Here’s an idea I’m instantly regretting: instead of empty open thread posts for playoff games, as we’ve done around here in years past, each day I’m going to attempt to have a hopefully-quick look around at some splits and stats and whatever else stands out on a Jays player’s 2013 season, because… what the hell else is there to do for the next month? Or the next week. Or just today– or however long I actually continue to follow through on this exercise.

8:00 PM ET – Pittsburgh (2) vs. St. Louis (2) – Gerrit Cole (1.3 rWAR) vs. Adam Wainwright (6.2 rWAR)
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Melky Cabrera’s season ended on August 1st, in the inning following the incident above– his comical attempt at returning an Erick Aybar single to the infield, which allowed Mark Trumbo (or Trumble, if you’re Buck Martinez) to score the Angels’ sixth run off the day off Josh Johnson, who to that point had recorded just six outs.

Ten days later he turned 29-years-old.

Yes, for the entirety that Jays fans saw Melky Cabrera this year– as he, at times, looked creakier in the field than Vladimir Guerrero at the end of his long career, much of it spent patrolling the concrete-and-felt of the knee-destroying outfield of le Stade Olympique– he was just 28-years old.

It’s a little bit hard to believe, isn’t it? His body seemed to be breaking down before our eyes. Of course, we now know that there was a very serious problem– a non-cancerous tumour in his spinal cord of his L1 vertebrae.

Fans, I think understandably, are somewhat skeptical that Melky is going to simply bounce back to good health now that those critical lower-half nerves are not being pressed on by the growth. It seems maybe just a little too optimistic for a player who looked so bad this season, providing negative value by WAR, according to both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, never getting his slugging percentage above .400, and having a high water mark at the plate on May 29th, when he was hitting .292/.339/.392.

That’s especially understandable, I think, because of the shit luck this club has seemed to have in terms of health of late, not to mention that fans are being asked to hope for a similar kind of magic in terms of the recovery of Brandon Morrow– which, like Cabrera’s issue, is not common enough for anybody to be really confident about going away– and very possibly Josh Johnson, whose issue is more common, but no less concerning given the pitcher’s history.

But you know what? If you’re willing to not be negative suckhole crybaby, it’s not really that hard to talk yourself into believing it.

The ailments Cabrera suffered in 2013 all fit perfectly into the explanation. There was the back pain, present all along, even though he reportedly didn’t tell the club about it until the end of the year– which ended up being the reason the tumour was diagnosed. The ones we heard about, though, began with “tightness in his hamstrings” in mid-May. The results of the MRI he had due to that initial tightness showed that while his left hamstring had irritation, on his right side, it was actually his quad that was inflamed. By six weeks later it was no longer his hamstrings or quads that were bothering him, but knee tendonitis.

I’m obviously not a doctor, but the mysterious weakness in his legs, the loss of what limited power he had previously exhibited, the shifting nature of his injuries, and– y’know– the fact that he had a fucking tumour in his spine, exactly where the nerves that control the lower-half muscles he had such trouble with… it all sort of adds up.

Sure, the fucking Rhodes Scholars who are so sure that performance enhancing drugs work for baseball players like spinach works for Popeye will roll their eyes at the idea Cabrera’s season can be based on anything but his getting caught last season, but does that make anything resembling sense? I have a hard time believing that it does.

In fact, picking the notion apart isn’t terribly difficult.

The narrative has no choice but to tell us Cabrera started using P.E.D.s after 2010, and had easily the best two seasons of his career in the years that followed. The reason there is no choice but to believe that is because in 2010, in Atlanta, he reported came in out of shape, and had the worst season of his career– worse, even, than the one we witnessed this year, as he posted a FanGraphs WAR of -1.4.

In his final season of the Yankees he posted a not-inspiring 1.4 WAR, and if you add up the value he provided from his first full season in the Bronx, 2006, through his abysmal season in Atlanta, you get 2.1 wins across five seasons. In other words, less than half a win per season.

