Whither Melky, again


It’s no secret around here that I am not the biggest fan of Melky Cabrera. Never regarded as one of the Yankees’ top prospects, Melky had a surprising 2006 at the age of 21 and then backed into the center field job in 2007 when it became clear that Johnny Damon was better suited to left field. Cabrera hasn’t been able to replicate his 2006 numbers, and while it appeared as though 2009 would be his year, a recent slide has pushed his numbers below league average.

A few weeks ago, on Aug. 2, Melky hit for the cycle against the White Sox, and his OPS hit .819, a two-month high for him. With Brett Gardner on the shelf, Melky had no competition for the center field job, and the Yankees really needed him to step up his offensive game. The opposite has happened.

Since hitting for the cycle, Melky’s bat has gone silent. Over his last 56 plate appearances spanning 13 games, Melky is 6 for 52 (.115) with a .161 on-base percentage and a .173 slugging percentage. He has had but one day off during that stretch and is currently 1 for his last 20.

This slump though extends beyond the big cycle. Since Brett Gardner went on the disabled list on July 26, Melky Cabrera has ceased hitting. Even with that cycle, he’s at .200/.261/.375 over his last 88 plate appearances. This line or argument makes for a great narrative. Melky Cabrera cannot be a productive hitter unless someone nearly as good — or as bad — as he is breathing down his neck. With Brett Gardner, Cabrera is the Good Melky; without, he’s the Bad Melky.

The only problem — as Joe explained recently — is that narratives generally aren’t true. Right now, Melky is simply undergoing a market correction in a very short period of time. Coming into 2009, Melky Cabrera had career averages of .268/.329/.374 with an OPS+ of 84. He’s been an under-average player on a team that has been able to mask this offensive deficiency.

With this recent slump, Melky is now hitting .266/.327/.420. Outside of the .026 difference in slugging, those numbers are nearly identical to Melky’s career line, and yet again, I am left wondering if Melky Cabrera is simply a 90 OPS+ guy with a good arm who shouldn’t be a starting outfielder on the New York Yankees.

I want Melky to be a good hitter. I want him to be the Melky we saw through the end of May with an .850 OPS and some power. But every year, Melky goes through a tailspin slump, and his numbers end up where they always are, below average and disappointing.

Categories : Analysis


  1. The only problem — as Joe explained recently — is that narratives generally aren’t true.

    So… you’re telling me that my fear of Obama’s Death Panels is irrelevant?

    (I’m in three fantasy leagues this year, and “Obama’s Death Panel” is my favorite team name in amongst the three.

    Although “Vick Works At Petco”, “CraigYeastInfection”, and “Ken Phelps” are good choices too. Had it been “Ken Phelps, Ken Phelps”, maybe it would have been #1.)

  2. Tony says:

    Melky just isn’t that good. Some people refuse to accept this because his name is Melky.

  3. I want Melky to continue to be a 90+ to 95+ guy for the rest of the year so he’s useful to us.

    And then I want Austin Jackson to beat out Melky and Gardner for the CF job next year, hopefully before the ASB, so that both of them can be what they are: two of the very, very best fourth outfielders in baseball.

  4. dkidd says:

    to the casual observer, the only difference between good melky and bad melky is good melky lays off shoulder high fastballs

    • And breaking balls in the dirt.

      • Drew says:

        Eh, so he swings at shoulder high pitches and balls in the dirt? I know you don’t love Melk but that’s just not true. Occasionally? Sure. Last night he swung at one in the dirt, I forget who the pitcher was but Melky was not the only one to have some ugly AB’s against him.

  5. Drew says:

    I’m hoping it’s just a slump. He’s gotten good wood on the ball a few times as of late but unfortunately the hits are not dropping. Hopefully grit comes back soon so the Melkster can get a breather.

    • Tony says:

      So the entirety of his career is a slump? Do us a favor and don’t come back with the “I TOLD YOU SO” stuff the next time he gets two hits in a game. Everyone has hot and cold streaks, but Melky’s hot streaks are apparently proof of his inner superstar.

      • So the entirety of his career is a slump?

        Repeated for emphasis. That’s a great way to frame the question.

      • Drew says:

        Oh please, it’s easy to bash a guy when he’s in a slump. 6-50 is exactly that, a slump.

        • But if he’s been unable to suppress the valleys in his career and only have an occasional peak, what’s the true Melky? It would seem that maintaining success over a period greater than a month at a time is unattainable for Mr. Cabrera.

