What Is Behind Melky Cabrera’s Turnaround?

Patience is a virtue ... and a requirement
Cuban defectors: an alternative source of pitching help?

This is a guest post by Moshe Mandel from The Yankee Universe.

Melky Cabrera is a polarizing figure amongst Yankees fans. While most love his exuberance and obvious love for the game, his talent has been questioned by many, including myself. Even when things were going well for Melky in the past, you always felt like the other shoe was bound to drop. He did not seem to have the swing to make consistent solid contact, and his approach at the plate was often awful. Yet all of that has changed. Melky has an wOBA of .350, which is a career high and 10th among all qualified center fielders. Typically worse from the right side, he is hitting lefties at a .303/.378/.525 clip. In the field, his UZR is -.2, but is .8 in center. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers to identify exactly what is behind the resurgence of Melky Cabrera.

Power: Melky is driving the ball with more regularity, as evidenced by his 20.5% line drive rate, which is the highest of his career. This has lead to an ISO of .169 and a SLG of .457, both career highs by a large margin. While some would suggest that he has been helped by Yankee Stadium, as he has 7 home runs at home and 3 on the road, his slugging numbers are actually pretty similar at home (.463) and on the road (.449), and his OPS is slightly higher on the road(.811 v. .806). Of course, the question remains, what has caused this increase in power? Why is Melky hitting more line drives? I think the next section can help uncover some answers.

Plate Discipline: Melky’s changed approach at the plate has been apparent to the naked eye. He seems less anxious at the plate, and has become less prone to swinging at a pitch near his eyes, something that had plagued him for much of his career. The numbers support this observation.

Melky is walking at his highest rate since 2006 (9.3%), and is seeing slightly more pitches per PA (3.9) than he has in the past. He has also brought his K-rate (12.9%) back to 2006 levels after having it balloon on him last season. His O-Swing % (percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the zone) is his lowest since 2006 (24.6%). Pitchers can no longer throw pitches in the dirt or at Melky’s eyes and expect him to swing, which makes it more likely that he will see some good pitches to hit.

What do these numbers tell us? They suggest that Melky has become a bit more selective at the plate this season when compared to his last two abysmal seasons. This has lead to more walks, fewer strikeouts, and is allowing him to wait for his pitch and drive the ball with regularity.

Is this turnaround sustainable? Who knows. It is important to remember that he is only 24. We often forget that Melky was in the majors for good at 21, and view him as a finished product. Considering that many players do not even see the majors until they hit Melky’s current age, it is difficult to say that he has reached his ceiling, or that his performance thus far is a fluke. It is reasonable to suggest that Melky could possibly have had another gear than what he had shown prior to 2009, and that he is just now realizing some of his potential.

Melky lost his job at the end of 2008 and was told to work on his plate discipline and approach at the plate. By being more selective, he is eating up more pitches per at-bat and making better and more consistent contact. He lost the job coming out of spring training, but it is hard not to be impressed with the way he handled that situation and prepared himself for his opportunity. He has had a solid season thus far, and his at-bats are no longer a sight to avoid. Another month or two of play like this, and I think those of us who did not believe in Melky will be gladly forced to admit that we were wrong. I look forward to it.

Note by Joe: Ditto those last two sentences.

Patience is a virtue ... and a requirement
Cuban defectors: an alternative source of pitching help?
  • Frank

    Personally, I like Melky and you have to give him credit for persevering over the past couple seasons. He’s not a superstar, but he’s a good, hard nosed player who most, if not all, teams would not mind having.

  • http://bronxbaseballdaily.com Matt ACTY/BBD

    I, for one, keep expecting the other shoe to drop but every time it doesn’t quite drop, I like it.

    • Rob in CT

      My sentiments exactly.

  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    He’s only just about to turn 25. We always forget how young he is…

    • Zack

      it seems forever ago when he was that 21 year old kid who missed that ball in Boston that lead to the inside-the-park-HR

      • Marcus

        I like to think he made up for that when he robbed Manny of that HR in Yankee Stadium playing left field.

        • Zack

          I wasnt holding it against him, just stating that was my first memory of him in the bigs.

    • toad

      Yes. Maybe the simplest explanation is that he’s still learning.

  • A.D.

    I certainly hope that these peripherals are coming from actual changes at the plate and not just some sort of luck.

  • CountryClub

    Yeah, I still don’t have a lot of faith that this recent hot stretch is anything more than luck. Obviously, I hope I’m wrong. I just don’t have much faith in him as an every day player.

