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Boz on Cabrera

Boz (Thomas Boswell!) sent me these thoughts about Daniel Cabrera.

Hi, Nationals Journal readers! I'm now able to post here as well as Baseball Insider and Thursday chats. Looking forward to it.

Nats fans may have watched Daniel Cabrera struggle with his control again on today's televised game against the Orioles. Get used to it. That's him. That's probably always going to be him. But, in a sense that is important to grasp if you're going to sympathize with him, rather than just boo him or close your eyes when he pitches, it's not his fault.

According to O's coaches, Cabrera was the worst natural athlete the club had ever acquired, in terms of agility, coordination, etc. As a kid in the minors, the Orioles even kept him out of drills so he wouldn't embarrass himself or get injured.

Even after years of working to improve (which he has), he still has struck out in all 14 of his major league at bats. He can't get down a sacrifice bunt to save his life. He's slow to the plate, slow to first base, because he has to collect himself -- almost pitch by numbers on every delivery -- because he's not naturally fluid in any of his movements.


Of course Cabrera's not nearly as awkward now as he was at the beginning. He's a hard worker, has worked on drills, has an amazing physique from workouts. If anything, he's actually gotten a lot out of his talent, lopsided as it is, rather than being an "underachiever," a tag he always carrries that I think is completely unfair.

He can throw almost 100 mph. He has a hard breaking ball and, now, a sinking baseball. When he gets his mechanics figured out for a few innings in a row, or when he gets on a roll with nobody on base, he can look overpowering. But he is probably never going to be consistent from game to game or, often, even within one game. He "loses it," for any reason or no reason. Well, that's what being a "good athlete" is. If you're coordinated, every day is the same day. You shoot a basketball, it goes in or comes close. You throw a football 40 yards, it spirals. You don't have to think about it. You throw a baseball, it goes pretty much where you want it to go. You don't have to analyze it or recreate it every day.

So, it should be obvious now why Cabrera looks so "mechanical." Well, duh. He's trying. He's accomplished quite a bit and done it after growing up with very little in the Dominican. Also, until a couple of years ago, he just couldn't stop growing, going from 6-7 to 6-9. That meant he didn't get to learn how his final body size worked until he was well into his big-league career. I will say he still needs to work on his temper. He's got enough to overcome without losing his cool. That's improved. Some.

Why did the Nats want him? Of course, they hope to "transform him" with mechanical help from Randy St. Claire, who really is a fine technician. But they really just think that moving from the AL East to the Junior Varsity circuit (with no DH) will cut at least 50 points off his ERA. Also, in D.C., Cabrera will get into a little bigger ballpark and start fresh with fans. (Sort of.) As long as his arm stays intact, which I've always wondered about, he fits the workhorse mold. He wants the ball, doesn't beg off. And former GM Jim Bowden, mistakenly I suspect, thought he might convert someday to a set up man. (Never a closer, not with that wildness and inability to prevent steals.)

As far as I can determine, the Nats didn't know about the lack-of-athleticism issue. The O's always kept it a be-nice-to-the-guy semi-secret. I thought that was unfair to him. Oriole fans are smart enough that they would have cut him more slack. Cabrera is proud, hates getting razzed and would have appreciated more support.

Fans have watched Cabrera, with frustration, for years, saying, "I could do better than that." The truth is, if they were good high school athletes, that might actually be true. But they aren't 6-9, 260, and they don't throw 100.

Through the age of 27, the players whose career Cabrera's most resembles statistically (baseballreference.com) include Ryan Dempster, Jeff Suppan, Chris Carpenter, Matt Clement and Kyle Lohse. That alone would be sufficient reason to take a chance on him at his current sensible price going into his free agent season. I'd say wish him luck. He's only Goliath on the outside.

By Tracee Hamilton  |  March 6, 2009; 2:38 PM ET
 
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Next: Hill To Resume Throwing In Several Days

Comments

"Cabrera he{sic}was the worst natural athlete the club had ever acquired, in terms of agility, coordination, etc. As a kid in the minors, the Orioles even kept him out of drills so he wouldn't embarrass himself or get injured."

... maybe it's just me, but I kinda think if I'd been someone with any authority back then, I might have steered this kid towards ... oh, I don't know ... library sciences???

Posted by: natscanreduxit | March 6, 2009 3:00 PM | Report abuse

No harm giving him a chance. Hopefully it will work out, but I have my doubts. Upside would be tremendous should he ever figure it out.

Posted by: cokedispatch | March 6, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

It looks as though the Orioles base runners, the guys who had to play behind him in the field all those years and watch, are loving the opportunity to run on him. Even Aubrey Huff stole a base.