          • Exactly. 6-50 is probably a slump, but his normal, non-slump may not be much better. It may be 12 for 50.

          • Drew says:

            Well, occasional peak… What do you consider occasional, a month in terms of a career is very small but a month in a season is not so small.
            April, SSS he hit 327.
            May, 321.
            June, 225.
            July, 289.
            Half August, 164. (Yikes)

            Is August the real Melky? No. Is May the real Melky? No. Do I still expect Melky to hit 270> and play solid defense, yes. Coming from what is a number 9 hitter when we field our starters, I’d say that’s not so bad.

            • Melky OPS by month:

              .971 fantastic
              .777 average
              .687 bad
              .819 good
              .511 terrible

              I’d say the true Melky is somewhere between May and June.

              • Drew says:

                Obviously it’s hard to say. Let’s not forgot, pushing through the peaks and the valleys are part of maturing as a player. And even with this maturation, we see the best hitters in the world have god awful months.

      • Drew says:

        And another thing, I didn’t proclaim my happiness for his success after a two hit game. It was FOUR MONTHS of .290 ball.

      • Tony says:

        I just need to work on seeing the True Melky™ and ignoring this impostor that shows up for the vast majority of his playing time. It is only a sign of my personal weaknesses as a human being that I have not realized Melky’s greatness and continue to believe that the faster version of NYY Mediocre CF 2K9 is probably the better option.

        • Drew says:

          Did I ever disagree with some healthy positional battles in CF? If you bothered to ream my initial post, I said hopefully Brett comes back soon, Melky needs a break.

          • Tony says:

            But what if it was in fact Gardner that needed the break? That was a loaded statement. If Melky were treated as what he is, a sub-average CF who plays hard, is occasionally boneheaded, and has (for whatever reason) gotten some big hits, there wouldn’t be this kind of backlash. Instead we have to hear how Melky “just needs a chance,” is “super clutch,” is “fast,” has an “amazing arm,” has “flashed some pop,” is a “great fielder,” etc. None of these things are true. If we just let him be, it would be fine. Instead he’s a cult hero or whatever and I’m forced to hate every fiber of his being.

            • Drew says:

              Gardner did need a break. Remember April? He got one and came back strong. Now Melky needs a break. Hopefully, Melky comes back strong. I’m still assuming it’s just a slump, if I’m wrong I’m wrong, that’s the peaks and perils of being a fan.

              • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals says:

                HE DOES NOT NEED A BREAK that lazy dominican…he needs a challenge. he doesnt excel after breaks, he excels after being punished for not ‘suppressing the valleys’ as somebody else put it.

                HE IS AN AWESOME AWESOME fourth outfielder!!!

  6. CountryClub says:

    It is very clear that he’s not an everyday player. He’s had numerous years to make progress and he just hasnt. He’s a 4th outfielder and there’s nothing wrong with that. Hopefully Gardner gets back soon and they can start the platoon back up.

  7. ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops says:

    This blog is really obsessed with Melky, in good and in bad times. This shows especially when you realize that he is what he is: a mediocre ML player. I just don’t understand the reson for that, although TSJC lists some convincing ones above. I like Melky, I like him more than Gardner, but the attention he gets is simply not warrented IMO.

    • As long as he’s in the lineup everyday, he’s part of our analysis. Over the course of the season, we’ll cover some players a bit more than others, but we try to spread it around. The Yankees seem committed to a below-average center fielder and have been for nearly four seasons now. That’s why we focus on Melky. Last year, it seemed as though they had given up, and this year, we’re reaching the point of Melky being Melky. That’s not a good thing.

      • ClayBuchholzLovesLaptops says:

        I’m not saying that he should not be covered or analyzed. To me, it just seems that he gets more attention than he should. Compare him to other integral parts of this clubs like Swisher, Coke or Bruney, who also had their ups and downs this season, they don’t seem to get scrutinized as much.

        My post probably sounded more critical than it was meant, I just don’t get why everything Melky does gets hyped and doomed that much. Not necessarily only on this blog, but almost everywhere.

        • It’s not because of some Melky obsession, it’s because he’s probably the only remotely controversial piece of the Yankees’ starting lineup. Who else in that lineup are people going to discuss in the context Melky is discussed (i.e. should he or shouldn’t he be in the lineup, is he good enough, etc.)? Nobody. He’s just the only guy like that who plays every day for the Yankees, so he’s the guy people discuss, that’s all.

      • And the sad thing is, we were probably, what, 2-4M away from picking up Mike Cameron back in the winter?

