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The Melky Way
2008-09-06 12:35
by Cliff Corcoran
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

Untitled The Yankees called up Melky Cabrera before last night's game, but according to Pete Abe's article on Melky this morning, that had as much to do with the team's concern over Bobby Abreu having jammed his wrist sliding into second base on Thursday night as with Cabrera's performance over his three weeks with triple-A Scranton.

Melky's traveled a winding path since hitting .280/.360/.391 as a 21-year-old rookie in 2006. He opened last season on the major league bench and struggled, but after taking over in center field on June 1, he hit .325/.375/.482 for three months before slumping in September for the second straight year. When Cabrera opened this season with a .299/.370/.494 April (including five home runs against a previous full-season high of eight), it looked like Melky was emerging as the star player the Yankees had hoped he'd become, but he hit just .226/.274/.293 from May 1 through his, by then, overdue demotion in mid-August.

According to Pete's article, when Melky was sent down, he was charged with improving his play in three ways: "Be more selective at the plate, try to steal more bases and be more vocal in the outfield." Two of those goals can be measured objectively, while the third pertains to Melky's defense, which was the least of his problems at the time of his demotion. With that in mind, here's a quick look at how Cabrera's reeducation went over the past three weeks.

From May 1 through his demotion, Cabrera walked 18 times (four of them intentional) in 339 plate appearances, a rate of one unintentional walk every 24.2 trips. In 66 plate appearances with Scranton he walked eight times (none intentionally), a rate of one unintentional walk every 8.25 trips. It's a small sample, to be sure, but I'm willing to believe that improvement can be maintained. As a rookie in 2006, Melky walked 56 times (three intentional) in 524 plate appearances, a rate of one walk every 9.9 trips. What's hidden in those numbers, however, is the fact that four of those eight minor league walks game in a single game. Factor those four plate appearances out and he walked once every 15.5 plate appearances over the rest of his time at triple-A. That's still a marked improvement, but not one that gets him back to that 2006 rate, which is really where he needs to be.

In the majors this year, Cabrera stole 9 bases and was caught twice (an 81 percent success rate) in roughly 129 times on base (not counting times he reached on errors or fielders choices). In the minors, he stole one base in four tries in roughly 27 times on base. Its clear that Melky was forcing things on the bases in Scranton. With the Yankees, he attempted a steal once every 11.7 times on base. In Scranton, he attempted a steal once every 6.8 times on base. Then there's these comments from Chad Jennings pertaining to Scranton's games on August 22 and 23:

Melky Cabrera got thrown out trying to steal third base in that decisive ninth inning. At the time, the tying run had already scored and Cabrera was in scoring position with one out. [Manager Dave] Miley said Cabrera was running on his own and was none to happy with his decision to go. . . . I understand that Melky Cabrera wants to prove to the Yankees that he's willing to play hard -- and you can't deny he's run out every ball and play good, hustle defense -- but he was just caught stealing second. Last night he was caught stealing third in tie game in the bottom of the ninth. Sunday he was thrown out foolishly trying to stretch a single into a double. Cabrera needs to show he's willing to hustle, but right now the greater concern might be whether or not he's a bonehead.

With regard to the time he was thrown out stretching, Jennings reported that Scranton hitting coach Butch Wynegar said Melky told him he was just trying to show hustle. Wynegar responded by explaining the difference between hustle and bad baserunning. Melky's a fast player, but he's not a blazer, and he was stealing at a high percentage in the majors this year, which is the most important thing to consider when evaluating a base thief. Again, the minor league sample is extremely small, but the early returns suggest that the Yankees would be best off leaving well enough alone when it comes to Melky's basestealing and focusing on smart baserunning instead.

Overall, Cabrera hit .333/409/.368 in Scranton, which isn't a far cry from what his rival Brett Gardner did down there this year (.296/.414/.422). Going back to Jennings conversation with Wynegar, Melky showed up two days before he was required to report to Scranton and, if nothing else, is aware of the fact that he needs to prove himself to the organization. Melky told Pete Abe, "I tried to have a good attitude. I want to do the work," and Pete reports that Joe Girardi's heard good things about Melky's work ethic with Scranton.