Posted by: Juliasdad | March 6, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

"... these aren't our starters... these aren't our starters..."

Posted by: JennX_ | March 6, 2009 2:43 PM

Unfortunately, Cabrera is.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 6, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Nice. Maxwell with a stand-up triple.

Posted by: JennX_ | March 6, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

I hope it works out OK - he seems like a good guy. I am more worried about the bullpen. What happened? That used to be our strength (OK, not last year, but previous years)! Also - Chico - could you do a little write up on some of these other guys we are seeing in the line-up right now, like Eldred, Patterson, Cintron? They've been around MLB, but not around here. Thanks!

Posted by: PattyinSJ | March 6, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

nunof1: I know. And it was only thanks to Bernadina's Superman catches that he wasn't the one to give up all those runs...

Posted by: JennX_ | March 6, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Lannan (soft tosser, 5-inning guy), Olsen (lost velocity last year), Cabrera (control problems), and two rookies. Sounds like a helluva promising rotation.

Posted by: Brue | March 6, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

"Chico - could you do a little write up on some of these other guys we are seeing in the line-up right now, like Eldred, Patterson, Cintron? They've been around MLB, but not around here."

Just say no to backdoor Orioles coverage here.

Posted by: nunof1 | March 6, 2009 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Welcome to Planet NJ, Boz. You have a couple haters here, but don't pay them any attention. I, on the other hand, am smitten and gobble down anything you write, usually with a goofy grin.

Oh, and I'm completely sold now on Cabrera, thank you very much. This is an awesome post.

I can't wait to embrace the kid. I think one wild card out of four isn't so bad. He'll keep us on our toes.

Posted by: NatsNut | March 6, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

I should have put Castillo in there too. Ok skip on Cintron - whatever.

Posted by: PattyinSJ | March 6, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure what to make of this. We're supposed to support him because he's sports isn't really his thing but he's still going out there? Are we going to give him orange slices between innings and take him out to Dairy Queen after the game too? "Well, Danny, you tried, and in the end that's what counts. Have a helmet sundae."

Riddle me this: is it worse that the Nats didn't know a 16 year-old in a foreign country was really 20, or that a guy who played for a team 45 minutes away is one of the worst athletes to ever play the game?

Posted by: pondaz | March 6, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Chris Carpenter? or Chris THE Carpenter?

Posted by: dclifer | March 6, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

This sounds like a good story, but the O's announcers today (who were trashing any ex-Oriole on the field) said that Cabrera has lost significant velocity over the past couple of years and has struggled to even hit 92, and several times last year topped out at 88. That was the first I'd heard of that.

Can anyone who follows the O's confirm this? If that's the case, this sure sounds like all of the risk (the wildness, the temper, the inconsistency) with none of the upside.

Posted by: natsguy1 | March 6, 2009 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano (and the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio) we can count on the annual appearance of the "Daniel Cabrera may just yet figure out how to pitch" column by Boz. When Boz used that Baseball Reference chart to compare Cabrera to Dempster, Suppan and Carpenter, he didn't note that he also compares to James Baldwin, Allen Watson and Ricky Bones, three guys who never did really figure it out. Throw in the fact he's lost some velocity and I hold out no hope that he makes it.

Posted by: baltova1 | March 6, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Does it qualify as ironic that the first (and thus far only) walk of the game for the Nats came from an 18yo, Destin Hood?

Posted by: estuartj | March 6, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

OK, I won't boo Cabrera, I'll boo Acta for sending out to the mound.

Posted by: PowerBoater69 | March 6, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Anybody have the scoop on Kearns? He hasn't been very visible in the line-up.

Posted by: nattydread1 | March 6, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Anybody have the scoop on Kearns? He hasn't been very visible in the line-up.

Posted by: nattydread1 | March 6, 2009 3:48 PM | Report abuse

That is a darn fine post, Boz. DARN fine.

Posted by: nattaboy | March 6, 2009 3:49 PM | Report abuse

>Cabrera has lost significant velocity over the past couple of years and has struggled to even hit 92, and several times last year topped out at 88.

Last year, they got so exasperated with his control, that he basically stuck to two and four-seam fastballs on 90% of his pitches. So it was back to rudimentary fundamentals as far as his approach. He's got a nice breaking ball, but throwing it for strikes is a problem, so it's almost useless most days. Like Jim Palmer said last year, 'if you have a 27 year old that has no command over his breaking ball, hasn't learned a changeup, and can only throw the two and four seamer, and not even do that all the time, you'd rate him as a career minor leaguer. I don't see how he's worthy of a spot in a major league rotation'. To paraphrase. It's another Jimbo move where he chooses to ignore the glaring flaws, whether it's physical coordination, diabetes, or a criminal record, and sell it to the public as 'potential'.