        Cammy: .253/.361/.448
        Melky: .266/.327/.420

      • TomG says:

        What Melky does provide is an underdog narrative you guys perpetually stoke with the negative analysis.
        He’s cost controlled and descent enough for this team to have the best record in baseball. You can either fall into the camp that demands an all-star at every position or you can temper your expectations and enjoy watching the guy for what he is.

        • “He’s cost controlled and descent enough for this team to have the best record in baseball.”

          Is he so bad that his play keeps the Yankees from playing well and leading their division? No. Does that mean he’s good, or that the Yankees shouldn’t keep an eye out for CF alternatives for the future? No.

          “You can either fall into the camp that demands an all-star at every position or you can temper your expectations and enjoy watching the guy for what he is.”

          The “well you must be the type of person who thinks the Yankees must have an all-star at every position” thing is like the freaking Godwin’s Law of RAB commenting. It’s a tired cliche that should be laid to rest. I choose to live in a world, TomG, in which one may analyze, criticize, praise and otherwise discuss the Yankees without being this mythical asshole of a person who demands that the Yankees field an all-star at every position.

          • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals says:

            the Yankees field an all-star at every position.

            …again, not that there’s anything wrong with that…

          • TomG says:

            I wasn’t singling out any particular mythical asshole, congressman, I didn’t mean to offend. I was trying to illustrate that the team doesn’t have unlimited resources. At worst, Melky is a cheap and serviceable known quantity. But he may also have some upside left because he’s still relatively young, and I can understand the team wanting to realize that potential.
            I, personally, enjoy watching his development and pull for him to succeed. That doesn’t mean I’m blind to his deficiencies or delusional in some way.

    • Moshe Mandel says:

      That is exactly the type of player that gets attention, because you can debate whether he should be playing and if he should be counted on in 2010. There is really not much to say on a regular basis about the good players or the scrubs.

  8. Drew says:

    Amidst a 6-52 slump, Melky’s OPS + is still 95. Assuming the slump evens it self out, that should bring him back over 100. An OPS+ = or > 100 for a defensive premium is not sooooooo horrible. I just hope AJAX doesn’t deal with all this hate if he doesn’t see “success” in his year 23 and 24 seasons.

    • Tony says:

      Again, we’re being told to assume that the distance between Good Melky and Normal Melky is shorter than the distance between Bad Melky and Normal Melky. I have been given no reason to believe this.

  9. Makavelli says:

    On a much smaller level can’t you say this about literally anybody else? The Yankees have been a streaky team for the past several years. Even MVP-candidate Mark Teixeira has gone through a few rough patches. And to a much more relevant level…Robinson Cano is one of the streakiest on the team.

    The difference is…once we see Tex or Cano or somebody go into these slumps…we have the confidence that they’ll turn it around because of their talent. With Melky, you don’t have the same confidence. If he turns it around you’re surprised about it.

    The lack of confidence and respect for Melky Cabrera is the problem. And I’m not saying that he deserves the confidence or respect. The guy is a 4th outfielder on the Pittsburgh Pirates all day long. I’m just saying…this is the reason why we get so mad with him.

    In the end, it’s not his fault. He’s just not as good as the other Yankees and we try expect him to be…at least close when he won’t ever be even nearly.

  10. Giovanni Galasso says:

    I think it’s important in Melky’s case to determine or estimate if he will continue to improve with experience. He still years away from his peak in terms of physical age. He really hasn’t shown signs of improvement yet, but it is possible that in 3 years time he will be a much better play then what he currently is. Is it likely? Probably not. However you shouldn’t close the door on his career when that career is entirely composed of years baseball players generally spend in college or the minors.

  11. Mark says:

    Isn’t the slugging difference .046?

  12. Pete says:

    I feel as though the yanks have very little choice other than to sign Damon to as short a contract as possible to keep him here.

    I don’t think it’s necessary to sign Holiday and get stuck with another 10 year contract that will screw them in the back end.
    And I also see Bay as someone who will be asking for the world in money and years.

    It’s clear that Melky is not a starting outfielder, he’s more of the 4th outfielder/defensive replacement type. Damon’s defense has regressed, but he owns that short porch in the new stadium and looks good in the 2 hole. I would also be afraid to just give Jackson one of the outfield jobs, because he has no power and doesn’t believe in walks.

