(Not) Collecting Melky Cabrera

1_mediumYou can throw his All Star game MVP in my face if you’d like. We can talk numbers all you want. You can tell me he leads the National League in hits this year, after racking up over 200 hits for the Royals last year. You can tell me his OPS+ is over 160 right now. Still, I saw Melky Cabrera play baseball in 2010. Like most of the Braves fans reading this, I saw him a lot. One thing we all know is this: he stinks.

The most amazing thing about the Atlanta Braves 2010 season is that Melky Cabrera wasn’t even the worst outfielder on the Braves. That honor went to Nate McLouth, whose 2010 season might be the worse that I have witnessed in all my years as a baseball fan. Melky was a more interesting case, and to some, a deceiving one. His .255 batting average that year would suggest mediocrity, but that number is deceiving. His bat was a wet one, as demonstrated by his anemic .354 slugging percentage. He had a knack for not coming through in the clutch as evidenced by a .215 batting average with runners in scoring position. He was simply bad. (For a look back at his 2010 season, check out royhobbs analysis of Cabrera’s performance during the 2010 season.)

He did have one legitimately great moment during the 2010 season. On the 16th of August, the Braves faced the Los Angeles Dodgers at Turner FIeld. In Melky’s first three trips to the plate, he lined out to center, struck out and hit a soft grounder at the pitcher. The Braves had very little working for them offensively that day and the Dodgers carried a 3–1 lead into the ninth. Alex Gonzales hit a soft fly into left that fell just in front of Dodger’s left fielder Scott Podsednik. Brian McCann followed with a single into right. Gonzales held up at second. Dodger pitcher Hong-Chih Kuo then bounced a pitch to Troy Glaus that got away from his catcher allowing the runners to reach second and third. After Glaus popped out, Kuo walked Brooks Conrad to load the bases.

Looking to close out the game, the Dodgers brought in Octavio Dotel. The Braves sent David Ross to the plate. Dotel looked to have him right where he wanted him with a 1–2 count. Dotel wanted that strikeout to set up the double play to close out the game. Instead, he threw three straight balls, Gonzales crossed the plate and Melky Cabrera came to the plate. He worked a 3–2 count as well, then placed a ground ball just out of reach of the Dodgers shortstop scoring two runs and winning the game for the Braves. It was his best, and really, only memorable moment for the Braves. (Actually, it was quite the game for Melky. In the 8th inning, he gunned down a runner at the plate trying to score on a sacrifice fly.)

2_mediumIt was not a typical performance for Melky that year. He had a more typical performance just a few days later against the Cubs on August 20. He came to bat in the 4th with a runner on second a hit a weak groundout to third. In the tops of the ninth and down by just a run, the Braves loaded the bases on walks. With just one out, Cabrera came to the plate. All he needed was to get a runner in to tie the game. Carlos Marmol recorded the strikeout on three straight pitches. That day, Rick Ankiel bailed Melky out with a bases clearing triple which would prove to be the winning runs.

Melky wouldn’t always be that fortunate. On May 4, for instance, he would come to bat twice with runners on first second. He faced the situation in the first inning and hit a weak ground ball. When he faced it again in the 7th inning, he struck out looking. His 2010 season seemed to be one of weak ground balls and strike outs with runners in scoring position. The Braves fan base seemed thrilled when the Braves decided not to offer Cabrera a contract after the season.

I’m not looking to dump on a guy for an awful season in a Braves uniform. Like most fans, I’m somewhat tolerant of poor performance when I sense that a player is busting his rear end to play better. My dislike of Cabrera is based more on the perception that he was not giving it his all. He showed up at Spring Training overweight. His play in the outfield seemed lackadaisical at best. Worse, he gave away at-bat after at-bat throughout the season.

Considering he took 3.1 million of the Braves money in 2010, you would think he would be a little more respectful and tolerant of the Atlanta Braves and their fans. Braves fans watched his poor play night after night that season. We then saw him go to Kansas City where he worked hard to get himself into better shape. He had a better than average season, which persuaded the Giants to deal for him. His numbers with the Giants this year seem improbable to an astonishing degree to those of us who saw him play in Atlanta and in New York.

I don’t blame Melky Cabrera for being happy with his performance this year. I don’t blame him for getting himself into better shape and reviving his career. Young players often make mistakes and it’s how you respond to the adversity that defines you. It speaks well of Cabrera that he (eventually) saw that changes need to be made if he wanted to play in the big leagues. Still, he needs to grow up and understand that Braves fans who watched him play in 2010 are rightfully upset that he didn’t make these changes in Atlanta. He took 3.1 million dollars of Liberty Media’s money and the best we can say about his performance in 2010 is that he showed up. The taunting, skipping and showboating should be beneath him.

Melky Cabrera’s numbers might not stink anymore, but as he showed with his behavior on the field last week against the Braves, he still does.


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