So, if the drugs had the ability to magically make Melky a whole new, excellent player, it’s pretty hard to swallow that he was using them in the years preceding 2011. We obviously don’t know, but the only thing we know is that there’s a correlation, with not nearly enough data to say that they were the causation. Yes, he had the highest two ISO marks of his career (.164 and .170), but the .142 he posted in 2009 was relatively close. Add to that the fact that those two successive career highs were, perhaps as you’d expect, in his age-26 and age-27 seasons. And in the seasons prior, combined, his .113 ISO was well above the paltry .081 mark he posted with the Jays– another indication that his drop-off wasn’t necessarily back to “normal” from his drug induced highs.

Nobody is going to mistake that puzzle of logic as some kind of smoking gun– especially when you consider that, if you separate out each year, Melky has had seasons as bad, or worse, than 2013 during his pre-P.E.D. period, so it’s maybe not as much of an aberration as people like me want to believe. Still, I think it’s important to recognize and acknowledge that fans can’t have it both ways– you can’t think Melky used drugs before 2011 if your contention is that he magically got good at that point because of it, and you therefore can’t say that his drop-off in 2013 took him right back to where he should have been and will always be. In general, during that time, he was better than we saw this season.

Though… shit. He wasn’t that much better, actually. Over the four years prior to 2011 his line was .267/.329/.380. In 2013 it was .279/.322/.360.


I mean, that’s actually pretty similar. But there are still caveats: over the span of the pre-2011 sample his BABIP was .293, while this year it was .313. Part of the reason, then, that his 2013 line looks cloer to the old “normal” was probably that– and it’s at least not entirely implausible to believe, considering his three best seasons by BABIP have come in his last three, that his ability to get hits on balls in play has changed due to something in his approach or his swing. That certainly always seemed to me to be the more reasonable explanation for his breakout seasons in 2011 and 2012, rather than the reductive P.E.D. assumptions. And had he been posting the kind of BABIP produced by the pre-P.E.D. Melky in 2013, the numbers would look that much worse. Right? So that would certainly suggest that there’s more to the drop-off than just his being caught and suspended.

Also, if you take the out-of-shape season in Atlanta out of the mix, his old “normal” becomes an even-closer-to-respectable .270/.332/.387.

It takes some twisted logic to get there, maybe, but that does to me suggest that the results of 2013 were clearly impacted by more than just the P.E.D. use (uh… obviously?), and following that, I think we can expect that, with full health and an off-season in which to get into better shape, we can expect quite a bit more from the Jays’ left fielder in 2014. Especially if he continues to outperform he former standard when it comes to BABIP– which, OK, might be a bit of a stretch to believe. I do believe it, though. And I believe that his new normal will probably end up somewhere between the crazily P.E.D.- and BABIP-driven numbers of his years in Kansas City and San Francisco, and the less impressive numbers of his prior career.

It’s kinda hard to feel confident in that belief, but at this point it’s not like the Jays, or by extension their fans, have much of a choice. They’re stuck with Cabrera for as long as they can stomach before cutting bait on the $8-million left on his deal. But why should it come to that? At full health why the hell shouldn’t he be able to be at least what he was before, and probably then some? And wouldn’t even that be a rather tasty upgrade on what the club got from the position this year, where according to FanGraphs they were exactly at replacement level?

Or, y’know, am I just completely delusional?

Comments (51)

  1. I can’t see myself getting off the couch never mind playing MLB with a tumor on my spine. I think his bat will be fine next year if our cushy cement field doesn’t kill his legs.

  2. Serious question: can anyone think of any conceivable way the Jays (or any MLB club) could punish players for NOT revealing injuries, or reward them for revealing them? I get that it’s a part of the “culture” in all sports to play through whatever you can, but baseball is a game of repeatable motions, not brute force. If your motion is slightly off, no amount of willpower is going to change the fact that you’re going to suck, because you’ve been forced to completely abandon what got you to the big leagues in the first place.

  3. During the first boston series of the season, I saw melky Chugging for third all out (during the Farrell boo fest), and I thought at the time for a big guy this guy can move. Later in the season, in left he looked worse than Lind. I am not saying I 100 % buy the tumor affected his play, but seeing the two different versions of the same man, I can buy that it played an effect on his speed.