    • JMK says:

      Not even the Isiah-Knicks would sign Holliday to a ten-year deal. Bay, similarly would cost too much in years and dollars. As for your other points, yes, Melky is not exactly the starting-type. But bear in mind, he’s still very young, and it’s entirely possible that he can improve. With our lineup, you could certainly do a lot worse in the 8 hole. His biggest problem is his consistency. It seems that he’s either hitting .340 or .200. He has talent. The commitment, I’m not so sure of. I think Damon would be a solid choice for a 2-year deal. Jackson’s not ready. His plate discipline (the high k-rate and the low BB) is worrisome, and his power is lacking. Hopefully he’d be ready when Damon’s 2-year deal runs out.

    • King of Fruitless Hypotheticals says:

      Damon plays left until the 6th then Melky comes in? :)


      Leche also spells Grit and Swish on some random days for days off, although I just dont think your RF needs as many days off as your aging catcher…

      Damon comes back for 8+8 with a 2m buyout.

  13. Jake H says:

    I can’t wait for Gardner to come back.

    • Mattingly's Love Child says:

      At the beginning of the year I would not have agreed with you. But now I do. At the beginning of the year I thought both Grit and Melky were horseshit. Ok, maybe not horseshit, but at least 4th/5th outfielders masquerading as prospects.

  14. A.D. says:

    Melky Cabrera cannot be a productive hitter unless someone nearly as good — or as bad — as he is breathing down his neck.


    In all seriousness Melky is frustrating, he obviously has raw talent, shown by the good stretches, but is it youth and inexperience leading to the downturn, as plenty of guys have shown flashes of brilliance before settling in a quality regulars, but at the same time plenty of guys have shown only flashes and go around the league as back-ups.

  15. Makavelli says:

    We’ve started the slump just in time to go into Boston and get worked. We’ve added the icing on the cake with Mitre and Gaudin on the mound as well…

    Oh well…4 games up still ain’t bad :/

  16. toad says:

    The “market correction” logic doesn’t hold. There is no reason for an above (historical) average period to be followed by a below average period. That’s like claiming the coin is more likely to come up heads this time because it came up tails last time.

    Melky is a streaky player. That tells us he is capable of being good. The job, Girardi’s I guess, is to figure what causes the down streaks and whether they can be fixed.

  17. Charlie says:

    i still love melky for all those clutch hits he got us, but he really is meant to be a 4th outfielder, not a starting center fielder. Hopefully Ajax will start in center next year, and hopefully gardner will be back soon to spell the melkman.

  18. Ivan says:

    Well Melky is a solid 4th outfielder and an ok starter. Hey at the end of the day, Melky is what he is, an ok player who won’t hurt the yanks but certainly won’t be a difference maker and he doesn’t have too. Put it this way, the difference between Ellsbury and Melky is the same as the difference between Pujols and Mauer. Not much.

    PS: If ur 65+ years old, Obama is not gonna hurt u, thank u lol.

  19. Omar says:

    Melky Cabrera is probably a good platoon player who shouldn’t be playing everyday. A platoon of him and Brett Gardner would probably be fairly valuable at pre-free agency prices. If he can tweak his swing to where he can still make consistent contact and generate power he should be able to produce at league average rates, and with his defense that’s a valuable player I’m not quite sure what to do about CF, Cabrera/Gardner looked like a pretty good option, and with Austin Jackson’s k-rates in AAA I’m not convinced he’s anything more than a second division starter. Is the Cano for Kemp option still available?

  20. Riddering says:

    I adore Melky even as I realize it’s not for his offensive or assist abilities. So, yeah, seeing him slump or revert to the mean is upsetting. If only my earnest wishes could be translated into success Melky would be dominate and Joba would never struggle to make it to the fifth again.

    (OTOH, I would like to point out that one of his hits since the cycle was a three-run homer to give the Yanks the lead in their first game of the four against Boston. Still clutch.)

  21. JMK says:

    This can’t be right. I thought Rebecca was the only girl here. Has female membership to RAB increased 100% today?

  22. Lanny says:

    I think Kabak writes about Melky’s demise more than he writes about the stadium. I don’t think anyone here ever said he’s an all star. Hes a solid 4th OF.

  23. Lanny says:

    But I’m sure we should all get bent out of shape by the 9th place hitter in the lineup. Same as everyone getting bent out of shape 2 months ago bitching about Andy P. Crying about a back end starter having a rough few starts.

    If Melky being in a hitting slump is the biggest worry I think we should deal with it and be happy.

