If he remains in CF, all he has to do to be league average is to put up an OPS of approximately .788. I think it’s likely that he can do at least that.

    When you couple that with the fact that he is cost-controlled, he has value and should only be moved for another valuable asset, which I would consider doing as soon as A-Jack is ready.

  • Lanny

    Yea, a 22 yr old who forces his way into the starting CF job for the Yankees and beats out a relegates two all stars to other roles. He profiles as a bench player?

    Give the kid some space and some time here. What are you looking for? Mickey mantle?

  • Lanny

    Sheehan is also saying he has the potential to slug 500 and better. He never said it was going to be in ’08.

    When guys are 21 and in the big leagues sometimes it takes a little patience for all the facets of the hitting game to come to fruition.

  • steve (different one)

    we should take it easy on sheehan. he is one of the few analysts out there who is a yankee fan. it seems like most of those guys are sox fans.

    that said, i like melky, but this is delusional.

    80 XBH’s?

    he is basically predicting Melky to be one of the best players in baseball (assuming he sticks in CF), and i think it’s safe to say he isn’t quite that good.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike A.

      Word up.

      A-Rod, Bay, Beltran, Beltre, Vinny Castilla, Dunn, Edmonds, Fielder, Granderson, Helton, Howard, Holliday, Derek Lee, Magglio, Manny, Ortiz, Pujols, Aramis Ramirez, Hanley Ramirez, Rollins, Sizemore, Soriano, Teixeira, Tejada, Uggla, Vlad.

      That’s it. Those 27 players are the only players to have 80+ XBH in a season over the last 5 years.

  • dan

    I’m not the oracle (or John Sickels), so I have no idea if Melky will reach that level or not. But before saying that him slugging .500 in the near future is crazy, think about what you would have said if Bernie Williams or Roberto Clemente had started their careers in a time when blogs existed. If Clemente’s overall numbers don’t do it for you, click “neutralize stats.”


    Melky’s 10 most comparable players (through age 22) include 3 Hall of Famers and his #1 comp was star whose career was derailed by injuries.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      The B-R.com similarity scores are not statistically viable indicators of future success, and they’re anywhere close to rigorous while PECOTA is much more reliable as predictions go.

      • dan

        I realize that they have significant limitations, but so does my wallet. But regardless of the similarity scores issue, my point about Bernie and Clemente still stand.

      • Rob

        “Player A: Minor League OPS of .822
        Player B: Minor League OPS of .769″

        Seriously? You’re arguing about a difference of 50 points? Meanwhile, Bernie is surely helped by:

        Year 21 – .281 .409 .414 (466 AB – AA)
        Year 22 – .294 .372 .458 (306 AB – AAA)

        Yeah, except by those seasons Melky was already a full-time MLer.

        Let’s see –

        Minor League Stats –
        Player A: .305 .375 .406
        Player B: .294 .344 .422

        You must not be very high on Player A then.

        Player A = Jose Tabata
        Player B = Melky Cabrera

        Melky had a step back in 2007 only to the extent he tired down the stretch. Who knows what the future holds? But I wouldn’t be so quick to pat yourselves on the back.

  • Jeff

    Love Melky to death – probably because I’m impartial to the arm – but yeah… Melky is a hacker compared to Rios who has one of the most beautiful swings in the game.
    Plate discipline? maybe stats show it but just from my eye to the games – he is on when he’s on but cold and swinging at shit when he’s not.

  • steve (different one)

    Rios is actually a pretty good comp for Bernie (except Rios has a cannon, and Bernie had, well….) melky? not so much. but here’s hoping…

  • mehmattski

    Yeah I was rather disappointed at the lack of statistical rigor applied to the article. I already have a (soon to expire) BP subscription, but if that’s the article they’re pulling people in with, I predict a drop in sales…

    PECOTA, to me, seems like a big fancy way of demonstrating “regression to the mean.” I can get solid analysis from Baseball Analysts, The Hardball Times, and Baseball Musings (not to mention blogs like RLYW and this one) for free. Sheehan’s article is representative of the quality of work this off-season at BP, and I may not renew my subscription.

    • http://yankeesetc.blogspot.com/ Travis G.

      all the projection systems seem like this. a player has a great year, he’ll regress the next. he sucks one year, he’ll improve a bit the next. he’s over 30, he’ll regress a bit. he’s under 30, he’ll improve a bit.

      i know a lot more goes into it, but that’s the gist of it.

  • http://www.thebronxzoo.wordpress.com iYankees

    If Melky can hit 12 homers in a season, I’d be surprised.

    • RollignWave

      Considering that in 06 he hit 11 between AA and MLB, i’ll put my money on that you’ll be surprised pretty soon.

