The strange September of Asdrubal Cabrera

David Maxwell

Cabrera has been maybe the best hitter on the team this month... or maybe the worst.

Which of the following is true?

Asdrubal Cabrera is killing the Indians in September. He's 10 for 54 so far, giving him a batting average of just .185. There are 66 players in the American League with 60+ PA in September, none of them have a worse BA than Cabrera. He isn't walking much either, so his OBP is only .258, which ranks 59th among those 66 players. Perhaps no moment has summed up Cabrera's month like his at bat against the Mets in the 8th inning on Sunday the 8th. He came to the plate with the bases loaded in a tie game, only one out. He grounded into an inning-ending double play, and the Indians went on to lose 2-1. The Tribe seemed poised to win, but in the biggest play of the game, Cabrera came up short.

It seems clear that Asdrubal Cabrera has been one of the worst hitters in the league this month, repeatedly killing the Indians as they fight desperately for a Wild Card spot.

OR

Asdrubal Cabrera is killing opponents in September. He's hit 5 home runs already, giving him a share of the American League lead for the month. Three of those home runs have come with men on base. Two of his home runs have broken a scoreless tie. He's driven in 14 runs already, which is tied for fourth in the league. Perhaps no moment has summed up Cabrera's month his his at bat against the Royals in the 8th inning on on Tuesday the 17th. He came to the plate with a runner on second in a tie game, one out. He hit a double to left field, plating the go ahead run, and the Indians went on to win 5-3. The Tribe seemed poised to lose, but in the biggest play of the game, Cabrera came up huge.

It seems clear that Asdrubal Cabrera has been one of the best hitters in the league this month, repeatedly carrying the Indians as they fight desperately for a Wild Card spot.

So... which is true?

Alright, there's no fooling you. LGT readers are too smart a bunch to fall for this trick. Both those descriptions are true.

Is either one of them more true?

Cabrera was the highest +WPA of any starter on the Indians this month, at 1.31, so that's good. He also has the highest -WPA of any starter on the Indians this month, at -1.11, so that's bad. Put them together and his WPA is 0.19, so that's good, by a little.

Cabrera's BABIP is .132, by far the worst in the league this month. As you probably know, BABIP is largely a matter of luck, and so we probably shouldn't hold the full brunt of that awful batting average and on-base percentage against him. On the other hand, he's swing at more pitches outside the strike zone than usual, which leads to poor contact, which leads to a lower BABIP. He's also hitting fly balls at an astounding rate, 55.8% of the time (3rd-highest in the AL), compared to a career rate of 35.3%. Fly balls are turned into outs at a much higher clip than line drives or ground balls, so they'll also lead to a lower BABIP. Some of that .132 is luck, but some of it is making poor swings and chasing bad pitches.

wRC+ is one of my favorite statistics. It takes a player's hitting, does a better job of balancing on-base percentage and slugging percentage than OPS or OPS+, and adjusts for the league/parks/era he's playing in. A wRC+ of 100 means a player has been perfectly average. 110 means he's been 10% better than average, 90 means he's been 10% worse than average, and so on. If you had to pick one metric to rate a hitter's performance on, I think wRC+ is as good as you can do. Asdrubal Cabrera's wRC+ for the month of September... 100.

Asdrubal Cabrera has been perfectly average this month... but he sure has gone about it in an interesting way.

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