Now that the 2013 season is complete, it’s time to take a look back at the team and how each player performed on the field. After focusing on Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher, and Jason Kipnis to lead things off, today we turn our attention towards shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
2013 Projection: Entering into his age 27 season, typically the beginning of the peak years of performance for a baseball player, there was a strange optimism surrounding Asdrubal Cabrera. After a tremendous 2011 season that saw him break out as a hitter, particularly in the power department thanks to a 25 home run and 92 RBI outburst, Cabrera followed that up with a rather pedestrian and disappointing 2012.
Oddly though, Cabrera’s 2012 wasn’t all that different from his 2011 season. His 2012 slash line of 270/.338/.423 was nearly identical to his .273/.332/.460 2011 line. It was the drop off in home runs from 25 to 16 and RBI from 92 to 68 that bothered everyone so much. In actuality, 2012 wasn’t a bad season for Cabrera. It just didn’t “look” as good thanks to a drop off in a few select counting statistics.
However, he headed into 2013 in better shape than in 2012 and looked motivated to reestablish himself as one of the premier offensive shortstops in all of baseball. Cabrera would once again help anchor the heart of the Indians’ lineup out of the three spot, sitting comfortably between super-star in the making Jason Kipnis in the two-hole and newly acquired Nick Swisher in the cleanup spot. Many felt that with Michael Bourn and Jason Kipnis getting on base ahead of him and Swisher adding protection, Cabrera was primed for a career year offensively.
The major issue for Cabrera would be his defensive issues. Thanks to a few spectacular web gems here and there, many fans have been tricked into believing Cabrera possess an above average glove defensively. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Cabrera has lacked adequate range for a shortstop for quite some time now. In 2012, UZR put him at 9.0 runs below a league-average shortstop. Could an in-shape Cabrera improve his range and defensive metrics? Well, that’s what everyone was hoping for.
So What Happened?: Things did not go well for Asdrubal Cabrera in 2013. Not at all.
Cabrera struggled for most of the 2013 season at the plate and in the end turned in one of his worst seasons at the plate since 2008. His slash line of .242/.299/.402 was bad, but doesn’t even begin to tell the entire story. His power continued to decline at a time when players typically experience an incline. 2013 was the second straight year in which Cabrera’s home run totals fell. He finished the year with a disappointing 14 dingers, more than a third of which came during the month of September. His wRC+ of 95 ended up being the lowest it has been since the 2010 season in which he posted a wRC+ of 88.
Perhaps the most discouraging signs for why Cabrera struggled in 2013 had to do with his patience, or lack thereof at the plate. In 2013, Cabrera’s strikeout rate was a career worst 20.3% while his walk rate fell to 6.2%. Anyone who watched a singled inning of Indians baseball in 2013 could very plainly see that Cabrera did not look comfortable at the plate and struggled with pitch selection. For lack of a better term, he looked flummoxed every time he stepped into the batter’s box. Things got so bad that Cabrera was eventually dropped to the seventh spot in the lineup after months of Terry Francona refusing to do so. He ended up finishing the year with a fWAR of only .6. His bWAR was only slightly better at 1.2, but both would be career worsts.
Oh, and about his defense… it got worse. Cabrera’s recorded UZR for the 2013 season according to Fangraphs was a miserable -12.8.
Where do we go from here?: That’s a great question. Cabrera will be a free agent following the 2014 season and the debate is already beginning about what the Indians should do with the former all-star shortstop. It’s possible that Cabrera’s best days could be behind him despite the fact that he will only be entering his age 28 season. It stands to reason then that Cabrera may simply be the classic “change of scenery” guy. For that reason, it might be advantageous for both sides to move on. For the Indians that means shipping Cabrera to whoever will have him. For Cabrera it means a fresh start and a chance to reestablish himself in a new setting with new teammates. Regardless, it seems unlikely that the Indians would choose to invest more years and money into Cabrera beyond 2014 with Francisco Lindor waiting in the minors.
That raises the question, however, of who will play shortstop for the Indians on 2014. If the Indians decide to move on from the Asdrubal Cabrera era, they could turn to a variety of directions. The first option is to roll with Mike Aviles as the everyday starter at short. A second, more tantalizing option could be promoting Francisco Lindor and seeing what the young man is made of. Third, the Indians could pursue someone from outside of the organization. But again, this is all predicated on the notion that the Indians are ready to part ways with Cabrera.
Key Moment: During the AL Wild Card game, Cabrera stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. Down 3-0, Cabrera’s at bat would prove to be the defining moment and it was a microcosm of his season as a whole. On a 1-0 pitch from Alex Cobb, Cabrera grounded into a 3-6-1 double play to end the innings and the threat. It would end up being the best opportunity the Indians would have all night and sums up perfectly the type of season Cabrera had for the Tribe. (refresh if video fails to load)