    • There was a commenter in an earlier post who seemed to know what he was talking about that said there is no doubt about it affecting his running. Especially the tumor being on the L1. AA said that they MRI’d the legs completely,which is why it was misdiagnosed.
      I’m not a doctor ( I don’t even play one on TV) but the commenter seemed sincere and believable.

      • It’s Cantonal. Who is a doctor. But I think he said he wasn’t an orthopod.

      • I’m not a doctor either, but I think I can say with full confidence that having a tumour on your spine would ABSOLUTELY affect your running. And, I’m assuming, everything else.

  4. Tacking onto the list of downright goofball moves the front office made this year was deeming Melky fit for action after his first DL stint this year. Melky played in 7 rehab games and NOBODY saw him do any kind of running around? He was clearly not fit for play when he came back. Sure, he’s to blame for not saying anything but for such a scouting-centric team, a colossal fuck-up IMO.

    • Having a guy with hamstring and quad tightness, who is one of your best batters in the line up, no doubt affected the decision. Reyes was in pain a month after he was cleared to play.An off season of rest is the only complete cure.

  5. What concerns me is how often the jays seem to run guys out there that are clearly injured. Melky was hurtbagging most of the season and Edwin playing when the season was lost was stupid. If these guys are more interested in not looking like pussies than they are in long term health maybe the decision should be made for them

    • For every one of you, there is a guy complaining that they are wusses and need to earn their money and use more grit, derr derr derr.

  6. I don’t care one way or another about the PEDs. They are in the past. However what does concern me is the effect of the operation. Is it possible some nerves have been permanently compromised? We won’t know, I guess, until he takes the field. But I hope they are closely monitoring his recuperation. We don’t want to find the team an outfielder short going into spring training.

    • The probabilty of a full recovery is excellent, according to the reports, at the time the surgery became public.

  7. Essentially at the high end we are looking for Michael Brantley’s performance from last year (.284/.332/.396). I could live with that for 8 m.

    • I think you’re looking far more likely at a potential .300/.320/.395 personally. Low average with a 50 point gap in avg-obp seems like you’re not even looking at melky as a player, a contact hitter with a lowish walkrate.

  8. Could PED use cause a tumor like this? I’m not trying to be a troll here, it’s a genuine question.

  9. “the fucking Rhodes Scholars who are so sure that performance enhancing drugs work for baseball players like spinach works for Popeye”

    Ok, can we just stop pulling out this straw man? I have NEVER heard anyone ever say that PED’s can turn scrubs into superstars. If you don’t think PED’s have any effect then that’s fine – but you just make yourself look ridiculous when you put outlandish claims in the mouths of others.

    • You must not have been around here earlier in the year when Melky was crawling around in left field. The number of commenters (and even the occasional reporter) who immediately believed that his deterioration was due to his lack of PED’s was ridiculous.

      The notion being floated was that, without his PED’s, Melky had gone from superstar to scrub. “Straw man” or not, it was a popular belief amongst the uninformed masses.

    • Boo-yah, Ottawa. Good call.

    • I think that is a fair comment from Stoeten. Some people seemed so god damn sure that Melky went from a 4.4 WAR player to a -0.9 WAR player 100% due to him not taking deer antler spray anymore. I guess some people are negative crybaby suckholes and always want to believe the worst, as Stoeten says.

      • You really have to be careful in assessing Melky, because I think the data shows that he is the type of player that PED use would help with most. Consider: throughout his career Melky has shown an excellent ability to make good contact. He doesn’t walk much, but he never strikes out and the contact he does make is strong, i.e. leads to hits rather than just straying ground outs around. He has also shown that he has a really hard time staying in shape.

        I think what the peds do for Melky is two fold: 1) they help him train harder and keep himself healthier which boosts his performance, 2) they make him stronger which turns a lot of that good contact into extra bases. The biggest differences in pre/post PED Melky are in BABIP and slugging. Which totally makes sense with being stronger.

        So basically, I think it’s entirely possible that Melky’s large value swings are so great entirely due to ped use because we’re not talking about a guy who could never hit or run, but then started to. What we’re talking about is a guy that could always hit, but hits with a lot more value when he’s stronger. That may well be entirely due to the peds.

