Whether you buy into steroids being the reason for Melky Cabrera’s evolution from a fourth outfielder with the Yankees to a viable fantasy option three of the past four years, he has been relevant. In 2011 he broke through with a career best 18 home runs and 87 RBI for Kansas City and then had a chance at a batting title in San Francisco in 2012 until his PED suspension. Not an ideal way to enter free agency. In 2013 Toronto took a chance on Cabrera, signing him to a two-year contract, but the stain of steroids made this risky. After struggling through a number of injuries, Cabrera had a disappointing season, making 2014 a make or break year for him. The “Melk Man” delivered, rewarding the owners who stashed him late in drafts with a bounce back season across every category but stolen bases. Playing on the turf in Toronto has had an adverse affect on speedsters like Jose Reyes. This was no different for Cabrera, as his theft numbers were cut in half from 13 in 2012 to 6 in 2014.
From a fantasy perspective, the move to Chicago should not only help Melky maintain his value, but may even increase it. An uptick in stolen bases is the would be prize. Using three of his last four years as an indicator (I am discarding his shortened 2013) Cabrera’s numbers seem to hold up. His HR/FB in 2012 was 9.8 and jumped to 10.7 in 2013, holding steady at that number in 2014. Since U.S. Cellular and Rogers Centre are strong hitter’s venues, this should have no affect on his power production going forward. While there is a big discrepancy in his home run distances from 2011 and the years following, his average speeds off the bat have held fairly stable as well according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker:
Melky Cabrera 2011: average true distance 406.9, average standard distance 403.1, average speed off bat 105 MPH
Melky Cabrera 2012: average true distance 393.1, average standard distance 390.5, average speed off bat 104.4 MPH
Melky Cabrera 2014: average true distance 395.1, average standard distance 394.1, average speed off bat104 MPH
Here is a 2014 overlay of his home runs with the Cell as a backdrop:
His home run metrics hold up, so how will Melky Cabrera adapt to the American League Central? Already having played in the division with the Royals should make his transition easier. Looking deeper into his numbers, this looks like a match made in heaven for Cabrera, not only to keep his knees healthier, but he enjoys hitting in all five ballparks in the Central. Here are his aggregate numbers for his career in the division’s ballparks:
Melky Cabrera in AL Central parks: 198 G, 126 R, 23 HR, 110 RBI, 22 SB, .307/.345/.477
In 34 games as a visitor at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field, he has been even better:
Melky Cabrera in Chicago (A): 34 G, 23 R, 7 HR, 24 RBI, 3 SB, .336/.366/.591
I understand that Melky will not be hitting against the White Sox, though their pitching staff is vastly improved, but his .957 OPS at the Cell should encourage fantasy owners. Digging a bit deeper I was surprised about how consistent he has been in spite of the steroid cloud that has been attached to him. Again, looking at his last three out of four seasons (skipping 2013) his counting statistics have varied but that is more about games played than production. Over the seasons 2011, 2012 and 2014 this is his average stat line:
Melky Cabrera 3-year average: 136 G, 89 R, 15 HR, 73 RBI, 13 SB, .315/.357/.478
I think Cabrera may slot in second, behind Adam Eaton and preceding American League Rookie of the Year Jose Abreu. That being said, I have a hard time believing his runs would slip but his Steamer projection looks like this:
Melky Cabrera Steamer projection: 134 G, 77 R, 14 HR, 67 RBI, 6 SB, .288/.341/.432
I do think that Cabrera has probably already had his best season, but the move to Chicago may be just what he needs to bounce back to double-digit production in home runs and stolen bases. In spite of missing time in 2014, Melky was able to finish as the 25th ranked outfielder via ESPN’s Player Rater after going undrafted in leagues coming off of his 2013 disaster. What remains to be seen is what this move will have on his value in upcoming drafts. Here is the projected stat line I am willing to attach to Cabrera:
My 2015 Melky Cabrera projection: 145 G, 87 R, 17 HR, 84 RBI, 10 SB, .293/.344/.480
Statistical credits: Baseball-Reference.com, Fangraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, ESPN.com
Photo cred: http://goo.gl/7z3JlW
Check out FantasyRundown.com for all of our latest articles and other great fantasy content.
Greg Jewett is The Sports Script’s senior fantasy baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter @gjewett9!