Today is the Indians much-anticipated Home Opener, as the team returns from a season-opening road trip against two tough playoff contenders in which the Tribe managed to scrape together a nice .500 record. There have been some bumps in the road (some of the home runs Brett Myers served up against the Blue Jays are still lost, floating around in low orbit), and some bruises (Lou Marson got roughed up by Desmond Jennings on Friday night), but for the most part the pitching and offense of this team has been exactly as advertised. Michael Bourn and Carlos Santana have gotten off to hot starts, and while Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis are scuffling a little bit, they did show signs of life over the weekend. Asdrubal Cabrera, however, is still mired in a deep slump to open the season, having gone 1-20 since Opening Night when he hit a homer off of NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey.

So what’s up with Cabrera, who at times has looked completely lost at the plate? Most likely, this is just a normal slump and Cabrera will pick it up sooner or later, but let’s dig through Asdrubal’s hitting statistics from previous seasons to see if we can glean anything about the nature of this particular rough patch.

In the second half last season, Cabrera’s production at the plate took a precipitous fall after the All-Star break, which probably contributed to the Indians disheartening collapse throughout the month of August. As you can see in the table below, in the first half of the season Cabrera was a fantastic hitter, especially for a shortstop, but that production just disappears in the second half. I can’t even point to BABIP, either, as it held steady throughout the season (In fact, Asdrubal has been remarkably consistent with his BABIP since establishing himself in the majors).

2012

AB

R

H

HR

BB

SO

BA

OBP

OPS

BABIP

First Half

304

43

87

11

34

45

.286

.364

.832

.305

Second Half

273

27

63

5

18

54

.251

.305

.676

.301

 

So, what happened? For whatever reason, Asdrubal’s plate discipline went into the tank and he cut his walks almost in half while striking out more in fewer ABs, but he also hit for far less power over the second half. My instinct is to chalk up these struggles to fatigue, which admittedly is probably a big factor, but I also noticed a trend in the locations of pitches that Asdrubal was hitting from 2010 to the end of the 2012 season. Let’s take a look:

Asdrubal 2010
2010

Asdrubal 2011
2011

Asdrubal 2012
2012

In the above graphs, we see that Asdrubal has always done well vs. pitches that are belt high, but there are some significant fluctuations in the other places in which Cabrera succeeds. In 2010 and 2011, he was excellent at generating hits out of balls that were low and inside vs. RHP and balls that were high and inside vs. LHP.

Allow me to break this down a little further; the following three graphs attempt to show where Cabrera generated his power by charting his ISO on balls in play. ISO is a neat and simple little stat in that it is simply Slugging Percentage (SLG) – Batting Average (BA) and it is meant to illuminate a batter’s raw ability at generating extra base hits. Let’s take a look:

CabreraISO 2011
2011 (Whole Season)

CabreraISO 2012 1st
2012 (1st Half)

CabreraISO 2012 2nd
2012 (2nd Half)

These three graphs show a very clear trend in Asdrubal’s offensive output over the past two seasons. In 2011, when he apparently reworked his approach to generate more power (thanks to Orlando Cabrera), he had great success at generating power in the middle of the plate and in the two inside extremes (low and in as a lefty, high and in as a righty), and this resulted in an explosion of HRs, an All-Star berth, and a contract extension.

In 2012, however, there were troubling signs even early on when Asdrubal was raking. Namely, he wasn’t hitting those low and inside balls as well, and he wasn’t hitting the high and inside balls at all. He was still feasting on balls up in the zone, however, so his numbers remained solid. By contrast, in the second half Asdrubal became a very different hitter, one who succeeded almost exclusively on the outside corner (vs. LHP or RHP). Two more quick graphs for comparison:

Cabrera 2011 vsRHP
2011 (Entire Season) vs. RHP

Cabrera 2012 vsRHP
2012 (Second Half) vs. RHP

These graphs represent a significant change in the way Cabrera generated his offense over the course of two seasons. He went from being a hitter who would punish any mistake over the plate and who could turn on a pitch over the inside corner to a hitter who didn’t have the bat speed to punish mistakes on the inner half. Again, this could be due to fatigue over the course of a long season, but it is something to keep an eye on.

So what should we expect going forward in 2013? The good news is that both of Asdrubal’s hits have come from the middle of the strike zone, and his always-consistent BABIP is in the sewer, so there is a lot of reason to expect a big breakout game from the Indians SS soon. The bad news is that Asdrubal hasn’t been able to punish the inside ball consistently for a year now and he is swinging and missing drastically more this season than ever before. His swing-and-miss rate jumped from 17.5% in 2011 and 17.4% in 2012 (19.2% during his second half swoon) to 26.1% so far in 2013.

Cabrera is still young (he’ll be 28 in November), but it seems he has definitely lost a small amount of bat speed since his breakout 2011, which impacts his ability to generate power on the inside part of the plate, giving opposing pitchers a way to attack the Indians switch hitting shortstop. Cabrera is going to need to either improve his plate discipline (laying off the pitches he can no longer catch up to) or he’s going to have to learn to turn those inside pitches into hits again if he’s going to repeat his All-Star numbers from a couple seasons ago. For this season, expect a slight regression across the board, but don’t anticipate that Cabrera will continue to hit <.100 for very long. He’s still an above-average offensive shortstop and he will bounce back from his rough start in 2013.

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5 Comments

  • The Doctor says:

    I could be completely wrong about this, but it always FEELS like Cabrera starts off really slow. His bat speed has always looked bad to me, and paired with his inability to lay off both curves in the dirt and neck-high fastballs, it’s impressive that he even hits as well as he does.

    I think what drives me craziest about him is that he appears to have absolutely zero ability to alter his approach based on the situation – the number of times I’ve seen him hit an infield pop when there’s a man on third and less than two outs is maddening.

  • Adam Hintz says:

    It’s possible this is confirmation bias on your part, but I do agree on his lack of situational awareness.

    In 2012 Cabrera hit .302/.362/.492 in April
    In 2011, he hit .262/.333/.458

    Those aren’t bad numbers, and they are in line with or above his career averages.

    • The Doctor says:

      Ah, thanks for taking the 30 seconds to look up something I was pathetically too lazy to loo kup myself. Yeah, let’s just say I’m not the most unbiased observer when it comes to Cabrera.

  • Adam Hintz says:

    Haha, I hope you understand I wasn’t trying to play “Gotcha” with you. I just looked it up myself, too.

    He is off to a slow start this year, I’ll give you that. :)

    • Drew says:

      You should break it down even further. Just because Cabrera had respectable numbers in 2011 and 2012 in April, doesn’t mean that they weren’t back-loaded in the month. He had a horrendous 1st week of the season. He can still have 2 average weeks and 1 killer week and have a good an average month. The sample sizes are very small.

      Also, I must point out that in the first week of the season, the Indians faced a very good staff of pitchers so far this season. Kudora, Moore, Dickey, Price, Buehrle, Morrow, Johnson. All were above average, if not Cy Young winning pitchers in 2012. The worst of the bunch was Alex Cobb and he still had 10 QS last season.