Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Cabrera's Last Stand

I know you all can’t wait for the next Daniel Cabrera start. I know I can’t. Seriously, the sky is the limit for Cabrera. He could actually join Rick Vaughn in the Hall of Shame. Seven wild pitches in 24.1 innings, adding 17 walks, 2 hit batsmen, 255 strikes on 459 pitches (55.6%). Those numbers don’t really even begin to tell the story of how poorly he has actually pitched. He has managed to do this over five starts as well, so management is coddling the giant and are not being rewarded. It would be unfair to say Cabrera is the worst starter in the NL because the Mets look like they are going to have paid 2.2 million for Oliver Perez’s body of work. He has probably been the second worst starting pitcher in the NL, though.

The sad, sad thing is that management had to know what they were getting into; it is not like he suddenly lost command. He never had it. Period. Randy Johnson didn’t begin to harness his unique anatomy and stuff until he was 29, in fact appeared to be regressing upon arriving in Seattle before breaking out in ’93. Now he’s first ballot to Cooperstown. The difference is that Cabrera broke down at the end of last season after a decent start and really needed to be fully examined before coming on board.

As noted by numerous accounts, Cabrera’s velocity is way down. Everybody wants to cover their asses and blame it on tinkering with his delivery. Yet a closer look his struggles in the second half of last year reveal similar trends. He produced fewer swings and misses as the season progressed, generally resulting in fewer strikeouts and more balls in play. This season, he has produced a total of 22 misses. That number is fine for Derek Lowe or Jamie Moyer, pitchers who pitch to contact, but a power pitcher gives up more line drives and fly balls. Power pitchers, who don’t have pinpoint control, generally rely upon beating average hitters.

A look at Cabrera’s pitch history shows that even when he has been successful, he has had fairly miserable control. He actually has survived this long because of the perception of his lack of control. First pitch fastballs resulted in 79 balls and 61 called strikes out of 193 pitches. Basically 75% of the time the batter is taking all the way. Most of the taken strikes were hittable pitches; there is no grouping on the fringes. His overall first pitch results are about 50% strikes. Yes, very poor. His slider has gotten him out of jams before, but without the velocity on his fastball, hitters now lay off it and watch it miss.

There is little hope for Cabrera to figure this out in one start or one month. Randy St. Clair doesn’t seem to have the first clue of where to start. Sending him to the minors won’t accomplish anything, except maybe further some bad habits by getting a few extra cheap punch outs. The key is to shorten his windup and delivery as much as possible, eliminate the wasted energy. He will never make the leap Johnson made, but getting him to the 7th inning would be encouraging. It's not happening and he will likely be out the door by June 1st.

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