Right now, I expect Melky to start the 2009 season back in Scranton and have to earn his way back up. He'll still be just 24 next season (he's almost exactly a year younger than Gardner) so there's plenty of room for hope and for him to still come away with a long, productive major league career, and the demotion appears to have served as a sufficient wake-up call. The only question now is if the Yankees can focus his renewed determination into the necessary skill set for him to succeed as a major league starter.

Comments
2008-09-06 13:41:06
1.   Mattpat11
Honestly, I'd rather see Melky on the major league team than Brett Bellhorn next year.

If I see Gardner strike out looking one more time I will not be held responsible for my actions.

2008-09-06 13:44:45
2.   Cliff Corcoran
1 I'd rather see Gardner make the pitcher use up 5 pitches for an out than see Melky make an out on one, though I suppose Melky's ability to make contact (and thus force the action, even if it rarely works out in his favor) balances that out a bit. Of course, I remain hopeful that one or the other will be at least mildly productive moving forward.
2008-09-06 14:13:11
3.   Mattpat11
2 If all we want is someone to stand there perfectly still waiting to strike out, we might as well hold a contest and let a different fan bat ninth each day.

Brett Gardner has proven he doesn't actually have any kind of batting eye. That was a myth aided by the shitty AAA pitchers. He just takes and takes and takes and takes and takes and takes. When the big league figures that one out, he'll routinely go down on three pitches.

2008-09-06 14:45:04
4.   The Hawk
Gardner hasn't shown us ANYTHING in the majors. There are those players where the difference between majors and minors is the difference between them being effective or not, and he's one of em (as well as Kennedy, it looks like).

Melky at least has proven he can hit in the majors. The question is has he just fallen off permanently? Or is it a temporary issue. My guess is the latter, because his name is Melky and I want someone with that name on the team.

Seriously, I think if he plays within his limitations, he'll do better again, and he'll still hit a HR every now and then, whereas Gardner will not.

The Yankees would be fine with Cabrera in center, hitting .270 or so, plus he's shown at times to have a knack for - dare I say it - being clutch, at least back in 07.

2008-09-06 14:57:35
5.   JL25and3
The answer, IMHO, should be "none of the above." If they go into next season with a choice of Melky or Gardner in CF, I'm going to be very, very disappointed.
2008-09-06 15:14:04
6.   Cliff Corcoran
4 I wouldn't say Gardner hasn't shown anything. He's shown range and a strong arm in the field, great speed and basestealing ability on the bases, and has hit .381/.364/.524 in 23 major league PA with runners in scoring position.

What's gone unsaid here is that Damon just can't hack it in center any more, but that's another post for another day.

2008-09-06 15:15:12
7.   Mattpat11
5 I also don't want them to trade for some mediocrity
2008-09-06 15:16:14
8.   The Hawk
5 Well what are the other options?

6 Sorry, I meant offensively. He just seems like one of those guys who can't hit major league pitching.

2008-09-06 15:18:08
9.   Cliff Corcoran
8 Again, I point to that performance with runners in scoring position. He's only made 20 major league starts and looked to be heating up before Matsui came off the DL and forced him to the bench. Give him a bit more slack.
2008-09-06 15:20:09
10.   OldYanksFan
Poll Question of the Night:
IF for whatever reason, the Yankees do NOT (not, no, nope) get Teixera, they should (chose the one you are WILLING to accept)

a) exercise Giambi's Option (net of $17m)
b) 2 yr contract ay 2/$20m (+ $5m buyout)
c) No to Giambi at any cost

If (c), suggest an AVAILABE FA or someone who could be gotten via trade (and what the trade is).

(Don't criticise Cashman, BE Cashman!)

BONUS QUESTION:
What is Giambi worth on the FA market? 2/$24?

2008-09-06 15:20:45
11.   Cliff Corcoran
So I flipped on FOX to watch a few innings of Dodgers v. Diamonbacks (it's late in a blowout, so there's not much to see), and I already can't stand to listen to Mark Grace (who's calling the game) anymore. Took him about an inning to make me want to throw my TV out the window.
2008-09-06 15:22:08
12.   Sliced Bread
If you have the same expecations as me for 2009 it doesn't matter much if Melk or Gardner covers CF next year. They're both capable fielders, and look to be capable of hitting around David Ortiz's weight. Whatevs. They'll do until AJax is ready.

