Tough situation with Cabrera
Everth Cabrera, San Diego’s sole representative at this season’s All-Star game, has been lost for the season to suspension for violation of MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
According to Cabrera, the violation occurred at a time when he was looking for an edge during the 2012 season to improve his shoulder injury. His decision to cheat came on the heels of spending the 2011 season in Tucson, a move that was clearly a demotion after Cabrera’s struggles in 2010. His big splash in 2009, and the subsequent hype, kick-started this roller coaster ride.
Flash forward to 2012, and it was clearly a critical season for Cabrera. A make or break year, one could argue. Ultimately, his performance that season in conjunction with Jason Bartlett’s struggles, were the keys to getting his starting gig back, culminating in his best season to date in 2013.
Is what Cabrera did understandable? Yes. Excusable? No.
For his part, Cabrera knew it was wrong at the time and admitted as much. He also brought forth what I believe to be a sincere apology and willingness to take responsibility for his actions.
His success this season, to me, had little to do with performance-enhancing drugs of any kind. The single biggest reason Cabrera has been so productive is the work he has put in to drastically cut down his strikeouts.
His K% in 2012 was 24.5. This season, he’s sitting at 15.9. That improvement has created a wealth of opportunities to get on base, as his OBP was .355, up from .324 last season. His BB% has been stable: 9.6% (2012) vs. 9.4% (2013). The speed continued to be an asset as he had 37 stolen bases with 50 games left in the season. Cabrera was doing an excellent job of being a leadoff burner with the ability to get on base.
On defense, Cabrera has always been a show-stopper, making unbelievable plays. He continued to shine this season. However, the knock on Cabrera was how he could fumble the routine play. Cabrera tightened up his play all around this season. Defensively, his UZR/150 improved dramatically: -8.0 (2012) vs. -3.1 (2013).
So, at the end of the day, you have a player in Cabrera with a wRC+ (a measure of total offensive value) of 112 and a WAR of 3.0. That wRC+ was good for fifth best in all of baseball, among qualified shortstops. His WAR this season slotted him at fourth best at the position in the major leagues.
So, big shoes to fill for such a little guy. How do the Padres move forward?
There really isn’t a player who can fill Cabrera’s shoes. Alexi Amarista and Logan Forsythe can bring certain replacement skills, but they both have significant weaknesses, especially fielding the position. The system features similar players in the upper minors in Tucson. Dean Anna is swinging a big stick with a line of: .341/.422/.519, but his glove is best suited to 2B. Gregorio Petit is a more experienced SS, currently hitting .295/.349/.369, but he is more of a career minor leaguer, having 10 seasons of experience, 6 of them at AAA.
The roster spot may be headed to veteran Ronny Cedeno. Cedeno’s overall wRC+ is 67. This season, it’s 53. Cabrera’s was double that. His overall WAR is -0.2. This season: -0.7. He’s a .245/.288/.353 hitter in over 2600 PA’s. He has 36 stolen bases in his career. Cabrera had 37 this season. In the field, Cedeno has a UZR/150 of -2.9. This season, it was -18.8. Given those numbers, my hope is Forsythe gets first crack.
As far as the lineup goes, Cabrera was hitting .263/.340/.345 as the leadoff hitter. Probably the best candidate to replace him is Chris Denorfia. He has over 600 PA’s hitting first in the lineup, and those career numbers are strong: .291/.348/.429. However, Denorfia doesn’t have the wheels that Cabrera does, and Bud Black will continue to sit him against righties, favoring Will Venable in those starts. Venable’s numbers (.258/.320/.412) batting first are similar to Cabrera’s, so expect to see the platoon leading things off.
Essentially, it’s no surprise how Cabrera’s suspension is going to affect this team. We lose a player who was putting it all together: speed, on-base ability at the top of the lineup, and defense at a premium position.