Eight Hundred Words on Orlando Cabrera

Oh, the title almost gives the post away. Intro/attempt at humor/Orlando Cabrera is so bad/how bad is he?/he's so bad, that.../serious talk/conclusion. Boom, done. Best five minutes I've ever spent.

But it's probably better to start with my expectations for Brandon Crawford, which I can sum up thusly: One day, I really hope he can be Brendan Ryan. That's not really exciting. And I kind of think it's a long shot. Ryan is a fantastic defender, and in his best seasons, he doesn't usually kill his team with his bat. It will take a while for Crawford to get there, if he ever does.

I've seen old players block young players for no real reason (Winn/Bowker), veteran-on-veteran debacles (Guillen/Ross), and young-on-young crime (Velez/Frandsen). I expressed disgust at the time, and it turns out that most of them weren't big deals. Turns out that the answer to the Velez/Frandsen debate was "no." My bad.

So it's hard to get worked up with the Cabrera/Crawford debate. I think Cabrera is an absolutely wretched hitter, but I don't think he's a guy who would put up a 35 OPS+ for a full season, which is what he's done with the Giants. He's been a bit unlucky. I'd wager he's about the same as Crawford offensively right now.

There are two things that really bother me about Cabrera, and they don't have to do with blocking Crawford:

The first is that his acquisition makes me think the Giants don't have a great handle on what an individual player is worth in terms of wins. I'm not the biggest WAR guy, but I've come around on the idea that the difference between average and great players is a few wins per year. It's why the Giants didn't move from a 90-win team to a 75-win team without Posey -- a player's impact is going to be distributed unevenly over a 162-game season, and it's not as large of an impact as you might expect.

The difference between Crawford and Cabrera is essentially meaningless. That shouldn't have been a secret. But I have a hunch that Sabean looked at Cabrera and thought he's been here before (+ value), he can handle the bat (+ value), and he's a steady defender (+ value). I don't think it went too far beyond that on an analytic level, and that worries me.

The second thing that bothers me about him is that he reminds me that Bruce Bochy is bizarre when it comes with the stats he looks at. He has no problem basing his lineup on micro-splits of six head-to-head match-ups between a pitcher and a hitter, but he has the potential to completely ignore a player's career splits. Cabrera has always hit lefties better, and in the past couple of seasons, he's been a serious liability against right-handers. He's been as bad against right-handers over the past two seasons as any hitter in the game.

Yet there Cabrera was, leading off for a while against right-handers because he "handles the bat well" or something equally as silly. He's the starter against lefties and righties alike, even though Mike Fontenot or even Crawford would clearly be better options against right-handed pitchers.

The third thing is that Orlando Cabrera is terrible, and I don't like watching him play baseball. But that's a minor quibble.

This isn't an overplayed stats-v.-scouting debate. It's just a reminder that the Giants have absolutely no nuance when it comes to evaluating hitters, and it goes back to the days of Michael Tucker, if not Mark Lewis. Let's call this the Brian Sabean Method for Evaluating Hitters.

All hitters fall into three categories: guys who can't do a solid job, guys who can do a solid job, and All-Stars.

A guy who has "done it before", whether it's Tucker, Cabrera, Guillen, or Freddy Sanchez, can almost certainly "do a solid job," so they're brought aboard. This philosophy brought Aubrey Huff and Pat Burrell to the Giants, so it can certainly pay off. But too often, it doesn't, and it's one of the reasons why the Giants are going to be in the bottom of the league offensively for the fifth time out of the past six seasons. They get a bunch of guys like Dave Roberts who can do a solid job, and then, hey, wha' happened? 

Cabrera is a walking subconscious reminder of all that, and it annoys the crap out of me. That's why he's my least-favorite Giant to watch, just as Jose Guillen was before him. So at this point, even though it isn't going to make a lot of difference, I'd really just prefer to watch Crawford.

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