Damon should be at 1b next year. Heck, I'd move him there now to begin the transition.

2008-09-06 15:25:12
13.   Sliced Bread
10 c) see 12 (and maybe even Posada if he can't catch)

bonus: G's worth whatever anyone will pay him.

2008-09-06 15:25:33
14.   Cliff Corcoran
10 Adam Dunn? He's really a DH waiting to happen, but he's essentially a more durable Giambi who's about a decade younger.

Spend spring trainging working out Nady, Dunn, and Matsui at first base and hope one of them clicks (Dunn and Nady have prior 1B experience).

2008-09-06 15:25:55
15.   monkeypants
I'm not excited about either Gardner or Melky, but ultimately I believe the debate is of little relevance after next year. If I am forced to choose between the two, my non-rational self prefers Gardner, but only because I like the idea of a player like Gardner (especially because he is superfast). I certainly think that Gardner has more value coming off the bench as a PR.

As for who can hit better--who knows? Gardner has looked bad in basically 75 PAs. That's not much of a sample. Melky has looked better, but at the same time, his numbers have not been particularly good in their own right, and they have gotten worse each of his three seasons. I'm not even sold on his supposedly hot start this year--check out hit tracker and see where most of Melky's early season homers landed. I'm not sure 4 or 5 320' HRs constitutes developing power.

In the end, the best option going forward is Ajax.

2008-09-06 15:27:23
16.   Cliff Corcoran
12 I'll leave Damon in left field. But, heck, put him in the mix I mention in 14 and see how it turns out, the sort those four players into the two outfield corners, 1B, and DH as appropriate. Out of the bunch, Damn and Nady are the best defensive outfielders.
2008-09-06 15:34:11
17.   monkeypants
10 It depends when the team must exercise Giambi's option. If they can wait and test the FA market first, then maybe get someone like Dunn 14 . If they have a short deadline, however, I would pick up his option for the one year.

As for Damon, Nady, Matsui, Posada (and don't forget Jeter) at 1B...I'm not convinced any one is a viable option, nor do I think that it will happen. Nady is going to be the RF, and Posada will be the C with some DH. Matsui and Damon will platoon in LF/DH as the team rides out Damon's contract.

Maybe moving Matsui to 1B makes sense. Maybe. Although Nady has 1B experience, if he is moved there, who plays RF? Do we want Damon's arm there?

2008-09-06 15:37:57
18.   Mattpat11
12 Would that be the heavy but athletic looking David Ortiz of 03-05 or the Walking Balloon of 06-08?
2008-09-06 15:44:43
19.   Cliff Corcoran
17 If Nady plays first, Dunn would be your RF. He'll be very Abreu-like out there, which ain't good, but he'll mash.
2008-09-06 16:03:05
20.   monkeypants
19 OK, sure, but that assumes you pick up Dunn. In that case, Dunn, 1B-Nady, RF or vice versa doesn't make any difference to me (except that I'd rather have NAdy's defense in RF, I think).

That still leaves very little room for Damon and Matsui and Posada (and Jeter) at 1B.

2008-09-06 16:05:19
21.   The Hawk
What's wrong with Nady in right? 1st base is gonna be crowded enough as it is.
2008-09-06 16:06:05
22.   marc
hmm, Joe Torre and the Dodgers now in 1st place. That would be pretty impressive if he can keep the playoff streak alive with another team
2008-09-06 16:08:44
23.   The Hawk
10 As for Giambi, there's no way they should take him back unless it's under $10 mil per,a nd I'd say a maximum of 2 years too. I kind of like him in his role as redeemed damaged goods, but ultimately he's been a disappointment and an embarrassment to the organization.
2008-09-06 16:11:33
24.   Just fair
At this moment, the boys are tied with Toronto. Yuck.
Gardner is mighty fast but I am also of the belief that his approach is "please don't throw me a strike." And I also think that if Abreu is not in right next year, it will be a mistake.
2008-09-06 16:19:14
25.   monkeypants
24 Abreu is gone. They are not going to pay FA money/years to keep at his age.

