The biggest surprise of the 2011 season, at least from an individual standpoint, was undoubtedly Asdrubal Cabrera’s sudden power surge.
Through his first four seasons in the big leagues, Cabrera had hit just 18 home runs and never more than six in a single year. So even the most optimistic of Tribe fans couldn’t have seen his 25-homer barrage coming last season.
As we look forward to 2012, the questions that need to be answered now are: where did the power come from and can it be sustained? But the question that might be easier to answer is: where didn’t Cabrera’s power improve?
I’ve broken down Cabrera’s performance in every way I can possibly think – type of pitch, pitch location, count, etc – and in every situation his power numbers surged in 2011. But one area did stand out above the rest.
As a left handed batter (so when facing right handed pitching) Cabrera began crushing pitches on the outside part of the plate. The heat maps below show Cabrera’s Isolated Slugging (essentially extra bases per at-bat) on pitches on the outside portion of the plate.
As the heat maps illustrate, Cabrera’s power on the outer half was almost nonexistent during the previous two seasons. But in 2011, he began driving pitches to the opposite field, even reaching for pitches just off the outside corner.
Oddly enough, Cabrera’s average on these pitches remained steady (improved from .277 to.284). But his true power numbers improved dramatically. From 2009-10, 318 of Cabrera’s at-bats ended on a pitch on the outer portion of the plate and only one left the yard. In 2011, however, Cabrera belted 10 home runs on these pitches in just 194 at-bats.
So can Cabrera repeat this performance?
It’s entirely possible that some luck was involved, especially with the 10 home runs. However, when luck is the driving force between a dramatic change in stats, we often see a significant rise in batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which wasn’t the case for Cabrera. As previously his mentioned, his average remained steady, indicating that the jump in power is likely a repeatable skill which he developed over the course of the past year.
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