    • whozat

      The whole point of the post is that there exists tangible evidence that this is not merely luck.

      Whether or not he can maintain the approach he is exhibiting through his next slump (because all players go through them) is another question.

      He kind of already had a slump for a bit this year, and did play himself out of it, so maybe he can.

      • Salty Buggah

        exactly and we can partially blame his shoulder injury for that

  • Drew

    Hate to say I told ya so, ahhh who am I kidding, I love it!
    Told ya so!
    Last year was merely a bad year which should have been expected coming from such a young player who was rushed through the minors. I’m not saying Melky is going to hit 290ish for the rest of his career, we can’t really predict that, but I can say that Melk is much better than many of you gave him credit for.

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      You sound kind of like Little Bill.

      • Salty Buggah

        hehe he does but Drew is like Melky biggest fan.

      • Drew

        Hey, I got beat over the head by Ben and RAB readers all winter for saying Melky was a good player and he just had a down year. It feels good that he hasn’t proven me wrong.

        • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

          I believe you.

          That was just the first person I thought of when I read that post though.

  • ChrisS

    I’ve always liked Melky, but was growing tired of the fantastic April followed by a precipitous drop-off. I felt that the best move the Yankees could make would be to trade him while he had some value.

    I don’t know anymore. A 110 OPS+ kind of guy with his defense in CF/RF wouldn’t be the end of the world.

    • Chris

      You do realize that that his great April followed by a precipitous drop only happened once?

      • http://farm1.static.flickr.com/153/413671602_daded72a81_m.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        To be fair, Melky had a pretty rough June that was reminiscent of his 2008 post-April slump.

        .225 AVG
        .312 OBP
        .375 SLG
        .687 OPS

        So you can’t really kill people for worrying that it was happening again, a second time. This time, thank Mo, he pulled out of it.

        • Spaceman.Spiff

          Wasn’t that when his shoulder injury happened? I can give him a pass on that if that’s when the slump happened.

          • http://farm1.static.flickr.com/153/413671602_daded72a81_m.jpg The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

            I guess… I didn’t bring it up to knock Melky at all, I just brought it up to show that it wasn’t exactly insane to have gotten nervous about another precipitous drop-off this season. I would imagine many reasonable and patient people felt like they were experiencing a bit of 2008 deja vu when Melky put up those numbers in June.

  • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

    Melky has had a great year for the Yanks. He has turned a position that the fans originally thought might be little more than a black hole into, with the aid of Brett Gardner, a surprising strength of the team. Good job Melky.

  • Salty Buggah

    It’s very appropriate that this post on Melky’s improvement came immediately after the post about being patient with prospects. The Yanks have been pretty patient with Melky (remember, he didn’t get all that much time at AAA to develop so he was kinda forced to develop in the Majors) and are reaping the benefits now.

    I love Melky but I’m still afraid of him falling off the cliff again so hopefully, Melky keeps producing consistently from here on.

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      It seems RAB may have jumped the gun on the digging of Melky’s grave. Even now, when he plays well, they take jabs at him. For example, when he hit for the cycle, Joe still mentioned that Melky failed to come through with the bases loaded with 2 outs. :)

      Please ignore this comment if Melky nosedives from here on in.

  • thebusiness


    • Moshe Mandel

      To say that he has had a solid season so far, with a better approach? No one is saying it is definitely for real, just that it is a lot easier to believe he could be a solid player on a winning club.

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)


    • JobaWockeeZ

      The article mentions that Melky has changed is approach this year which could explain why he is doing better than last year. With his new plate discipline and the fact he’s still young means that maybe he won’t suck anymore.

      • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

        Maybe. Hopefully.

    • Chip

      He had Mary Carey in his bed, of course he was premature

  • Chip

    I sure hope that he proves me wrong but long term I feel like Gardner might be the better player. If Melky can keep taking walks and cut down on the GIDP a bit however, he’s clearly got the edge due to his power.

  • Mike HC

    His stats are obviously a bit inflated right now. I’m sure Melky will appreciate you giving a State of the Melky address right after he hit for the cycle though. He is having an excellent year so far, but his current stats are on the high end. I doubt many people here think Melky will finish the year slugging over .450. I do think that Melky is probably about 2 or 3 years away from his prime, so if this is flashes of what he can do on a continual basis somewhere down the line, I’m happy the Yanks didn’t trade him for beans.