23 If they pick up his option, he will around for only one year, but total cost of 22 million. If they bring him back for 10 million, it will really cost them 15 million (since they would have to pay the 5 million buy out). With Giambi, it seems to me you must either pick up his contract or buy him, nothing in between, Unless he really digs playing in NY, he will be able to sign a two-year deal someplace for more than the less-than-10-million you suggest AND still pocket the 5 million buyout from the Yanks.

2008-09-06 16:19:49
26.   Mr OK Jazz TOKYO
11 haha, seems that awful announcers out number the good ones by a hefty margin..for me it's Sutcliffe and Hawk of course that are migraine-inducing..(on the flip side, Rob Neyer the other day linked to an interesting article on Vin Scully, easily the best I've ever heard, after the Scooter of course!)
2008-09-06 16:20:44
27.   The Hawk
24 I couldn't disagree more about Abreu. I think he needs to be out of here next year. As far as intangibles go, his suck. I'll take a more inconsistent player with some fire over him any day of the week.
2008-09-06 16:23:38
28.   The Hawk
25 That's all probably true about Giambi. I'm saying just buy him out. If he wants to come back for a "bargain" rate (I mean tops $15/2 years which actually as I type it seems incredibly generous) - great; if he wants to bolt, let him bolt.
2008-09-06 16:25:33
29.   Mr OK Jazz TOKYO
28 yes, I'd rather watch some "kids" lose than plodding 38-yr olds who draw walks..just not interesting baseball..bring back Nick Johnson!
2008-09-06 16:26:00
30.   monkeypants
27 So...you would sign Abreu to a one-year contract? He would take a one-year contract? Or does he have an option that I do not know about.
2008-09-06 16:39:05
31.   The Hawk
30 Not me - I'm saying let him go elsewhere. I prefer Nady, and with Matsui/Damon in left, they're all out of spots for aged corner outfielders.
2008-09-06 16:42:05
32.   ms october
10 well if no tex - who i hope the yanks sign - i would be okay with but not inspired by a - keep giambi for a yr - though him staying healthy 2 yrs in a row is a big gamble.
if not i would like the yanks to consider trading with the padres for either adrian gonzalez - who may be available if the padres are thinking more long term (they would probably want a package centered on hughes)- or blanks who is blocked by gonzalez.
though i would prefer to trade the "excess pitching" for a more premium pitching - this might be necessary.

what is revolting, especially to those of us in new england, is the red sox are probably going to overtake the rays for 1st place soon, and thanks to carlos quentin's broken hand little dusty will win mvp, and the red sox will beat the white sox in the alds. hopefully the angels will still have something in the alcs though. even though i don't like them either.

i am okay with finishing behind the jays if it leads to a protected pick. if not, then i would prefer to end the season with a decent showing.

2008-09-06 16:43:13
33.   The Hawk
If you really want to make a clusterfuck at 1st, it could be interesting. Some combination involving LF, DH, 1st, and catcher. Have a committee first base and rotate people in and out like they're already doing with LF, catcher and DH. Hell, throw Jeter in there too. Why not? I bet the baseball "genius" Joe Girardi could come up with a scheme so sophisticated your brain would burst into flames.
2008-09-06 16:43:49
34.   ms october
32 that should be a more premium position, not premium pitching - though premium pitching would be nice too.
2008-09-06 16:47:07
35.   monkeypants
31 Sorry--I misread your post.
2008-09-06 16:48:41
36.   weeping for brunnhilde
This is a great piece, as usual, Cliff, thank you for it.

I'm not finished yet, but I just have to ask: am I the only one perplexed by the dictate for Melky to improve his communication in the OF?

I haven't noticed anything even remotely suggesting this is a problem but then again, one of my major complaints about television coverage of baseball is that they have no clue how to include outfielders as part of the game.

By the time the cameras pick them up, the most important part of their job (first step/good route) is over and we don't really get enough info to evaluate their play.

I really wish there were a camera from the upper deck behind the plate (best seats in the house, imo) so we could actually see the whole field. Then we'd be able to think about Melky's communication skills with a bit more authority, maybe.

Anyway...

