Cleveland Guardians News

Weekly Wroundtable: Debating Asdrubal Cabrera’s Defense


One of the most frequent topics of debate among Indians fans is the quality of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera‘s fielding. Popular perception seems to be that the 2011 Gold Glove finalist’s frequent web gems and solid fielding percentage show that he has a plus glove—Paul Hoynes, perhaps the most influential figure in swaying public opinion about the Tribe, called Cabrera the team’s “best defender”—while many statistically inclined fans point to what they see as his subpar range as evidence that his fielding could use some work.

So, in this week’s Weekly Wroundtable, we tackled the question: What do you think of Asdrubal Cabrera’s defense? In addition to the usual suspects from Wahoo’s on First, we had the honor of hearing from The Tribe Daily‘s Nino Colla and Indians Prospect Insider‘s Charlie Adams. Here’s what we had to say for ourselves:

Charlie Adams: -7.2, -7.7, -11.8. -4.3, -2.8, -19.1.These are the estimated runs cost by Asdrubal Cabrera’s defense in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 baseball seasons according to UZR and FRAA (the most oftenly used statistics to measure defensive capabilities). Many debate defensive baseball statistics, saying they can rely on their “eye” to tell you who can pick it and who can’t. He was widely viewed as a plus defender as a prospect and he displays highlight caliber plays every night, so there is some definite divergence.

The fact is that many of the same scouting sources that rated Cabrera’s defense as a positive as a still-growing 20-year old coming over from the Mariners continued to downgrade his defense as he filled out. Of course, with that growth came terrific offensive production, but his defense has declined.

Asdrubal will stay at short, for better or worse, in 2012 despite the fact that he has always been rated an incredibly efficient second basemen by all metrics: at second, he allows the Tribe to hide his below-average arm while taking advantage of his terrific hands and play making ability while turning the double play. Overall: great player, but not a great defensive shortstop.

Nino Colla: I’m probably in the minority that I actually think he should have won the Gold Glove this year. It was more of a year of, “Who Else” and “Why Not Cabrera” than anything else.

He made so many spectacular plays—although that is not what wins Gold Gloves, unless you are Torii Hunter. That’s besides the point. He’s an above-average fielder. He’s one of the better guys at his position. The best? Probably not, but he’s good. Don’t let statistics tell you otherwise and don’t let anyone tell you Jhonny Peralta is better.

Some statistics are going to point to Cabrera being bad, but if you’ve actually watched him, with your own two eyeballs, field his position, you would know that is simply not the case. You could find worse shortstops defensively, that’s for sure. Cabrera’s defense? I think it’s just fine and serves the Indians well.

Lewie Pollis: I don’t like making sweeping judgments based on defensive stats. UZR, FRAA, whatever metric you prefer—they’re all incredibly volatile year-to-year. And often times these stats, which all have similar basic goals and methodologies, make completely opposite conclusions based on the same plays. So when one of those numbers flies in the face of the predominant scouting-based opinion—i.e., that Cabrera is a great fielder—I take it with a grain of salt.

But when these stats all tell the same story four years in a row, I trust that. And since 2008, UZR, TZR, DRS, BIS, and FRAA have all agreed that Cabrera is a below-average defensive shortstop. Just how bad he was is up for debate—DRS and BIS had him at 5 runs below average, while FRAA had him at -19 runs (the average rating was -9.4)—but the stats all concur that he Cabrera was below par.

Sure, Cabrera makes some unbelievable web gems. I consider this play to be one of the best I’ve ever seen in person:

But many of the diving catches Cabrera makes are of hits that a shortstop with better range would be able to make without leaving his feet. I’m not saying he’s a total sieve, but flashy defense isn’t the same thing as good defense, and in that light Droobs is more like Derek Jeter than Omar Vizquel.

Jon Rudder: Cabrera is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game right now. His jaw-dropping plays in the field have made him a regular web gem candidate. Just watch the highlights. But when you look at his numbers, you will find that his total fielding runs above average is in the negatives.

Asdrubal is able to get to more balls than other shortstops in the league, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s put himself in the best position for those plays. It’s the adjustments before the pitch is thrown that can turn an error diving in the hole into a groundout. By still being able to get to those balls, he makes himself susceptible to committing costly errors, but he makes you say “wow” when he makes the play.

I still want him on my team. He can change the game with one of those plays. If he makes one of those plays in the World Series, he’s a hero and everyone remembers it.

Geordy Boveroux: Cabrera’s defense is like a slasher film. It’s borderline terrible, but man are the visuals nice.

Many were appalled at the fact that Cabrera didn’t take home the AL Gold Glove award, but I was appalled that he was considered a frontrunner in the first place. So many fans grade based just on what they see even though so many readily available metrics prove that Cabrera is one of the worst defensive shortstops around. In 2011, Baseball-Reference had Cabrera’s dWAR at -0.7, meaning he essentially cost the Indians an entire game with his glove alone. The Indians could have been a .500 team if Cabrera had been an average defender at shortstop.

But that’s not to say that Cabrera should be moved off of shortstop. For Cleveland there’s nowhere else to put him. They don’t have a quality replacement for his position until 17-year-old Francisco Lindor comes up, and Jason Kipnis will be entrenched at second base for the next few years.

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