Friday, July 15, 2011

Melky and Emilio Down By the Schoolyard

When one writes about baseball for long enough, there are always going to be times when the writing leads to eating a little crow. Back in 2009, the Florida Marlins gave Emilio Bonifacio 509 plate appearances and he produced the worst major league season that year with a negative WAR of -0.4. Last year, the Atlanta Braves gave Melky Cabrera 509 plate appearances and the Melkman came up with one of the worst seasons in memory with a negative WAR of -1.0. After those two disastrous seasons with ironically the same number of plate appearances, this writer appeased the sabr-gods and dutifully blasted the Marlins for sticking with Bonifacio and the Royals for signing Cabrera. So far this season, this writer has been dead wrong.

Look, neither player will ever be considered an elite player in the major leagues. But what they are doing this year adds consistent value to their teams. Bonifacio plays nearly every day for the Marlins at several different positions. In fact, he's played six different positions and played them all reasonably well (except maybe as a shortstop). And he's always added value with his legs. His base running statistics have always been positive. But this year, he's added much more on base capability.

Bonifacio has really improved his ability to hit a line drive somewhere and it shows in his batting average, which currently sits at .288. His walk percentage still isn't astounding for a speed guy, but at 9.8 percent, it's the highest of his career. Thus, his on base percentage is at a very respectable .360. His increased percentage of being on base has led to runs scored (third on the team) and given him an $8.5 million value of play for the Marlins thus far this season. Again, for a utility guy...a super utility guy, that's good stuff.

Melky Cabrera's addition to the Royals was roundly scorned when it happened before the season, and rightly so. He was awful last year and except for a few flashes here and there for the Yankees, he's really not been that good a player over the course of his career. An indication of that is his career win probability added or WPA. Coming into this season, Cabrera's career WPA was -4.32. In other words, his play did much more to help his team lose than to help his team win.

As mentioned, Cabrera was awful for the Braves last year. His OPS last year in 509 plate appearances was .671. His fielding metrics were awful too and his base running (for a guy that seemed sort of fast) was always in the negative numbers. It was that kind of season, with it's negative WAR, WPA and other metrics that caused all of us to deride the Royals for signing him, even if it was simply viewed as a stopgap move until its younger players were ready. The Royals have certainly struggled, but not because of Melky.

Melky Cabrera has never been a patient hitter and this year, he's even less patient than normal. His walk rate is awful at 5.8 percent and he swings at more than 35 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. Even so, his batting average is the highest it has been in his career at .295 and he's hitting for more power. He already has 12 homers and 23 doubles this season to give him his highest slugging percentage ever at .456. Melky's OPS is more than 100 points higher than last year.

To get a good gauge on how well Melky is playing this season, Fangraphs currently ranks him the seventh best centerfielder in baseball this season. With their being thirty teams, that's pretty darn good. After posting a -1 WAR last season, he's posted a WAR this season of 3.0 with the first positive base running score of his career and much better fielding numbers. Cabrera also has several game winning hits, especially earlier in the season. Fangraphs ranks his play to be worth $13.5 million this season. Perhaps it is time to stop laughing at that signing.

Again, these aren't two of the elite players in baseball. And for at least one season each, they were among the worst players in the league. And perhaps, given their career paths to this point, we could very well see regression as the season rolls along. But for right now, both players have added unexpected value to their teams and perhaps it is high time this writer shut up when it comes to their playing time. The Fan has been wrong about these two players. Admission complete.


Charles Simone said...

It appears that the key is to not give these guys exactly 509 plate appearances. ;)

bobook said...

Always liked this little guy and never fully understood your level of dislike for him. One could see his combativeness and knew he eventually would hone his game to his natural abilities which, i think, he's accomplishing. Lies, damn lies, and statistics...

William Tasker - Caribou, ME said...

bobook! You're back! Missed your comments here in the FanDome. Not that Charles' aren't appreciated as well. They are. But bobook has been coming here since the days when 50 hits a week were a good week.