2008-09-06 16:53:26
37.   randym77
I'm ready to cut bait on Melky. I think he's a bonehead. Or if he's not a bonehead, he has the attention span of a hummingbird. Yes, he was told to work on patience at the plate, and walked four times that night. But he walked a lot less after that. And that seems to be a pattern with him. I'm sure they've told him not to slide into 1B, but he kept doing it. Cashman & Co. read him the riot act in spring training 2006, and he improved immensely. But it seems like you have bug him frequently to keep his nose to the grindstone. I don't know if it's worth it.

And I think his 2006 numbers (especially OBP) were a fluke. He didn't walk that much in the minors, and they say "eye" develops early. It's probably not reasonable to expect him to match his 2006 numbers.

Not sure what to do about CF. I suppose we could give Gardner a shot, but there should be a plan B.

I like Adam Dunn, but I'm not sure he's a good fit for the Yankees. In personality or in playing style. His defense is pretty awful, and I'd really like to see them improve the defense.

2008-09-06 17:10:23
38.   rbj
I'm willing to give Melky another year. But let him know he could get traded to K.C.

BTW, how's the weather in NY?

2008-09-06 17:12:31
39.   Mr OK Jazz TOKYO
38 he'd immediately become KC's third best hitter..sad to see Hillman not turning things around there but give him time..he took the sad-sack Nippon Ham Fighters (Japanese version of KC or Pittsburgh) and won a championship with them..
2008-09-06 17:37:33
40.   Sliced Bread
17 See, I think Damon would make a fine 1b at this point in his career. He's more athletic, and less brittle than Hideki and G.
I say goodbye and good luck to Giambi, Abreu, Ivan, Ponson, Pavano, and Rasner. The rest I can work with. Get CC, and my winter is simple as that. Moose and Pett? They'll probably both be back but whatever.
No fucking Manny. No fucking way.
2008-09-06 17:45:30
41.   randym77
We need a young catcher. I love Jorgie, but he's not getting any younger, and many MLB players never come back from shoulder surgery.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080308091008.htm

2008-09-06 18:01:55
42.   williamnyy23
40 If Manny only wanted 2 years, I would absolutely sign him. His care free other world attitude would be the perfect balance for Arod. I think those two would feed off each other so much that they would have monster years and pretty much carry the rest of the lineup. Also, because Manny would only be on a short-term contract, you'd be buying yourself time for Jackson and Montero to develop without having to potentially tie yourself to Texeira for 8 years.

My wish list would be Manny and CC.

2008-09-06 18:12:58
43.   monkeypants
42 OK, Damon at 1B. Where he might hit the position, but maybe not. And your starting LF is...?
2008-09-06 18:23:49
44.   Sliced Bread
42 ugh. Yes, there are many good reasons to sign Manny, just please no.
I'd rather watch a younger, more athletic, team, without the mannydrama.

43 Whoever they put in the outfield, as long as they're not over 30, and they can field well will be fine with me.

2008-09-06 18:29:44
45.   williamnyy23
43 I'd be fine with and OF that has Nady permanently in right field and LF used as a revolving door with Manny and Matsui. You could also rotate those those two and Damon through DH/LF with 1B being an outlet for Damon if he takes to it.

44 I could care less about the Manny drama. The Dodgers are seeing first hand what a motivated Manny can do. I have a feeling that coming to NY and facing Boston 19 times would definitelty be motivation. Brett Gardner is young and athletic. I don't want to watch him.

2008-09-06 18:30:47
46.   monkeypants
44 OK. I guess that I'm not sold on the OF of Nady, Gardner and Melky, with slugging Johnny Damon at 1B plan.
2008-09-06 18:46:11
47.   williamnyy23
Is this a championship team?

Damon - LF
Manny - DH
Texeira - 1B
Arod - 3B
Cano - 2B
Nady - RF
Jeter - SS
Posada - C
Melky/Gardner - CF
Main Guy off the Bench - Matsui

Rotation:
CC
Joba
Wang
Moose/Andy
Hughes

I know it would cost about $60-70mn annually for Manny, Tex and CC, but the Yankees will be shedding about $50mn with the exit of Moose/Andy, Giambi and Abreu.

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