    • Moshe Mandel

      You are probably right. I too am a Melky skeptic, but I have to concede that he has surprised me, and his altered approach makes me a bit more a believer. As for the timing, I think it makes sense to look at him now that he has pulled outt of his post April swoon, something he hasn’t done before.

      • Mike HC

        Very true. I have always been a Melky skeptic as well. I guess it is going to take more than 100 games to convince me he can sustain this pace. I always believed he was a Major Leaguer, but didn’t think he would be slugging .457 at this point in the season. As you and Joe stated in the article, while I am not ready to tip my cap to him quite yet, I have to at least start thinking about it.

        • Andy In Sunny Daytona

          If it takes more than 100 games to convince you that he can’t sustain this pace, how many games did it take to disuade you that he wasn’t going to be good?

          • Mike HC

            The first three seasons (409 games) of him slugging .391, .391, and .341. I would not have expected him to be slugging .457 at this point. I expect that number to go down though. He can still be “good” if he slugs .430 though in my opinion. At least good enough for this year.

            • Andy In Sunny Daytona

              That’s fair.

  • The Scout

    I think he has improved to the point where he can be regarded as an excellent 4th outfielder, but that remains his likely ceiling. Jim Callis said that from the beginning, and I think this time he nailed it.

    • Bo

      Not like Callis is Carnac. Everyone here said solid 4th OF. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to see it.

  • Lance

    It’s also a nice story after one about fan patience in young players. Seeing the Yankees giving their young players the chances to develop into contributing players is one of the things I’ve enjoyed most over the last 2-3 years.

  • Lou Fan 260

    Marey Carey is obviously the reason for this turnaround.

    • whozat

      She’s wwaaaaaay better than a slumpbuster.

      • jsbrendog


  • pete

    i think all it will take is for the good managing of cabrera and gardner to get continually good and cheap production out of CF/LF, but i still don’t believe that either fits the bill of the true starting centerfielder on a good team. but their combination of speed, decent power, and excellent defense will make the 3rd and 4th outfielder spots a position of mild strength for years to come, in my opinion, as long as joe g continues to stay a step ahead of their respective hot and cold streaks. if we can get .350+ OBP, 15 HRs, and 40-50 SB a year out of gardbrera, who combined will likely never earn more than $4 mil, i’d be pretty ecstatic. One outfielder with that kind of package is probably at least an $8 million player, i would think. Thats another back-end starter or high-end reliever right there.

    • Chip

      Well therein lies the problem, once Melky starts getting towards the later stages of arbitration, he might start costing more than he’s worth. But we already have the backup plan in Gardner and A-Jax who will be cheap for years to come

  • J Squared

    Melky is definitely younger than we all see him. Maybe he hasn’t reached his ceiling, we all thought he reached his ceiling last year… Thanks Melky. Keep it up.

    • Mike HC

      I see Melky as a guy who won’t reach his ceiling until he is 27 or 28. He has a long way to go. The guy has more than held his own since he was 21. He is still a boy amongst men.

  • YankFan

    You say Melky lost the starting CF job in ST. I think it more accurate to say Gardner won the CF job. Melky did have a real nice spring.

    I’ve liked Melky b/c of his enthusiam & he has stepped it up this year. If he can hit .280 & OBP .335 with solid D & a great arm, I can see him on a championship caliber team. Hopefully, 2009.

  • John Duci

    If Melky Cabrera was on the Redsox he would have gotten traded straight up for V-Mart.

    • jsbrendog

      only after they said he was untouchable because he was so good. then they owuld have caved in to cleveland’s outrageous demand of melky for vmart

    • YankFan

      Not enough. They would have had to throw in Knapp, maybe even LaPorta.

  • Alvaro Espinoza

    Does anyone know who is going down or being DFA today since the Yanks are bringing up Claggett?

    • Rocky Road Redemption (formerly RAB poster)

      Codey Ransom

      • Hola


  • Jake K.

    He may never have quite the same power, but maybe Melky can put up similar numbers to Juan Rivera. He’s having a better age 24 season than Rivera did. When healthy, Rivera has been a productive outfielder. If Melky can match his production while playing center, all the better.

    • Tony

      Juan Rivera is much, much, much better than Melky will ever be. Effing Javy Vazquez.

      • zs190

        Juan Rivera also doesn’t get on the field much, hasn’t he been injured a lot in his career?

      • V

        Juan Rivera: Career: .289/.334/.477/.811 hitter.
        Melky Cabrera: 2009: .288/.351/.457/.808 hitter.