  • CB

    I think Sheehan had his Yankee colored glasses on when he was writing up that bit on Melky.

    But that said you guys at RAB are becoming a bit overzealous in your point on Melky not being that good (Steve Lombardi and Brian Cashman are starting to come to mind…)

    Yeah, he’s most likely never going to be an all star. But at the same time to keep saying he is nothing more than a “below average player” is a bit misleading.

    He’s 23 and plays centerfield. If he could only play a corner outfield spot the criticisms of melky would be valid – he would be nothing more than a below average, 4th outfielder. If he was 28 the criticism would have more substance.

    But to criticize Melky to the degree RAB does is to implicitly overrate how good offensive production is from the center field position.

    He had a .718 OPS last season – not very good, but its not horrendous. It is “below average” for center field but its not so far below average that you couldn’t reasonably expect melky to become at least an average offensive centerfielder to go along with above average defense. The median OPS for centerfielders with at least 400 at bats last year was around .760. That’s not that much of a gap from a .718 OPS from a 22 year old.

    He doesn’t have great tools. But there’s a high probability that he’ll be at least a league average centerfielder who will hold down the position well until hopefully jackson can take over. If he proves that he’s at least league average or a little better over the next year or two he’ll have decent trade value.

    Melky’s not the reason the yankee’s aren’t winning world championships.

  • Rob

    I really surprised with folks here. First, with the certainty. Melky has 2 seasons under his belt going into his year 23 season. Given how far his stock has fallen, and what he’s already shown at a very young age, a breakout is certainly possible. That’s Sheehan’s point. Second, the best stat Sheehan gives is that ground ball ratio. He’s absolutely right. IF Melky starts to elevate the ball, a .500 SLG is very much doable (maybe not 80 XBHs though). Still, a .500 SLG from Melky would be extremely valuable in CF and when he’s going right he does seem to elevate the ball much better. That tells me the learning is very possible for someone so young.

    And I love the blog and Bernie/Clemente comment. Absolutely people get ahead of themselves in assuming so much more than what they know. This blog exists in 1991 and Bernie is a bust ready to be shipped out.

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Ben K.

      Let’s play a game, and in doing so, I’ll tell you why we wouldn’t have written off Bernie.

      Player A: Minor League OPS of .822, scouts love him and see him a future All Star.
      Player B: Minor League OPS of .769, scouts like his enthusiasm but don’t his skills or physical body lending him a long and productive career at the same levels as Player A.

      Melky is not the next Bernie, and we just wouldn’t have written off Bernie Williams at age 23. But, hell, even the Yankees were ready to write off Bernie at one point. Right now, they’re sticking with Melky. Maybe we’ll be wrong; I’d be happy to admit that in two years. We’re just not optimistic.

      • Rich

        Melky doesn’t have to be the next Bernie Williams or project to having 80+ XBH to have significant value. All he has to do is what I posted above.

      • Rob

        Sorry – posted this reply in the wrong place:

        “Player A: Minor League OPS of .822
        Player B: Minor League OPS of .769?

        Seriously? You’re arguing about a difference of 50 points? Meanwhile, Bernie is surely helped by:

        Year 21 – .281 .409 .414 (466 AB – AA)
        Year 22 – .294 .372 .458 (306 AB – AAA)

        Yeah, except by those seasons Melky was already a full-time MLer.

        Let’s see –

        Minor League Stats –
        Player A: .305 .375 .406
        Player B: .294 .344 .422

        You must not be very high on Player A then.

        Player A = Jose Tabata
        Player B = Melky Cabrera

        Melky had a step back in 2007 only to the extent he tired down the stretch. Who knows what the future holds? But I wouldn’t be so quick to pat yourselves on the back.

        • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

          Jose Tabata could out-hit Melky using a Wiffle ball bat. With players this young you can’t only look at the results, it’s about the process. Tabata’s a far better hitter when it comes to the tools – his approach, his ability to recognize breaking pitches, the ability to center the ball, etc.

  • Rob

    Take a look at Melky’s year:

    Apr .200 .238 .213 .451
    May .254 .338 .424 .762
    Jun .298 .364 .447 .811
    Jul .368 .410 .528 .939
    Aug .306 .350 .468 .818
    Sep .180 .236 .220 .456

    Yeah, so Melky puts up a .320 .370 .475 for 3 months of his year 22 season? And that’s a problem for people? Sure, I’m dropping his slow start and weak finish, but those are easy to attribute to age. It’s very easy to read the former as getting his swing back and the latter as fatigue. Once he got going, there was nothing to argue with nor could you consider his performance fluky.

    You read it here first: Melky is the RF for 2009 (so long as they don’t trade him).