        I definitely expect a lot more out of Melky’s legs next season (he’s never moved so poorly), but a .297/.315/.400 line is probably what we’re looking at without peds.

      • I still call bullshit. Admittedly, I don’t read every single comment here, but I got the general impression that almost everyone was blaming leg injuries, the turf, or both. I certainly don’t remember anybody blaming his inability to move on the absence of PED’s. Especially given that before he really started losing mobility he was one of our better hitters.

        Methinks you and Stoeten have a selective memory.

      • PEDS do something otherwise players wouldn’t be taking them. They take a huge risk by taking them. Melky was going to get PAID before he got caught. Clearly it’s not a magic pill that turns shit into gold, but to go completely counterreactionary and imply that we don’t know what it does so let’s discount its effect on performance entirely and explain inconsistent production with other factors isn’t right either.

        Melky was a good gamble by the front office before the year. Even if he doesn’t pan out (potentially based on a fluke injury) it’s was only a two year deal and didn’t exactly break the bank.

  10. Honest question: why wouldn’t the Jays have performed an MRI on his lower back at some point before the end of the season given melky’s repeated injury complaints?L1 is a common source of leg pain (sciatic nerve issues etc) so it just not a plausible explanation …especially at the end of the year when AA is in full ‘spainin mode. Not sure why everybody accepts this neat solution.

    • I think Stoeten explained it in his post.

      “The ones we heard about, though, began with “tightness in his hamstrings” in mid-May. The results of the MRI he had due to that initial tightness showed that while his left hamstring had irritation, on his right side, it was actually his quad that was inflamed. By six weeks later it was no longer his hamstrings or quads that were bothering him, but knee tendonitis”

      There was a diagnosis. Totally plausible.
      It wasn’t until he complained about the back that the “aha” moment came.

      • Pretty standard to do an MRI of the lumbar spine anytime there is complaint of lower extremity issues such as Melkey had. Someone seriously dropped the ball on that one. Shit in the states they do an MRI of your lumbar spine if you fart.

    • do the Jays have any doctors on staff? after the past couple of years you’d be a fool to not start asking questions about their training staff.

    • I think it’s probably because the Jays are in Toronto. So Melky probably had to wait 6 weeks before he could go to Toronto General at 4 a.m. to get his leg MRI done. When somebody recommended he should get his back checked to, he said “fuck this, I’ll just play with it”.

  11. Also it will be a contract year so if he plans on getting a decent multi year offer I’m sure he will come to camp in good shape and give it max effort all year. I think he will perform well and besides it’s not like the jays have a better solution in left

  12. Crap I was pulling for the Pirates.

    • The one and ONLY goal I have for these playoffs is the complete defeat of the RED SOX cocksuckers and I would dearly love either Det or Oak to do it so I don’t have to listen to them even being AL champs all next year. Fuck , every time I see Fuck face in the dugout I geta hemorrage.
      As for coaches, the Mottola firing didn’t surprise me in that someone was going to get gassed-it happens to be him. Looking forward to some healthy moves in Novemeber as we simply cannot come back with the same club

      • Totally agree with you about the Sox.
        Was reading The Globe article that AA wants to give the playoof teams some time after they get eliminated bfore he calls to see whats available.
        One thing that’s a given and is the same every year.
        The team you see now won’t be the one that breaks camp in the spring and that one, won’t be the one you see in September.
        After Rogers has now had a taste of increased attendance, increased ratings and all that relevant content to fill up the airwaves,with the cash generated, their gonna want to see more interest produced.
        It’s unfucking believable, how much more Jays stuff is available compared to even just 3 or 4 years ago.

