Watched a really long Yankee/A's game today that went 14 innings and lasted over five hours. The game featured a start by Melky Cabrera, who spelled Brett Gardner with a left-hander starting for the A's. The game showed the best of the worst of Melky and left this writer just as confused about him as ever.
First, there is the lingering issue over replacing Bernie Williams. Everyone knows that Bernie slowed down and the time had come, but it was still emotionally difficult. The guy was such a steady and classy force for a long time. And he was pushed out by this awkward, graceless kid named Melky Cabrera. Cabrera was everything that Williams was not. He was emotional and voracious. He never looked smooth, yet he did okay to start with.
Perhaps part of his problem was that, in a rarity for the Yankees, this home grown youngster was rushed to the big leagues. He only has 179 At Bats in AAA and 52 of those came last year when he was demoted in the middle of the season. He hit well in AAA, but perhaps he wasn't given enough time to grow there.
He started well for the Yankees. In 2006, he hit .280 and had an OPS of .752 to go along with an OBP of .360. Those are decent numbers. His lack of power, though, left him with an OPS+ of under 100, which is league average. His numbers dropped two straight years after 2006. The OPS from 2006 to 2008: .752, .718, .641. His OBP dropped similarly: .360, .327, .301.
Watching him regularly, the appearance was that he had some good moments, but was over matched against good pitching. Some players can put the ball in play against league average to better pitchers. Melky wilted in such situation, which also explains his well-under-the-Mendoza average in playoff appearances.
Last year was pitiful for Cabrera. He seemed totally lost. He still couldn't hit good pitching, but he wasn't hitting bad pitching either. He flailed around and just looked like he didn't have a clue. Every day, it was like watching Soriano against Red Sox pitching in the playoffs.
So this year, coming into Spring Training, it was announced early that he had to fight for his job. He was going to compete with Brett Gardner for the centerfield position. Gardner, who didn't light the world on fire in his debut last year, has some skills. He is a better fielder than Cabrera, is faster on the base paths and allegedly had more patience at the plate. Plus (shhh), he's white. Apologies for bringing that up, but, hey, it's more of a factor than you may think.
The competition from the beginning was Gardner's to lose. And he didn't. He had a great spring. Melky started roughly in Spring Training and never could catch up, though his ending numbers were very good. Just not good enough to win the job from Gardner.
Today's long game was Melky Cabrera in a nutshell. He started off the night with a right-handed homer. Then he whiffed three times and looked terrible. His strikeout with the bases loaded and no out was particularly horrible. The relief pitcher was throwing the ball all over the place. He couldn't find home plate. That's why the bases were loaded. You would think that Cabrera would only swing at something fat and let the pitcher hang himself. But he didn't. First he swung at one below his knees and then looked like a Little Leaguer by striking himself out on a pitch way over his head. Pathetic.
Of course, it didn't help that his replacement pitch hit right after him and Gardner popped out weakly to the third baseman and after a Jeter pop up, the inning was over and the game droned on for another two hours.
And so we go to the fourteenth inning. There was one out and Swisher was on first with another walk. Swisher is like a younger Giambi in almost every way. Then Cabrera steps up to hit. You can't blame the Fan for rolling his eyes. A double play or a strikeout was fully expected. But instead, Melky crushed one and as soon as he hit it, everyone watching knew the game was over.
So there you have it. Six at bats, two homers, a walk and three strikeouts. That's Cabrera. Who knows. He's terrible, he's a hero. He's terrible. He's okay. It's strange. Maybe he just needs a fresh start and another team that believes in him. Or maybe he's just going to be a usable replacement player who won't necessarily kill you when he gets in there. All the Fan knows is that he is one of the strangest cases in all of baseball.