        Yeah, Juan Rivera is ‘much much much better than Melky will ever be’.

        Um…. yeah.

        Add in above average center field defense, compared to Rivera bouncing back and forth from below average to above average to below average to above average in LF/RF (CF earlier in his career). http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=843&position=OF

        Hell, Rivera’s actually a pretty solid comp for Melky.

        • Tony

          I… don’t even know what to say. Just no.

          • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

            What is just no? Either you are overrating Rivera based on one good year or underrating Melky. Their numbers are startlingly similar, and Melky has done it in CF.

            • http://theyankeeuniverse.com Moshe Mandel

              Let me clarify. Melky’s season this year makes him a good comp for Rivera’s career thus far. If Rivera keeps up what he is doing now, Melky obviously does not compare.

        • Mike

          Where do you get off using statistical and logical deduction to counter stupidity?

  • Bo

    Having competition for the spot really helped. Can’t discount that fact. Bout time this team had some young players who could compete instead of just backup filler.

    • YankFan

      Yeah, Cano & Wang really sucked there. How did they ever survive.

  • http://twitter.com/Hopjake Jake H

    I hope that he keeps it up.

  • Alvaro Espinoza

    I rather have Javy Vazquez than Juan Rivera any day

  • TheLastClown

    Maybe Melky could be a corner OF solution for next year?

    I know that having Melky & BG in the OF at the same time scares folks, and me too, bit IF Melky can sustain this production, and Gardner can continue getting on base at a .350ish clip…it might just be livable.

    • Mike HC

      I could accept that as a Plan B. Plan B would be to have two of three between Melky, Gardner and AJax in the outfield. I think Plan A should be to have only one of not non of them in the outfield. If we start out with Melky and Gardner in the outfield, our depth will be even worse.

    • pete

      i must admit, an outfield of, left to right, ajax, gardner, melky would be a pretty formidable defensive outfield, but its offensive potential is likely around average, with its most-likely-scenario being well below average. Sure the yankees have an epicly awesome infield offensively, but is that enough to overcome three below average hitters playing outfield? If we were to get correlate a peak offensive year from each of them, it would still be a pretty undaunting trio. AJax: .315/.380/.450 w/ 20 HRs and 30 SBs, Gardner: .295/.365/.425 w/ 5 HRs and 50 SBs, melky: .300/.385/.450 w/ 15 HRs and 10 SBs. Of course these are totally arbitrary “peak” numbers and are based on almost nothing, but i would still say that chances are we’re never going to have that outfield put up those numbers in the same year, and even then it would be a very good (based largely on D) but still not great outfield.

      • YankFan

        While I would like more offense, we can’t overlook the Defense. How much would they save to compensate for their lack of offense? How much longer will our starters go if the D is so much better?

        Also, reading BA it sounds like there are less studs in the minors than a decade ago, so we may have to adjust expectations for offense downward. Add to that the post-steroid era & it may go down even more.

  • Chris

    RAB has had it wrong all along. They constantly criticized the wrong player. Gardner is the one that is a career fourth outfielder with his atrocious power and Melky is the one who has any shot at developing into anything substantial.

    • Mac

      The way the RAB boys have a thing for Melk, I feel the same about Gardy.

      It seems Pete Abe and Jennings think Gardy is a superior player – Pete Abe ridiculously making the comp to Pedroia slumping when he first came up as to what Gardy may become.

      Gardy is Jason Tyner – except Tyner hit for better avg with a bit less power and fewer walks – look at his first four minor league seasons.

      The Pedroia comment still irks me, Pedroia rocketed thru the minors at a much younger age with a much better slg % for a kid just in his early 20’s.

      Gardy hits 26 in three weeks.

      Gardy is a nice pinch runner, deffensive replacement spot starter – if Hairston can play CF the way he’s played 3rd – it shows you what Gardy is worth = not a whole lot – a good 24th/25th man.

  • TomG

    OK, I’ll be that guy-

    Bernie Williams age 24 season: 268/333/400
    Melky Cabrera age 24 season thus far: 288/351/457

  • Clay

    To forget his age is to do him a disservice, no matter his service time, thus far. There are those who constantly look for some way to show that the sky is falling, that his success is a fluke. So, he had a bad month. Injury, or not, most players have bad months, maybe almost all players. When assessing a young player who is growing up in the Bigs, it’s probably wiser not to focus on his daily, weekly or monthly successes or failures. Think of him as an understudy or apprentice, still learning his craft and you’ll have the right perspective.