In praise of Hat Man: Asdrubal Cabrera

Asdrubal CabreraIt would not be hard to find players in the Mets locker room to whom you could point and say, “without (fill in the blank) the Mets would not be in the Wild Card Playoff game.” You surely could say that about Yoenis Cespedes, Noah Syndergaard, Curtis Granderson, Addison Reed, and Jeurys Familia. Let’s throw senior citizen Bartolo Colon in there too.

In our house my wife and I watch Mets games together, she buried in a book or doing a crossword puzzle, while I am looking up each pitch and then checking Twitter, other games’ boxscores, or monitoring the Hillary-vs-Donald death march.

When a Met hits a home run my wife will chime in, “Time for Hat Man”. That means that other than when he’s hit the dinger or is the on-deck batter Asdrubal Cabrera will lift the helmet from the hero of the moment and quickly flip it to the waiting bat boy.

Along with Reed’s signature lifting of his cap after another successful 8th inning effort and the amazing Colon home run for the ages the Hat Man moments will stick with me as the enduring visuals of the 2016 season.

There’s no doubt that Cabrera deserves to be named as a player without whom the club would not have made the post season.

You will recall that in 2015 the Mets tried to force a square peg (Wilmer Flores) into a round hole (the shortstop position). It was a ridiculous thing to try but was forced on the team whose only alternative was the Nerf-like bat of Ruben Tejada.

Realizing the club desperately needed a real shortstop the Mets signed Cabrera to a two-year $16.5 million contract with an option for a third year. Since the buyout in year three would be $2 million then the deal could be seen as an $18.5 million commitment for two years.

In year one of the deal things have worked to perfection as Cabrera had his second 20+ home run season of his 10 year career. He hit righties and lefties and put up an OPS above 800 from both sides of the plate. And while he’s no Andrelton Simmons in the range department we have seen a competent heads-up player who can turn pretty much every ball he can reach into an out.

This table shows you his 2016 Mets stats against his 10 year career averages normalized to a 162 game season

Year AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
2016 521 65 146 30 1 23 62 5 1 38 103 0.280 0.336 0.474 0.810
162 Game Avg. 606 81 163 36 3 16 74 11 4 50 118 0.269 0.329 0.419 0.748

Looking at the rate stats you see an 11 point bump in batting average, seven points in on base percentage, an impressive 55 point increase in slugging percentage which adds to an OPS 62 points higher than his career norm. Now that’s one heck of a season especially in an infielder’s age-30 season.

The enthusiasm he has shown in creating the role of Hat Man tells me that in a clubhouse rich in veteran leadership he fits right in there like Granderson, Neil Walker, Colon, and others.

We have seen Cabrera play through a painful injury to his left knee. Were the Mets to have lost out on a playoff spot some weeks ago it would not have been a surprise to see Cabrera put on the disabled list due to this injury.

Basically Cabrera has been everything Sandy Alderson could have hoped for and more.

We Mets should be tipping our caps to Hat Man.

12 comments for “In praise of Hat Man: Asdrubal Cabrera

  1. Jimmy P
    October 5, 2016 at 10:02 am

    When you pushed aside the stats and read about him in TB, heard comments from his teammates, it was clear that Cabrera would bring more than his raw numbers. Hat tip to Chris F, who passed along the first article.

    Turns out he brings much more, and the numbers turned out better than expected.

    He’s a Top Step Guy.

    Teams need players like that, who are into every game. And the Mets do particularly, because they are a pretty quiet, laid-back group.

    He’s been a revelation and a godsend.

  2. IDRAFT
    October 5, 2016 at 10:19 am

    Also worth noting that his ability to tough things out and play through injuries is rare in an age where guys pull themselves out of games with a leg cramp.

    Cabrera is a true professional, and the first step in being a professional is coming to work every day.

    • DED
      October 5, 2016 at 1:03 pm

      And, you know, when he was signed it was said that his fielding was suspect. Perhaps it’s just the contrast, but I think he has done a good job in the field.

      It won’t happen, but it would please me to see him get a little MVP love, make it onto a few ballots. For that to happen some voter would have to be willing to overlook his cold streaks, of which there were a couple, but then, his latest hot streak came at such a crucial time.

