The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who is in need of a bounce back season after a poor 2013.
If there was a player more primed for and in need of a big year, it is Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
Cabrera will enter 2014 with plenty to play for in a contract year, poised to cash in on his next deal. With top prospect Francisco Lindor waiting in the wings, that contract will occur for one of the remaining 29 teams. He will be paid $10 million this season in the final year of the contract extension he signed with the Indians just prior to the 2012 campaign.
Cabrera has been criticized in each of the last two years for subpar efforts at the plate, especially in the latter portion of each of those seasons.
After homering in the season opener in Toronto, pacing Cleveland to a 4-1 victory, Cabrera’s bat stalled out. Over his first 13 games of the season, he batted just .118.
Cabrera bounced out of his familiar two-spot in the lineup after the first three weeks of the season after his struggles at the plate and those of three-hitter Jason Kipnis. A ten-game hitting streak followed, when he hit .378 with nine runs batted in, which helped to push his batting average up to .226. Despite the improvements at the plate, he was averaging a strikeout per game played. Included in his streak was his game-winning hit in the eighth inning on April 22nd, when he drove in a pair of runs with a two-out single off of reliever Matt Thornton to earn Justin Masterson his fourth win of the season.
Several multi-hit games in May helped to push his batting average into the .250s, but he was struggling to reach base with consistency. His .336 on-base percentage for the month was due in large part to having just seven walks in his 29 games played. He pushed his home run total to four on the year with his second straight two-homer month, but his 14 doubles contributed to his 13 RBI in that span.
Injury derailed Cabrera in June, when he missed 19 games with a strained right quadriceps muscle. Upon his return, Cabrera moved back into his two spot in the lineup. His streaky efforts at the plate returned with him as he reached base in seven straight games with a hit and in nine straight overall.
As the heart of the summer hit in July, Cabrera struggled at the plate as the Indians did in the win column. In the first 17 games of the month, Cabrera hit just .159 with just two extra base hits. Manager Terry Francona again looked to Cabrera to spark the lineup, moving him into the cleanup spot to assist with the lack of production from Nick Swisher, who had manned the spot for the majority of the season.
Cabrera had four multi-hit games in the final eight games of the month, however, pushing his monthly average to .204. A career .279 hitter coming into the season, Cabrera was hitting .249 going into the final two months of play.
The streaky Cabrera was no different in August. With him in the middle of a six-game hitless streak in the middle of the month and coupled with the team’s inability to manufacture runs, Francona was forced to move his shortstop down in the lineup. Cabrera’s average had plummeted to .231, the lowest it had been since the second game of the Yankees doubleheader on May 13th. Having hit in the middle of the order for the bulk of the season, he found himself hitting sixth. After one hitless start in the six spot, Cabrera ripped off an eight-game hitting streak.
The batting average did not climb for Cabrera in the six hole through September, but his opportunities to produce runs were consistent. He led the team in runs batted in for the month, tied with Swisher’s 17, and scored 14 runs of his own. Ten of his 22 hits in the month were for extra bases, including a season-high five home runs to give him 14 for the season. In crunch time during the team’s ten-game winning streak to conclude the regular season, he hit .324 with 12 hits in ten starts and scored seven runs. He was more patient at the plate, striking out five times versus three walks.
His 2013 offensive production was at its worst since 2010. His .242 batting average and .299 on-base percentage this past season were the worst of his career.
He was recognized with American League All-Star honors in 2011 and 2012 due in large part to consistency at the plate. In 2011, he hit .273 with 25 home runs and 92 RBI, easily trumping his previous highs of six homers and 68 RBI in 2009. He followed it with a .270 average, a .338 on-base percentage, 16 home runs, and 68 RBI in 2012.
Home field was a disadvantage for Cabrera at the plate last year. In 70 games at Progressive Field, Cabrera batted .209 with eight home runs and 32 RBI. On the road in 66 games, he hit .276 with six home runs and 32 RBI.
Prior to last season, Cabrera was a career .280 hitter at Progressive Field.
Cabrera did find some success in a couple of spots in the lineup. In 41 games in the third spot in the batting order, he hit .295 with five of his home runs and 23 RBI. While in the sixth spot, he hit .273 with five home runs and 20 RBI. He combined to hit two home runs and 21 RBI from the second and fourth spots in the lineup while batting a collective .188.
The team often went as Cabrera went. He hit .266 with 12 home runs, 54 RBI, and scored 56 runs in 79 wins he appeared in. In the 57 losses he was involved in, he batted .209 with two home runs and ten RBI while scoring ten times.
Some of the most noticeable issues at the plate throughout the season for Cabrera was his increased strikeout frequency.
His 114 strikeouts were just five fewer than his career mark, established two years ago in 15 more games and 105 more plate appearances. Meanwhile, his walk rate was down, as he posted his lowest total of walks since 2010, when he had nearly 140 fewer plate appearances in 39 fewer games.
On top of that, he missed in the clutch.
He hit .197 with two home runs and 45 RBI on the season in 158 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, including six double play balls. In the same situation with two outs, he batted .169 with 13 strikeouts in 70 plate appearances and had just one home run and 19 RBI. In most two-out situations, he was a non-factor.
Defensively, he made nine errors, his smallest total since 2009, and had his best fielding percentage (.982) at shortstop since having 29 errorless chances in his rookie season back in 2007. However, he also posted the worst range factor per game (3.83) and per nine innings (4.04) of his Major League career. Both were below league average.
At 28 years of age, Cabrera is staring down a big contract opportunity while entering the prime of his career. With the four-year, $52 million deal given to his former teammate, Jhonny Peralta, by the St. Louis Cardinals, and shortstops with pop in their bat being a hot commodity, it would behoove Cabrera to have a strong Spring Training in preparation for one last big hoorah with the Tribe.
It will help him and the team even more if he brings his bat of old.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer