The Melk Man, Stroman, and PEDs


Although it isn’t official yet (nothing is official with the Jays these days) it looks like Melky Cabrera is going to be Toronto’s starting left fielder for the next two seasons.  From a purely baseball perspective, this signing is pretty exciting.  After having to suffer through 142 games of Rajai Davis last season, with his flailing away at outside breaking balls and circuitous routes in the field, Melky definitely represents an upgrade.

(Author’s Note: with family and travel commitments, lately, my posts have been taking days, rather than hours to write.  As per the above, not only is ‘the trade’ now official, but Melky’s signing is a done deal, and the Jays even have a new (old) manager.)

However, there is a caveat.  As we all know, Cabrera was suspended for fifty games this past year after a positive PED test.  So, were the 2011 and 2012 seasons where the Melk Man posted 4+ WARs PED induced?  Or, at an age where baseball players are reaching their prime, has Melky ‘figured it out’?  The always excellent Andrew Stoeten over at DJF mused on Melky’s numbers and how they were driven by a ridiculously high BABIP, not only in 2012, where his .379 would have been near the league leaders if qualified, but also in 2011 when 33% of his batted balls dropped.  Prior to those two years, he had never cracked the thirty percent barrier, which definitely throws up a red flag.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman also had some interesting comments when news of Cabrera’s positive test broke.  Basically pegging him as a fourth outfielder, low-end every day type (ie Rajai Davis).  Saying he was unsurprised when he learned the news as Cabrera’s previous two seasons didn’t match his talent level.  Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing and Cashman was taking the opportunity to justify trading him.

The truth, as in most cases, probably lies somewhere in the middle.  As Stoeten pointed out in his article, Cabrera’s power

August 5, 2012; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco Giants left fielder Melky Cabrera (53) runs to third base after hitting a triple during the eighth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. The Giants won 8-3. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-US PRESSWIRE

numbers didn’t really show dramatic improvement with the PED usage but Melky has never been a long ball merchant so, for me, that part of his game wasn’t going to be the beneficiary.  Although I am by no means an expert, the way I understand their benefits is that you recover far quicker than those doing things the old fashioned way.  So, instead of being too tired for a workout in the morning, you are raring to go, and after a tough stretch of games, you are more likely to be physically able to square up that late inning heater where those that are worn out hit a lazy fly ball.

Which is why I was slightly surprised when Cabrera’s line drive percentage has only ticked up slightly over the past couple of years.  What does jump out at you when running through the batted ball stats is how his 2012 ground ball rate jumped five percent with a corresponding drop on the fly ball side.  This helps explain the significant increase in his BABIP and may go a ways towards quantifying what PEDs did for Cabrera.  He was able to get on top of more pitches and hit them hard.  2013 should see a regression then.  But playing on the astro turf of Rogers Center may mitigate that somewhat.

Overall, it is a good signing, even if the Jays don’t get the juiced 2012 version of Melky Cabrera.  If the Bill James 2013 slash line projection of .295/.348/.432 is in the ballpark then I think AA, and Toronto fans, will be pretty happy.

One last note.  I was interested to read AA’s comments about the suspension and how the Jays are willing to give players a second chance.  I don’t think Marcus Stroman is in the position to argue this point but I do find it a bit odd that Toronto didn’t call him up with Septembers expanded rosters to try and kill off some of his fifty game PED suspension.

Stroman delivers for Vancouver. Photo courtesy of

Stroman’s transgression was reasonably innocent in that he failed to read the ingredients of an over the counter supplement.  In fact, if he was on a mlb roster the stimulant in question would not have been cause for a ban.  So, if the Jays are into second chances, why was Stroman not called up?

It is possible they weren’t all that happy with his development and he wasn’t in line for a promotion anyway.  But by forcing him to serve the fifty games at the beginning of the 2013 minor league season they have limited their flexibility on Stroman’s development somewhat.  If the Jays are sure that his future lies in the bullpen then Stroman will be assigned to New Hampshire and be eligible to start pitching in late May.  But if they had designs of seeing what he could do as a starter (and the Jays current model with drafted pitchers is to see what they can do as starters before shifting them to the ‘pen if necessary), you would think Stroman would probably be back to short-season ball, which doesn’t start until June.  It’s possible they could assign him to one of the full season clubs to serve out the suspension before demoting him to Vancouver, but I’m not sure what the rules would say about that.

We’ll have to wait until assignments are handed out after spring training to find out the answer to the above question.  Just seems so far away.