Cabrera’s MVP Case Derailed

No, not that Cabrera. He’s still the frontrunner to win a second straight AL MVP, despite the math at fangraphs making a familiar argument. I’m talking about Everth Cabrera of the Padres, who was suspended for 50 games today for his role in the Biogenesis scandal.

I’d rather not talk about Biogenesis, as steroids in baseball just don’t interest me anymore. So let’s talk about Everth Cabrera. Would you believe, coming into today, that only 15 National League position players had been worth more fWAR than Cabrera? He’s not exactly taking a traditional route to excellence, as his mainstream TV broadcast stat line (.283/ 4 HR/ 31 RBI) doesn’t exactly jump off the screen. Rather, most of Cabrera’s value comes from speed and position.

His 37 stolen bases lead the National League. While it’s been a common occurrence in recent years for a shortstop (Jimmy Rollins, Jose Reyes, even Cabrera himself last year) to lead the NL in steals, it hasn’t happened in the AL since Freddie Patek did it in 1977. In fact, no NL shortstop did it between Frank Taveras in ’77 and Rollins in 2001. With exactly 50 games left on the Padres’ schedule, it seems unlikely that Cabrera will repeat his stolen base title without playing another game, as Starling Marte sits just five swipes back with 32, and another shortstop, Jean Segura, has 31.

While speed is nothing new for Everth, his bat reached new levels this year. His .283 batting average is .28 points higher than his previous career high, and his OBP (.355) and slugging (.381) also peaked this year. Coming into 2013, he’d struck out in at least 20 percent of his plate appearances every year, but he dropped that number to 15.9% this season, while maintaining his career average walk rate of 9.5%.

Cabrera has always been a below-average defensive shortstop, at least according to fangraphs, but his -2.2 UZR in 2013 is not awful, and it suggests that he’s more valuable defensively than an average fielder at almost any other position.

I won’t speculate as to why Everth Cabrera thought he needed to take PEDs or whether they helped him achieve those goals, but in 2013, with or without drugs, he was a very valuable player- the most valuable on the Padres, in fact.

Maybe taking the rest of this season off will rest those legs enough to kick off a real MVP-type campaign in 2014.

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