Monday, February 22, 2010

Melky Cabrera Revisited (plus closure on the never-ending Johnny Damon saga)

As Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited is widely considered to be among the most influential Rock & Roll albums of all time, so shall this post be revered as one of the most influential Melky Cabrera blog entries of all time.

OK, maybe that's overstating it. But I do have an interesting nugget of information to consider along with my well-documented skepticism regarding Mr. Cabrera's chances of making a positive contribution to Atlanta's 2010 playoff push.

Melky Cabrera is a very interesting case, as he has gone from being extremely overrated in New York to being greatly underappreciated as an Atlanta Brave, with much thanks for that owed to the fan base's anger over trading Javier Vazquez. For what it's worth, the CHONE projection system appears to love Melky in 2010. In 562 PA, they have him hitting .296/.367/.441. After considering Melky's defensive contributions, his projected 2010 value based on the CHONE projection is 3.4 wins above replacement (WAR). In case you're keeping score at home, that's 0.2 WAR better than Johnny Damon's 2010 CHONE projection. (For a fantastic primer on WAR, check this out.)

Now, as far as outliers go, CHONE's weighted on base average (wOBA) projection of .358 for Cabrera is a pretty big one. (For a fantastic primer on wOBA, check this out.) The second-most generous Cabrera projection (Bill James) approximates a wOBA of .330. That impressive wOBA seems to be inflated by a .318 BABIP that deviates sharply from his BABIP of .288, .271, and .295 in the past three seasons. But it's not entirely reliant on fluke singles. Bill James projects an ISO of just .128 against CHONE's .145, including 8 more doubles in 50 fewer plate appearances. In 2009, Cabrera registered an ISO of .142 - so CHONE's power projection seems pretty reasonable, especially since Melky is still in the growth phase of his career.

If we adjust Cabrera's BABIP to .300, his triple slash projection drops to .281/.325/.426, resulting in a wOBA decrease of .012, which causes us to adjust his WAR value to 2.7, or 0.5 WAR less than Johnny Damon's projection.

If this estimation of Cabrera's value is in line with the front office's expectations, much of Frank Wren's recent behavior makes sense. No wonder he was lowballing Johnny Damon - he only stood to gain half a win, which can be had for about $1.75 million in this free agent market.

I say all of this to make the following point: even though we lost out on Johnny Damon, he's not so great that his value can't be replaced by a Melky Cabrera who slightly outperforms expectations.

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