Posted by: Brue | March 6, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Brue,

Lannan as a 5-inning soft tosser? What are you smoking (and can I have some?)? In his rookie year, where Acta was watching his numbers, he averaged almost 6 innings a start - 31 starts, 182 innings. He was among the league leaders in quality starts and only figures to get better.

The dude can pitch. Olsen and Cabrera have their question marks, more so Cabrera - I'm an advocate of moving him to the bullpen, but the young home-grown guys show promise. Don't lump them into your general Nats' bashing, least you look like an idiot.

Posted by: sec307 | March 6, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Lest, I mean.

Posted by: sec307 | March 6, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

"Oriole fans are smart enough that they would have cut him more slack."
________________________________________________________

"Oriole fans" and "smart" are two things I thought I would never see in the same sentence.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 6, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

"Welcome to Planet NJ, Boz. You have a couple haters here, but don't pay them any attention."

Posted by: NatsNut | March 6, 2009 3:27 PM
________________________________________________________

nunof1,

I think you are being paged.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 6, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I'll second the welcome from NatsNut, Boz. Thanks for the background post. Go, Saint! Go, Cabrera!

Also, loved the Superman reference, Jenn-X (but don't tell Super Willie).

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 6, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

See also SB/FJB, Sec. 505203.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 6, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Boz, I love your stuff, but it kills me how much detail you have on the Birds rather than the Nats. It's time to come home.

Posted by: 6thandD | March 6, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Hey, "welcome home" would make a good slogan. Oh. Never mind.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 6, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

you totally beat me to it, 307. as soon as i saw brue's comment i went back to verify my recollection that he was 6+ a start.

but it's just as easy to get carried away as a negative nancy as it is when you're going total homer.

Posted by: sec231 | March 6, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

>Olsen and Cabrera have their question marks, more so Cabrera - I'm an advocate of moving him to the bullpen, but the young home-grown guys show promise.

Oh, Lannan averaged ALMOST 6 innings a start. I stand corrected!! Missed it by two outs/start lol. The only thing Acta was 'watching' was 100+ pitches to accomplish 5 2/3. The point with Lannan is that he's a soft-tosser, and his control has to be impeccable. Sooner or later they'll make him throw strikes, and then the real story will appear. They'll just wait him out better this year, and he'll be pitching from behind more often, and without a plus fastball, he'll run into trouble. He might do better, but he really tailed off toward the end of last year.
So, you'd move Cabrera to the bullpen - why, because he's got a guaranteed contract? Good reason. That'll help the team when he comes into jams with guys already on base stealing him blind.
Sure, the young guys have promise! Every team's young pitchers have promise according to the brass, at least publicly. What they don't have is a catalogue for getting specific major league hitters out. Only experience will help that. It was like Balestar - once they got some video on him, he was essentially toast at the end of the year. Now he's supposedly a front-line prospect. Like Acta said, 'a 5+ era guarantees you nothing'.
The more you pay attention, the more sense it will make as it plays out in front of you.

Posted by: Brue | March 6, 2009 4:57 PM | Report abuse

interesting how you belittle the 2/3 of an inning that you were bemoaning in your original post. it doesn't really sound like the same kind of complaint to say, "but he only pitches 6 innings an outing."

plenty of soft-tossers have made solid careers for themselves. the fact that he doesn't throw 95 doesn't mean he can't be a solid and effective starter for a long time.

i'm not calling him the next johan santana, but it's kinda foolish to point out a flaw that doesn't exist and then fall back on the 'soft-tosser' thing. he had a pretty decent first full season. he's got the right kind of mental makeup to survive as a non-dominant starter. i'm willing to give him a chance to continue instead of poo-pooing his actual accomplishments because he isn't a #1 starter.

Posted by: sec231 | March 6, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

We are relying on Lannan and Olsen. But, Cabrera is definitely worth the gamble.

Posted by: longterm | March 6, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

I'm feeling pretty good about upcoming Zimmermann and Strasburg duo also. Sooner than you think, we will sign a stud Free Agent pitcher. Maybe even upgrade through a trade! Ah, spring training...

Posted by: longterm | March 6, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

How about Randy Johnson as another pitcher that may be comparable to Daniel, because of the height and great fastball. I just looked up his stats, and he was crazy wild when he was 27-28 years old -- 152 walks in '91 when he was 27, and 144 the next year. Getting the mechanics down when you are that tall can take years. From Boz's great post, it looks like Daniel is working hard and going at it. He seems like a good guy.

