The Case for Fernando Cabrera | The Process Report

The Case for Fernando Cabrera

I mentioned earlier about how the Rays are in search of the next Joaquin Benoit and how it’s a pretty self-defeating journey. Relief pitchers are volatile creatures who can bust or bloom during any given season. The sample sizes are small and the arbitrary measure of a season compounds the true talent identity of entities. Consider Fernando Cabrera as proof.

One of the most prized arms in the Cleveland system for years, Cabrera’s 2005 remains a staple of the perfect world Cabrera. Thirty innings while averaging nearly a strikeout per and walking a batter every three. His 1.47 earned run average oversold his performance, but not by much. The Indians kept him in low-pressure environments for the 2006 season and his final numbers ballooned thanks to issues with the long ball. He entered 2007 with the Indians and after 24 appearances of battling with his command and home runs, the Indians designated him for assignment (and later released him outright).

This is where the Rays come into play, as they originally placed a waiver claim on the (now) 28-year-old. The Rays were dealing with the worst bullpen in the league and just about any live arm represented an upgrade over some of the stiffs tossed out there. Nearly as inept Baltimore placed a claim too, but Cabrera held selection power after being released and wound up choosing the Orioles. His career in Baltimore lasted 31 games with the same problems remaining consistent. The Orioles bid him adieu in 2008 after an incident in which flipped the ball at Dave Trembley while being removed from the game.

Cabrera found a place in the Boston organization for the past two seasons and spent much time in Triple-A Pawtucket. Over 97 appearances with Pawtucket, Cabrera managed to strike out 127 batters in 113 or so innings while only walking 46 (five intentionally). Control remains his Achilles heel, but he continues to take advantage of batters with his stuff He still owns the body of a starting pitcher at six four and can pump gas with a fastball reaching the mid-nineties, although he lives a bit lower than that. His secondary stuff includes a slider and a splitter classified as a changeup.

He’s never had a season nearly as good as Grant Balfour or Joaquin Benoit before their eruptions, but his stuff has generated more whiffs (12.5% career) than either of theirs to date (Balfour sits at 10.5% and Benoit at 11.6%). Missing bats is not a telltale sign of pending success, but it is certainly not a bad attribute to hold. Both of the aforementioned pitchers managed to mend their walk rates with the club as well, suggesting that maybe Jim Hickey knows something about helping wild arms.

The paint splotch on Cabrera’s name that just won’t scrape off is gopheritis. He’s allowed 32 home runs on roughly 480 balls in play. Balfour has allowed 24 in his career (which extends about 100 innings longer than Cabrera) and Benoit has allowed 18 in 187 innings since becoming a permanent reliever. Amongst active relievers with at least 150 innings pitched in their career, Cabrera’s 1.65 homers per nine ranks second highest only to Fernando Nieve.

Don’t rule him out, though, because Scott Dohmann (fourth) spent time in the organization and the Rays have connections to four consecutive pitchers on the list starting at number 18 with Russ Springer, then Dan Wheeler, Brian Stokes, and Lance Cormier. Former Rays Joe Nelson, Justin Miller, Benoit, and Tyler Walker also appear in the top 50.

Color me curious as to whether Cabrera’s tendency to ride his fastball plays into his issues with the bleacher treat. Perhaps a change in sequencing or usage could slide those rates down, or perhaps they’re just too flukey to sustain. After all, we are talking about fewer than 500 batted balls over multiple seasons. Matt Garza had more than 600 balls in play this season alone.

Because of Cabrera’s stuff and perceived upside, I think he could find himself in the Rays’ system next year.

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