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Cabrera looking to return to 2013 numbers in stint with Orioles

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Everth Cabera has, to say it mildly, a checkered past. Did the Orioles find another February gem? Or did they find a scrap heap player that was better left on the heap?

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Major league baseball player and seemingly second-rate human being Everth Cabrera officially signed with the Orioles for a one year $2.4 million deal with up to $600,000 in incentives for the mostly shortstop in his partial six seasons. The 28 year old was non-tendered by the Padres earlier this off season after he posted an abominable .232/.272/.300 in 2014. He has one minor league option remaining.

Cabrera is most notable for being an all star in 2013 right before he got busted in the Biogensis PED scandal and slapped with a 50 game suspension. He also has a dismissed domestic violence charge on the record as well as a resisting arrest charge he recently plead guilty to. All of that is how you end up going from an All Star to non-tendered.

The other noteworthy aspect of Cabrera is his injury history. He has been on the major league disabled list six times in his career. That includes five 15 Day DL stints due to either his left or right hamstring and one 60 Day DL stint due to a broken hamate bone in his left wrist. Also, he broke the hamate bone in his right wrist while in the minors. Other than those major injuries he has had day to day issues with his shoulders, ankles, and knees. Cabrera has never played in more than 115 games in a single season and that was in 2012. He only played 95 games in 2013 before getting suspended and only played 90 games in 2014 due to hamstring injuries.

On the field, Cabrera has shown an ability to be a solid average major league player. The bulk of this post will focus on his offense. The defensive metrics point to him being around a league average shortstop and if he moves to second base primarily with the Orioles he should be a solid to above average defender. In 2012, he played in 115 games, posted 1.5 fWAR and hit .246/.324/.324 with a 9.6 percent walk rate and a 24.5 percent strike out rate. A non-spectacular, but entirely average line. He was much better in 2013, posting a 3.1 fWAR in only 95 games hitting .283/.355/.381 with a 9.4 percent BB% and a 15.9 percent K%. His ability to cut down massively on his strike outs and make more contact really boosted his offensive value. He posted a BABIP of .336 in 2012 and .337 in 2013. Both high numbers, but it shows that when he does make contact it tends to be strong contact and he made a lot more of it in 2013 which is what caused his value at the plate to skyrocket.

2014 was a disaster for Cabrera in many ways. If you want to place the blame on being caught using PEDs, I can see the argument. However, I have no idea where to the put the blame. PEDs may have caused him to reduce his strike out rate and make more contact, but there is no way I can say that with any bit of certainty. Regardless, in 2014, his batting line plummeted as did his BB% which fell to a career low 5.1 percent while his K% shot back up to 22 percent. Not only that his BABIP fell to .294 through, in all probability, some combination of bad contact and bad luck.

Looking at his batted ball profiles tells a similar story. Below is a table of the past three years. You can see that he was been able to maintain a solid line drive rate throughout the past three years. However, in 2014, his ground ball rate shot up six percent while his fly ball rate decreased six percent. While Cabrera should not be considered a slugger, ground balls are still the least valuable type of batted ball. Even without the 2014 jump, he still hit a ton of ground balls.

Year Line Drive % Ground Ball % Fly Ball % Infield Fly Ball%
2012 19.1% 60.7% 20.2% 5.6%
2013 20.6% 60.5% 18.9% 3.5%
2014 20.8% 66.9% 12.3% 3.0%

Furthermore, his plate discipline numbers show how out of line his 2014 was. Below in the table you can see that in 2014 he swung at pitches significantly more, but made significantly less contact on them. Especially on pitches inside of the strike zone. Not to mention, his swinging strike rate increased dramatically in 2014 from 2013.*

Year O-Swing % Z-Swing % Swing % O-Contact % Z-Contact % Contact % Swing Strike %
2012 26.5% 59.3% 41.2% 66.5% 87.3% 79.9% 8.1%
2013 27.0% 57.4% 40.6% 74.4% 93.5% 86.5% 5.4%
2014 29.4% 64.1% 44.7% 68.9% 88.2% 81.1% 8.3%

The point here being that either Cabrera dropped off a cliff at age 27/28 and became a much worse hitter or last year was out of line for him performance wise. With PEDs involved, it is hard to know exactly where the root cause lies. His projections put him around a 1.5 WAR player in 2014, which seems fair. On this roster, I see Cabrera as a competitor for the starting second baseman job. He could be the utility infielder, but I think the Orioles trust Flaherty's experience in that role as well his demonstrated ability to play all the positions. Cabrera, with the option gives the Orioles a lot of flexibility with both him and Schoop so the one that preforms the best in Spring Training has the inside track to being the Opening Day second baseman. On top of that, a one year deal makes the deal for Cabrera a no lose situation because of no long term financial risk.

If the Orioles can get him to regain his prior patience at the plate than it would be a solid pickup. His speed and prior to 2014 patience gives the Orioles something they might not need, but it is something they definitely do not have. Cabrera represent another non-negative player. If injuries or poor performance push others to the side, Cabrera could step in and play average baseball, which is of value. If he can regain his 2013 contact rates, than they could have found another Nelson Cruz. Either way, he needs to stay on the field and out of trouble to have any impact at all on the 2015 Orioles.

*For those who do not know, O-Swing% is pitches swung at that are outside of the strike zone, Z-Swing% is inside the strike zone. Similarly, O-Contact% is the rate at which pitches outside of the strike zone that were swung at that the batter made contact with, Z-Contact% is inside the strike zone contact. For more information, Fangraphs.com has a great glossary.