As a Nat's fan, I sure hope it works out. At least the Nats didn't give up anything for him.

Posted by: zwheat | March 6, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

I saw many reasons not to obtain Cabrera but apparently the Nationals didn't. I can guarantee you I will see games this year but I can guarantee you it won't be a game Cabrera is slated to start.

Posted by: Pete433 | March 6, 2009 5:26 PM | Report abuse

well i'll agree that no way should he be in the bullpen.

Posted by: longterm | March 6, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

The lineups Acta is putting on the field make no sense to me. The team is last in HR's Last in SLG%, near the bottom of hits, runs, and OBP. What is Acta trying to prove, we all get we have no talent depth, but even our "starters are not hitting. Time is ticking away and we know Zim and Milledge and the rest are very slow starters.

I thought the idea was we had very young raw talent and they needed to play. They are not going to get tired....play them and get them ready. I also think the idea is to learn to win....we are looking so much like the tired losing team we were forced to watch all 2008. Time is now to break the losing ways. Play the best players you have and get them experience so we are not taking about how we need to have patience in May....play them now!

Posted by: JayBeee | March 6, 2009 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Cabrera has control problems, Cabrera has mechanical problems, Cabrera blah, blah, blah...
If he is the #4 or #5 starter on the Nationals ver.2009, can take the mound every 5th day & give the team 5+ innings per outing, what's the problem with that? It's not like the team is looking to him as a #1 - #2 starter (like the folks in Bal'mer did for a year or two).

Posted by: BinM | March 6, 2009 6:10 PM | Report abuse

ah, JayB,

it's Spring Training and there is still a month left before the opener. This is standard procedure, especially this early in ST. Towards the end of the month, you will see the starting lineup taking shape and playing a lot more.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 6, 2009 6:26 PM | Report abuse

it's funny how people get totally worked up over things that happen in the first two weeks of spring training.

Posted by: sec231 | March 6, 2009 6:31 PM | Report abuse

Any word on what or what not was discovered by Hill's visit to Dr. Andrews?

Posted by: leetee1955 | March 6, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

@leetee:

I'd expect we'll see on Hill's visit something either later tonight, or tomorrow before 11:00a.m. Hope for the best, but expect the worst.

Posted by: BinM | March 6, 2009 6:45 PM | Report abuse

psst...hey, buddy...take a look over here:

http://www.washingtontimes.com/weblogs/chatter/

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 6, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

jaybee says.......dmitriiii....I am your faaaaatherrrrr!

Posted by: nunof1 | March 6, 2009 6:46 PM | Report abuse

It's silly to criticize Acta for today's lineup. The only strategy in assembling today's lineup was keeping all of the good players out of a bus for a two-hour drive to Ft. Lauderdale.

Posted by: baltova1 | March 6, 2009 6:47 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of whom, I noticed that the We Are Young special was airing again on MLB Network locally this afternoon, though the guide listed the Nats-O's game (which was on MASN, anyway). I clicked back and forth a bit. Good show.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 6, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

@leetee:
Sorry for channeling Yoda in the last comment - should read "...see something on Hill's visit either..."

Posted by: BinM | March 6, 2009 6:51 PM | Report abuse

Help you I can, yes.

You can see something on it right now, if you follow the earlier link. ^

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 6, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse

@1a1:

Thanks for the fish & mitigated good news. Inflammation beats "exploratory surgery" every time. It probably pushes Hill to an extended ST slot, but that beats having him getting "Pattersoned".

Posted by: BinM | March 6, 2009 7:07 PM | Report abuse

I understand for a normal established team, not have vets ride the bus makes some sense. I understand it is early in Spring Training and normal established lineups do not need a month of playing time to get ready.

What I don't understand is why Acta or anyone else thinks this team is normal. This team is anything but normal. Jimbo put it together for one. It has no heart for two based on 2008 and the only routine it knows is losing and losing ugly. That is why I think they must think outside the box and prepare differently than the Braves or Phils.....But hey time will tell and it is not by job, it is Acta who will be faced with empty seats, no offense and no contract

Posted by: JayBeee | March 6, 2009 7:10 PM | Report abuse

The question of roster allotments (player vs. pitcher) came up in an earlier thread - Here's my two cents on it. I'm thinking Manny will go with a 13-12 split, with 5 bench players, 5 starters & 7 guys in the BP to start the season. I can't assign names to the slots yet, but that's my base.

Posted by: BinM | March 6, 2009 7:14 PM | Report abuse

... re the Times story on Shawn Hill, I gotta tell ya', I was one concerned ballboy. I wasn't sure I could withstand yet another set-back for my fellow Canuckian. But Allah be praised, it looks good. Halleluiah.

