Melky Cabrera Fantasy: What Signing with Tigers would Do to his Value

I’ve had some time to think about how valuable Melky Cabrera really is since I detailed what you can really expect from him in 2013, when he’ll (at least theoretically) be clean.

Nothing is written and stone, though, and if the Tigers take the suggestion of Dave Cameron of ESPN (insider required) and sign the Melk Man, my expectations will be significantly bolstered.

Why do I feel this way? Well, let’s take a look.

1. 2011 was a good season for Melky: In the piece linked above, I was under the assumption that Cabrera was using PED’s in 2011. When you consider what happened to him in 2012 and how much better 2011 was than his previous seasons, it may not be the worst assumption. But one thing very clearly needs to be said, in 2011, Cabrera never tested positive for anything. That’s a personal assumption based on putting a few pieces together. Take a look at what he did in 2011:

102 runs, 18 homers, 87 RBI, 20 steals, .305 average.

Had Cabrera not been suspended in 2012 and kept the same pace he was on (admittedly a lot of speculation there), this is the kind of season he would have been looking at.

116 runs, 15 homers, 83 RBI, 18 steals, .346 average.

I’m certainly not saying that the PED use didn’t aid his 2012 production, but if he was indeed clean in 2011, it’s not outlandish to say that he’s just a good hitter who improved with PED use, rather than a mediocre player who became great while using them. So, when he’s theoretically clean in 2013, you may not see him return to 2012 form, but his numbers in 2011 were pretty solid for a fantasy outfielder, considering he was above average to good in all five categories.

Ultimately, projecting 2013 depends on how much you trust what happened in 2011. But even if you think 2011 and 2012 were both dirty, there are a few other things you should consider.

2. The Detroit batting order: If he signs with Detroit, Melky will see an absurd amount of good pitches to hit because he’d be batting in front of another Cabrera, Miguel Cabrera. As the American League Triple Crown winner, Miggy is easily the most feared hitter in the game and the last thing any pitcher would want to do is face him with men on base. If you want to see how this is practically applied, I’ve got some numbers for you to see involving two of my favorite players of all-time, Rich Aurilia and Jeff Kent and how they fared hitting in front of Barry Bonds.

In 2001, Aurilia hit second for the Giants with Bonds hitting third. Hitting in front of Bonds, Aurilia got more hits than any player in the National League, coming in with a clean .324 batting average.

Early the following season, the Giants put Bonds in the four-spot, moving Kent to the three-hole. So now instead of Aurilia getting those pitches from batting in front of Bonds, it was Kent. Aurilia went from .324 to .257, drawing walks at a similar rate. Kent went from .298 in 2001 to .313 in 2002. His OBP actually remained consistent (even dropping one point) because he wasn’t drawing walks hitting in front of Bonds. You generally don’t draw walks when you’re looking at fastballs over the plate.

Batting in front of Miguel Cabrera, who just won the first Triple Crown either league had seen in 45 years, will get Melky a lot of fastballs. Quite frankly, even if you don’t trust 2011 and 2012, he’s still a much better hitter than Quintin Berry and everyone else who occupied the two-hole for Detroit this year.

With those extra fastballs, Melky would have ample chances to drive in Austin Jackson, who had a fantastic year in 2012, hitting .300, with a .379 OBP, and a .479 slugging percentage.

But obviously, the numbers don’t stop there. If Melky becomes a Tiger, he’ll have a decent chance of scoring a run every time he reaches base, with Miggy and Prince Fielder hitting in the next two slots. He had that to an extent in 2012 batting in front of Buster Posey, but even Posey isn’t as powerful as Miggy or Prince, and a lot of Posey’s great 2012 play came after Melky’s suspension. Posey had 10 homers with a .289 average in the first half against 14 homers and a .385 average after the break, despite fewer games and at-bats.

It doesn’t stop there.

3. Melky will have a lot to prove in 2013: This one is pretty self-explanatory. If the Tigers take Cameron’s suggestion, Melky will be signed to a one-year contract and quite frankly, it’s hard to see anyone committing any more than one year to him.

If you look at his numbers before 2011, Melky had a .267 career average, .328 OBP, and .379 slugging percentage. Not exactly brilliant production.

If he has a poor year in 2013, this is what teams will be looking at next offseason: A mediocre hitting 29-year-old who will turn 30 during the 2014 season with a PED past. Remember, another positive test is a 100-game suspension.

But with a strong year in 2013, it’s not hard to imagine Melky getting a nice 3-5 year contract worth close to $10 million a year next offseason. After all, he would have shown that while 2012 was certainly PED aided, he can in fact hit. Teams are quite forgiving of player’s disgretions if they produce. With another good year in 2013, he would cash in on a big contract. With a bad 2013, he may not even be a starting outfielder on Opening Day 2014. It’s really that simple.

There’s one other thing to consider on that end. The Giants clearly didn’t get hurt by Melky’s absence in 2012. As a matter of fact, they really rallied around his suspension, running away with the NL West (the race was very close when he was suspended on August 15) and eventually winning the World Series. He’ll be motivated to prove that he can make a big impact on a contender. I’m not saying he didn’t help the Giants in 2012, but their late-season and postseason success did not help his value at all.

Ultimately, a lot can happen with Melky in 2013 and a lot does depend on his situation. He’ll have a lot to prove next year, but needs to be in a good situation to be a productive fantasy player. Batting in front of a Triple Crown winner who himself is protected by a banger like Prince would be the ideal situation.


Cabrera’s 2013 Projection Range in Detroit

Best Case Scenario  660 218 119 19 85 12 .330
Worst Case Scenario  540 139 79 8 43 9 .257
Actual Projections 605 180 102 14 79 15 .298

Tags: Detroit Tigers Melky Cabrera

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