  3. October 5, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Amen, Larry. It’s no coincidence that the Mets started playing better the day Cabrera returned from the DL.

  4. Metsense
    October 5, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Asdrubal Cabrera is a true professional, team leader, and as mentioned above, comes to work everyday. In his option year, I can envision him mentoring Rosario in his first year (while sliding over to 3B) and hopefully Amed will be wise enough to heed the lesson.
    Cabrera is second in wRC+ for NL shortstops. He is a very consistent fielder, rated #1, with a 89% rating for 60-90% of the balls he should get to based on Fangraphs. He also has a 98.7% rating on the 90-100% balls. Basically, if he can get to it, he makes the play.
    Cabrera was a needed upgrade, but the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story.Alderson did a good job with this three year signing.

  5. MattyMets
    October 5, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    I think Cabrera, like Reyes, got a bad defensive rep because he was playing on turf. That skews numbers like range factor.

  6. Chris F
    October 5, 2016 at 1:20 pm

    Thanks JP. Since that article I read about Droobs a year ago, it seemed like there was more to him than the numbers based on what Longoria, Archer, Cash said about him as a player and person. He turned out to be exactly that.

    He is my vote for 2016 Mets MVP.

    • Jimmy P
      October 5, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Reed is my MVP. I just think it all falls apart without him. But Cabrera can co-MVP.

      That said, Cespedes is in a different category.

  7. Jimmy P
    October 5, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    Off-Topic: I am perfectly content with the 25-man WC roster.

    I understand the Duda decision. He’ll be on the NLDS roster.

    Surprised by Edgin over Smoker, but from a strictly LOOGY perspective, Edgin’s splits are better, so it makes sense.

    And yes, I called Colon, Gsellman, Kelly, Campbell, Plawecki. All those guys, for this one game, made sense to me. The NLDS will be a different matter entirely.

    • Chris F
      October 5, 2016 at 2:27 pm

      Agreed.

      And yes, Add-i-son — your aim is true!

      A totally unheralded rock of the team.

  8. October 5, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Cabrera deserves praise for his offense, defense and leadership.

    As Metsense said above, whatever he gets to, he fields. That’s a wonderful attribute.

    There’s still the issue of getting to balls, though. Out of 24 SS who qualify for the FanGraphs leaderboards, Cabrera ranks 20th in RZR.

    He had 312 balls hit into his zone and made 227 plays. Troy Tulowitzki is the player who has the closest number of balls to Cabrera hit into his zone. Tulo had 310 balls in his zone and made 251 players. Adeiny Hechevarria had 306 balls in his zone and made 258 plays.

    We can and should praise Cabrera for what he does. But we can’t just ignore those extra outs, either.

    Addison Russell had 525 ABs this year compared to 521 for Cabrera. But Cabrera had 21 more hits. That made Cabrera a .280 hitter, compared to a .238 hitter for Russell.

    It’s not a 100% accurate comparison – we don’t know the value of the hits on either side and the fielding chances were only about 60% of the hitting chances – but it’s a ballpark estimate of the significance.

    • Jimmy P
      October 5, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      That’s a valid point. I think we know he’s below-average defensive SS overall, but the stability he brings is important and, I think, immeasurable. I guess we all have to decide how much value to give it.

      Part of the attraction of Cabrera was that he could slide down the defensive spectrum as required, 3B and 2B. For next year, I think he’s an overall plus, good for the life of the contract. We’ll see how hard Rosario pushes for time.

      Oh, I have to say, I just can’t easily accept numbers like “306 balls in his zone.” It sounds mathematical and accurate, but we should all know that these are judgment calls with subtle variables that inevitably betray bias. Does the naked eye determine these zones? The speed of the ball? The tendencies of the batter? And so on.

      I always think of the NFL and their ten-yard chains with precise measurements. Fourth and inches! Yet after every play, where they actually place the ball sure looks like a best guess to me. So they are precisely measuring guesses. That’s where we are with baseball’s defensive statistics. Probably worse, but it’s an accurate analogy.

      I do accept defensive statistics as generally useful and generally indicative. Taken with huge grains of salt.

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