Posted by: natscanreduxit | March 6, 2009 7:19 PM | Report abuse

JayBeee, I recognise your frustration about your inability to get a good grip on the ST progress of the guys who will be 'everyday'. But to suggest the Nats is a team "anything but normal" is to expect the worst. A self-fulfilling prophecy, one might say.

... I tend to the opposite view. In spite of the fact not much of the rest of the league hasn't realised it, I believe the Nats are a team 'in the running' as much as any other.

Posted by: natscanreduxit | March 6, 2009 7:24 PM | Report abuse

@JayBeee:

Can you draw no joy from the fact that 1) 11 pitchers taking the mound in ST have yet to be scored on, 2) 12 players are hitting over .300, 3) 4 players have an OPS of 1.0 or better, and 4) the Nationals have four players in the WBC?

We're only two weeks & nine games into Spring Training; ST is about seeing what the young'uns can possibly do, and getting the veterans enough work to be "game-ready" when the season starts. It's not all about wins & losses.

Posted by: BinM | March 6, 2009 7:28 PM | Report abuse

... oh hell; can't believe I did that - a double negation I mean.

... should have rewritten: "In spite of the fact the rest of the league has yet to realise it ..."

Posted by: natscanreduxit | March 6, 2009 7:29 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Brue, guess what? You don't have to make up things anymore, they have this thing called "stats" that you can look up a value. Here's just one of the many sites:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/pi/psplit.cgi?n1=lannajo01&year=2008

Guess what, by every standard statistical measure, John Lannan was a pretty good pitcher last year, like by ERA (22nd in MLB). When you start breaking it down by advanced statistics, such as quality starts (Tied for 8th in MLB), he's even higher. Heck, he even has a pretty good VORP (67 of 700 in MLB), if you believe in such things.

But, hey, you can keep making up things if you want!

Posted by: Section506 | March 6, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

You're welcome, BinM, and I'm of a like mind about the news. Chico has a post up on that front as well. Thanks to you for your reminder about finding joy.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 6, 2009 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Of the 68 player currently either in-camp or having "Visa" issues, I think the first cut-down will be to 50. Here's my "red-tag" list of the 18...
Players (11): Hood(STI), Cintron(STI), Eldred(STI), Valentin(STI), Langerhans(STI), Padilla(STI), Patterson(STI), F.Bynum(STI), Molina(STI), Herrera(STI), D.Young(STI).
Pitchers (6): Detwiler(40-man), Atilano(40-man), Martin(STI), Larrison(STI), Towers(STI), Sosa(STI).

That's totals 17 - the 18th could come from one of this group: Desmond(40-man), Marrero(40-man), Davis(40-man), J.Guzman(STI), Pena(40-man), Clippard(40-man), or Wagner(STI).

Posted by: BinM | March 6, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Chico has a new post up about what the Hill's going on with Shawn.

Posted by: leetee1955 | March 6, 2009 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Will the Nationals trade Nick Johnson?
I think that because you have Adam Dunn, Nick Johnson is in deed expendable.. one rumor is a trade with The San Francisco Giants.. a heard that The Giants would also
acquire Outfielder Willy Mo Pena to platon
with Fred Lewis.. The Washington Nationals should acquire Dodgers centerfielder Juan Pierre in order to make the playoffs..

Posted by: datzker | March 6, 2009 8:01 PM | Report abuse

"plenty of soft-tossers have made solid careers for themselves. the fact that he doesn't throw 95 doesn't mean he can't be a solid and effective starter for a long time."

True enough. I remember watching Mike Boddiker in the playoffs and thinking, 'I can't believe the garbage this guy gets away with." If you're adept at changing speeds, you can get away with murder in baseball.

Cabrera is a completely different story. He really does need to overpower the lineup -- keep people off base, avoid giving up the long ball -- and there's no room for anybody to fall asleep behind him, either. The Randy Johnson comparison has mert -- for a long while at the beginning of his career, Johnson was feast or famine.

Posted by: Samson151 | March 7, 2009 3:35 AM | Report abuse

>Guess what, by every standard statistical measure, John Lannan was a pretty good pitcher last year, like by ERA (22nd in MLB).

This is the key stat. And in addition to that, he had to nibble incessantly because the offense couldn't score. If he has more runs he may be able to throw to the middle of the plate more often and cut down his pitch count. We know he can throw a complete game every so often. I think people should start expecting that from Lannan, because he's smart enough to carry it out. On the other hand, if he doesn't keep the ball down, he can get tattooed.

Posted by: Brue | March 7, 2009 4:56 AM | Report abuse

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