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Dock of the Rays: Evaluating Asdrubal Cabrera, the Hitter

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H.Darr Beiser-USA TODAY Sports

Asdrubal Cabrera could be a real presence in the Rays line up next season, which is a very positive aspect to the pending Rays off-season splash.

Coming off consecutive seasons below expectations, Cabrera was still ranked in the top-25 free agents by MLB Trade Rumors and Baseball Prospectus, and the highest among middle infielders. This was large-in-part thanks to his potential on offense, which Jason Hanselman recently investigated at Dock of the Rays.

Over the last four years, we've seen Cabrera's wRC+ drop to below league average, dipping from All-Star levels of 119 and 112, to 94 and 97 in chronological order. As Jason notes, a lot of those issues are tied to small adjustments needed in his swing, some thing laid out by ESPN's Christina Kahrl:

The biggest difference you'll notice is in the results on his balls in play, which you might describe as luck looking at just that number - but I wouldn't call it that. That big drop on balls in play is an outcome of what Cabrera was doing, which is hitting a lot more fly-ball outs. At his peak, he had a ratio of groundouts to fly outs of 1.06; in the last two years, that number went down to 0.77 as he started hitting a lot more catchable fly balls. And his strikeout rate is up in part because he's reaching for more balls outside the zone. That isn't "luck," those are symptoms of problems with approach and execution.

What exactly were those problems in the approach? After laying out the numbers, that's where Jason steps in.

You'll notice that she's right that he hit fewer balls on the ground and more in the air with a ton of those left on the infield. He's whiffing on pitches more than ever while seeing fewer in the zone, while having a career high first-strike percentage.

This approach speaks to a batter that is known to be taking first pitch too much. Pitcher gets ahead and then doesn't have to come back in the zone much after that. Zobrist has a similar approach, but when things are going right he's ripping the one he's sitting on out of the park if he does get it.

The approach didn't lead to fewer extra-bag knocks in 2014, but he certainly offered under pitches more than his usual barrel-to-ball rates, and going out of zone more than ever. If he can adjust in such a way to improve his control of the zone and up his in-play batting average from .272 in 2014 to his career .307, then the results could be sterling again.

Of course, there is much more to the story of Cabrera's approach, and DotR provides a swing-analysis for each pitch type that's worth you review, as well as some bench marking against the league for his numbers. The swing analysis portion is the latter half of the article, featuring heat maps from both sides of the plate.

Go take a look, see if you draw the same conclusions. I would have to agree, becoming a bit more selective outside the zone could pay dividends in 2015.