When the San Francisco Giants traded Jonathan Sanchez and Ryan Verdugo to the Royals for Melky Cabrera on November 7, 2011, we all tittered. Yes, we all said, Cabrera was surprisingly good last season at 4.1 fWAR, but it was an outlier. It was a career season for a guy who just is not that good a player. ZiPS projections agreed and predicted Cabrera would have a 1.9 WAR season. Who is laughing now? Could it be that we were all wrong? It certainly looks that way as Cabrera's play has already garnered 1.4 fWAR in just 39 games for the Giants. If the season were to end now, Cabrera has already earned his $6 million price tag.
The Giants get a lot of flak for their front office and a lot of the criticism has been earned. The Aubrey Huff contract was stupid. But give credit where credit is due. Melky Cabrera has been a steal for the Giants and Jonathan Sanchez has been awful for the Royals. After a 201 hit season in 2011, Cabrera already has 53 this season and has a triple slash line of: .331/.379/.475, good for a 142 OPS+. He is still not a great outfielder, but he is holding his own and his defense has been neutral thus far.
We were right about one thing. Cabrera is not going to hit eighteen homers this season like he did a year ago for the Royals. But he has hit nine doubles and four triples so we are not talking about a Bonifacio here. His BABIP is a bit high at .373. But it was high a year ago at .332. So while there is some room for regression, maybe it won't be as much as we thought. ZiPS has already adjusted its initial WAR projection from the original 1.9 to 3.3. That would still be an excellent season for the Giants.
There is one area of concern though. While Cabrera is hitting his share of line drives (20.1 percent), he is hitting more ground balls than ever before in his career. After a career ground ball percentage of 49 percent with each previous season not deviating much from that base line, that rate for Cabrera is up to a Jeter-like 60.1 percent. His career ground ball to fly ball ratio of 1.56 is up to 2.53 this year. This ground ball rate does throw up a caution flag that Cabrera cannot continue his current pace.
And Cabrera has been bothered a bit lately with a sore toe. A lot of Cabrera's game revolves around his running and though he isn't the swiftest guy in baseball, he does hustle down the line and a sore toe hurts his chances on those ground balls.
But as of right now, many of us so called experts are eating a little crow when it comes to Melky Cabrera. Perhaps he is a lot better than we've all thought he was. And if so, perhaps the Giants' front office can get something right after all.