  • RollignWave

    I think while Sheehan definately went wayyy over the top on the Rios comp. many seem to downgrade Melky way too much too. I’m not sure what the expectation people have for a starting CF is, but the league average for them was around 97 OPS+ in terms of mean and 88 in terms of median. so if your looking at median then yeah more than half the guys that trouted out there in 07 were actually WORSE than 22 year old Melky. while looking at the means suggest that while he wasn’t as good as a average starting CF he’s not exactly far.

    There are certainly teams that started guys worse or not much better(and older) than Cabrera in 07. Bill Hall, Coco Crisp, Jim Edmonds, Juan Pierre just to name some. by hardball time’s RC measurement only 15 guys beat him last year in CF. which meant that half the teams cant even get 1 guy to out do him.

    Despite whiffing in ugly fasihion from time to time, he was actually te hardest Yankee to strike out amoung the guys that played significant time. his low OBP was partially due to the fact that Torre called him to bunt a lot more than everyone else on the team (he lead the team in SH and was second in SF )

    I think he’ll at least crack double figures in HRs soon enough. that ‘s not awsome but that certainly have tremendous value when the guy is under team control.

    I just can’t understand how some seem to suddenly downgrade him to Bubba Crosby and then at the same time think Brett Gardner can outdo him. neither are true. Melky Cabrera IS a good 4th OF fringe starting CF RIGHT NOW at the age of 22. it is unreasonable to think he’ll be a big star but it’s just as unreasonable to think he can’t at least improve a little which would push him into the decent starting CF territory.

    I doubt he’ll hit for signifcantly more power. but 12-15 isn’t really a reach and he’s likely to maintain high average and decent OBP with that low whiff rate and pretty good P/PA ratio (3.7 last year… same as Derek Jeter and just a tick below A-rod and Posada ) .. a .300/.360/.450 guy isn’t a huge reach for him.

    • dan

      Agreed on everything except for Gardner’s potential… I think you’re selling him a little short.

      • RollignWave

        I think Gardner is certainly capable of being a good 4th OF and mayyybe even a starting CF, but to expect that he should be able to plug Melky immediately is unreasonable, speed guys tend to have longer adjustment periods and Gardner has already shown that tendency in the minors.

        I like Gardner, I just don’t like his chances if he ‘s up fulltime in 08. he strikes me as a guy that ‘s certainly going to take a while to adjust.

        My biggest reasoning in that post was pointing out the obvious irony in selling Melky short while having full confidence in Gardner.

  • RollignWave

    AAA i mean.

  • Barry

    Size doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how many hits you can get or how much pop you can put behind a ball. I also think it takes away from the article that you say you’ve “heard” from others that “he’s not that tall.” I’m 6’1″, if I stand next to my friend who’s 6’3″ I look like I’m 5’10”. Maybe its just me but you’re shitting on a kid with a lot of potential. Just like everyone was shitting on Eli until he played the Patriots, you’re proving nothing to accomplish nothing.

  • Jorge Steinbrenner

    “Melky as 4th fourth outfielder” seems to be this site’s “there’s weapons of mass destruction in Iraq!”

    meanwhile, Melky had about a gazillion assists out there in CF last year.

  • Will

    I think I have to back up the post the referenced Melky’s splits. But more simply, here are Melky’s sOPS+ figures from April through September: 25, 104, 114, 147, 111, 19. At age 22, it is very reasonable to assume that Melky will improve on his slow starts and hit-the-wall finishes. Because he has been around since 2005, I think most people assume he is older even though they know he is only 22.

    If Melky gets stronger and figures out how to take advantage of the short porch in right, I think he will easily reach a .450 SLG. If he can make it that far, then .500 doesn’t sound that far fetched.

  • Bo

    They’re discussing trading Melky for Johan Santana.

    How the heck has his stock dropped?

    • http://riveraveblues.com Mike A.

      That’s more a matter of who the Yanks are willing to give up than who the Twins want. He’s not the centerpiece of the deal either, and if the Twins had their way he’d be the 3rd guy in the package (at best) behind Phil and IPK.

  • Bo

    He might not be the center of the deal but that doesn’t mean his stock has dropped.

    If his stock dropped they wouldnt even be discussing him in the deal.

    You want to talk stock drops call the Mets and see Mike Pelfrey.

    And a 3rd guy behind PH and IPK ain’t too shabby is it?

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

  • Ben B.

    “Because we won’t tear down Yankee Stadium” –> “Because we insist that the Yankees go sign a second premiere CF, since Damon has fallen off a cliff and Melky is just a 4th OF”

    I am perfectly fine with Melky patrolling CF for the next two years until Ajax is ready or a better FA option becomes available. I do not think he will ever be an All-Star, but he can certainly be league average. He’s just entering his Age 23 season for Christ’s sake.