  24. pete says:

    i’m gonna go out on a limb, and say that this is melky. except i don’t expect his numbers to remain quite so low his whole career, but not because i expect him to change much. he is going to have a couple months every year where he ops’s .800+, once in awhile close to or above .900. and he is gonna have a couple of months in the .600s or even below. i expect this to happen every year. and i expect, given the glut of streaky outfielders on the yankees, all of whom are capable defensively (i’m counting ajax in this mix, b/c i do expect him, being a strikeout guy without great power, to be streaky), that his total numbers each year from here on out, to look something like .275-.290/.330-.350/.420-.460, the caveat being his 450-500 plate appearences each year.

    One aspect of girardi’s managing that i feel comfortable with is his ability to sniff hot and cold streaks and play to the numbers, the reason being that he doesn’t actually think he can “sniff” them, but looks at both the numbers and guys’ swings and atbats, and sees where they are, and plays them accordingly. And more impressively, he is usually able to get bench players (and, more successfully, bullpen pitchers)just enough at-bats when they’re cold to get back into a hot streak. and by bench players i mean guys like melky and gardner, and, next year, jackson, not guys like pena or ransom or whoever, because they aren’t going to get hot anyway, and giving them at-bats can only hurt the team.

    these are my ramblings for the evening, thank you for your time and attention

  25. thebusiness says:

    His season line is right around his career line save for a couple extra HR’s this year.

    If the last 400 PAs look exactly like the total 2000 PAs… that’s the player he is.

  26. Tank Foster says:

    I think he’s going to be better than a career 84 OPS+ guy. Many players don’t reach the majors until age 24. He’s having a good year. He has streaks like any other player, and he IS doing better this year. I think by the end of the season, he’ll have 15-18 HR and his career best OPS.

  27. ramadan says:

    Leave the kid alone

    • claybeez says:


      For sake of fairness, please make this small sample size post each time ANY Yankee struggles. Few here, think he’s the 2nd coming of DiMaggio. So, why so much ink? This has become worse than Was Watching’s incessant criticism of starting 2008 with the Big 3. Again, RAB, this is your crack, your kryptonite, just leave it be.

      • For sake of fairness, please make this small sample size post each time ANY Yankee struggles.

        You’re missing the forest for the trees. Four seasons/2000 PAs of below-average production is not a SSS problem. It’s the sign of a below-average player.

        As long as Melky is cost-controlled and not making a lot, it’s fine. He’s more valuable to the Yanks than what he’s paying paid. As soon as that ceases to be the case, he should go.

        • claybeez says:

          No Benjamin, I’m not missing anything. Who can, with the constant railing, harping and complaining.

          “This slump though extends beyond the big cycle. Since Brett Gardner went on the disabled list on July 26, Melky Cabrera has ceased hitting. Even with that cycle, he’s at .200/.261/.375 over his last 88 plate appearances.”

          Yeah, 88 PA’s, great sample. So, he’s currently hitting .266/.327/.420 for the season. And, isn’t there a chance, since he’s slumping that those #’s will improve? Just as I recognize he could go into a complete tailspin the rest of the season. The jury is out on what his overall #’s and value to the team will be for ’09. Just as it’s out for Joba. Again, for ’09.

          I see the only way to deal with this site on this issue is just to avoid reading any post about Melky. Fortunately, you guys offer so much more, so I won’t be giving up on it like I did WW, even if Lombardi proved to be right.

          • Who can, with the constant railing, harping and complaining.

            Since the season started, we’ve written about Melky approximately once a month. There’s a negative post in July, a negative one in June, and a negative one in May after a positive look at his April. Considering that the Yanks active roster has 25 men and that we post at least eight times a day, it’s hard to consider that too constant.

            We’re not bashing Melky on a daily basis here. We’re looking at him on a month-to-month basis as the Yanks work to put the best team forward. There’s a huge difference. In the end, if you don’t like the attention on Melky, that’s certainly your prerogative, but as long as the Yanks consider him a key cog — and center field is a key cog — going forward, I’ll continue to question that.

            • claybeez says:

              Then look at everyone on a month to month basis, please. Extrapolate based on that month’s stats… At the minimum, put all the young players under the same monthly microscope. If you’re unwilling to do that, I ask, which readers of the site, do you think, really want to read moooore monthly judgements regarding Melky’s performance?

          • thebusiness says:

            Yeah, his slump has brought his numbers down. Just like his hot streak brought his numbers up.

            2000 PAs, same player with marginal improvement.

  28. [...] latest Melky complaint came on August 18. On August 2 he had hit for the cycle, and in the subsequent 56 plate appearances [...]

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