Perhaps the most discussed topic outside of the Indians early pitching issues has been the shortstop position in Cleveland. The discussion of what to do there is quite polarizing, and can be easily seen in but a few tweets.
The rationally positive, highlighting the league wide dearth at shortstop as well as part of Asdrubal Cabrera’s positive value or semblance of.
Then the unavoidable subjective conclusion which, while drawn from a limited sample of visual experience, when combined with last seasons struggle appears to have some validity.
Cabrera is a relatively complex being or perhaps we have made him so, with some sort of blind commitment to specific approaches to his talents. While we frequently discuss the idea of five tool players, often overvaluing arm strength for outfielders as well as our ability to measure its impact, with Cabrera we must monitor three “tools”. The three tools or pieces are: the ability to hit for power, the ability to get on base, and the ability to play defense.
At the outset, we accept the following assertion surrounding Cabrera since his transformation from fit slap hitter to mediocre bodied big swinger. Cabrera for a shortstop has above average power, the slugging percentage effectively buoyed his OPS, hiding the fairly concerning OBP. Which is why, citing OPS especially compared to shortstops is incredibly deceptive to his offensive skill set because it is almost solely derived from producing solid power at a position known for speed and defensive value.
So Cabrera’s power tool, relative to the position is above average, this concession we must clearly make. The other two skills are questionable.
Of 17 qualified shortstops in 2013, Asdrubal Cabrera finished 12th in OBP at .299. Of course this is his lowest full season OBP but that does not mean it will be an outlier in the future. According to PITCHf/x data Cabrera’s O-Swing% was 31.4%, the league average was 29.7%(In a super small sample in 2014, 38.5% to a league wide 29.3%). This was a significant differential, bearing a substantial effect on Asdrubal’s K and BB rates.
Of course, Cabrera’s 2012 BB rate appears to be the true offensive outlier at 8.4%, heightening expectations which should really sit around 5.5%-6.5% going forward. Of course there are xBABIP issues, which would project an increased batting average but contact quality looks to be in decline as well. Indeed, Cabrera’s remedy to avoiding swinging at pitches outside the strike zone is merely to swing at first pitches in excessive frequency, rolling over for ground balls with wonderful consistency (This claim cannot be substantiated statistically it just appears so when watching his torturous lack of discipline).
Cabrera merely seems to be on the decline in terms of his on base skills which limits his ability to hide his other flaw/flaws with plus offense.
Lastly is Asdrubal Cabrera’s defense. First, we can start with the eye test. To the common viewer it is clear that his range is incredibly limited, however, his hands are very soft and he does not make excessive mistakes on routine plays. I know, this is quite the ringing endorsement.
Cabrera has not scored a positive UZR in a full season at shortstop and has ranged from just a tick below average, to below average, to bad. Of course we can’t weight a single season of UZR as it a three year sample is necessary but by data or eye test, Asdrubal Cabrera is just a woeful defender at this point.
Often times we ignore run prevention, or undervalue it because it is so hard to quantify. Cabrera has an effect. The Indians infield is horrific and Cabrera is its kingpin. The biggest issue is the effect on Indians pitching, Justin Masterson and Carlos Carrasco are ground ball dominant, Corey Kluber at least ground ball leaning. The BABIP impact is and will continue to be tangible with this abysmal defense.
Which brings us to Francisco Lindor, we know one thing with certainty right now; Lindor will be an above average to plus defender at shortstop in the big leagues, yesterday. Defensively, he is completely ready. Inevitably, Lindor would cover a large portion of Cabrera’s missing power production with defensive value.
As for being ready for the big leagues offensively, we have no certainty. Lindor has played just thirty games at AA, Akron. However, plate discipline/approach is an essential marker to a transition to the big leagues. Lindor has that, in 2013 he walked 49 times, struck out 46. He continues to post low strikeout rates combined with walk rates around or above 10%.
Indeed, it would not be unfair to expect a .320 OBP, .360 SLG with plus defense at the big league level in his first season. An average offensive player/tick below average offensive player with plus defense. Which is more valuable than an average offensive player/tick below average (95 wRC+), who plays terrible defense.
Indeed, I am willing to be considered aggressive with prospect placement rather than stray towards archaic approaches of “waiting for his time” or unfounded conservatism. A Lindor promotion should be seriously considered, despite the fact that I am performing overreaction theater.