        • Agreed, RADAR. I have mentioned a couple of times that they have to do something to keep the MOMO going as they can see the increased BLUE JAy interest everywhere, not only in ratings et al that you mentioned but in the increased visibility of all things Blue Jays when we go on the road. Did you see how many Jays fans were in Phoenix for those meaningless games last month?
          They and AA know that changes need to be made and likely some more money spent to fuel the hot stove league. I just hope they spend the money well
          While 4 positions have been kicked around a lot for improvements, I think that 2B and LF will mostly be internal solutions suck as perhaps Goins and they will start LF with Cabrera because he has that 8m contract if nothing else.
          That leaves C and SP. Hopefully they acquire another C to take over as it will almost automatically be an upgrade by default. 50-50 I’d say
          Most importantly, we need I think 2 forceful pitchers added to the top 5 and I am not a fan of Arroyo per Stoeten’s post. He is merely a RHP of Buerhle calibre and not needed. Hopefully they go after Tanaka ( cpst =$$$ only) and then maybe take a run at Lincecum, and if that doesn’t work out perhaps think of trading for a guy like Gallardo of Milwaukee who slipped back some laast year and is rumored to be available ( well I guess most are in the offseason, right-?depends on price).
          Speaking of Price, if he is dealt by TB he won’t be coming here for he will cost at least 3 MLB ready players not to mention 30m over the next 2 years od so and then he is a FA

  13. Some positivity:

    Baseball America’s Matt Eddy wrote an article about the best power-speed prospects in the minors, it was a top 10 list chock full of future stars like Byron Buxton, George Springer, and Gregory Polanco. At the end he gave one sleeper:

    SLEEPER: Andy Burns, 3b, Blue Jays

    David Wright and Chase Headley owners know that a third baseman who steals bases can be an important source of speed in Roto formats. Wright and Headley have averaged 16 and 14 bags a year, respectively, since 2010. Unlike those two, Burns entered pro ball as a shortstop, having been selected from Arizona in the 11th round of the 2011 draft. After racking up 33 steals and hitting .288/.346/.470 in 128 games at two levels this season—including a second half at Double-A New Hampshire—he’s a legitimate power-speed threat who draws 50 grades for his running speed. Some scouts believe he could pop 20 homers in the majors. As is the case with the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson, Burns isn’t a burner, but he’s an above-average baserunner who will convert stolen-base chances if given the green light.

    23 574 34 7 15 56 33 14 47 70% 21

  14. hate it or not were stuck with JP but man hes got a lot of improving to do..

  15. The most logical expanation is that there was drop off because of the lack of PEDs and because of the tumour. In some ways, I wish there had been no tumour, that it could have been apparent Melky had lost a lot of his former magic. Then they could know for sure to cut bait. Here they are (possibly) going in to a year with an important offensive position (much more than 2nd base or catcher) being filled by a guy who was just awful, defensively and offensively. Was he worse (comparatively to others at their respective positions) than JP or the revolving door at 2nd?
    It is probably mostly the tumour that was causing the problems, but what a risk to take. (Unless you think Gose is there just waiting and ready…)

  16. I think we’re ind of in a wait and see mode with Melky… it could really go either way.

    On one hand, you’d hope that the surgery would correct the issue, and he could get back to being “himself”. On the other hand, we’re talking about back surgery, and backs can be tricky.

    Here’s hoping he’s able to bounce back.

  17. Melky is expendable but nobody is going to pay the 1 year / 8 million left he’s got.

    I would like to see an outfield consisting of Sierra/Gose/Rasmus/Bautista

    Do you think there’s room in the line-up to carry those four AND melky?

    Probably not

  18. I have a feeling people are going to be disappointed in Gose’s bat if we have to see him on a daily basis with the Jays next year.

  19. I think Melky could be extremely useful in the two hole next season if he can just put up a season something like his career line of .284/.337/.409. Considering the unusual circumstances surrounding the last couple of years, it’s fair to say that he’s an extremely difficult player to project going into next season, but I don’t think that’s setting the bar too high. Assuming he’s healthy, I think we should also see better defense in left field as well.

    It’s important to remember that the Jays don’t need him to carry their offense. With Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion, Rasmus, Lawrie and probably Lind in the fold for next year, I think you could argue that the expectation is that Melky should be the 7th-best hitter out of 9 on the team. They also don’t even need him to be the 3.7 fWAR player that he was in Kansas City to justify his contract.

  20. I think it’s very difficult to argue against the possibility that Melky was missing his PEDs this season and it effected his health.

    - The main benefit of PEDs has never been to hit a baseball better, it has been for physical health and strength. Some suspended players flat out stated they took PEDs to recover from injury. So when a guy is healthy while on PEDs but injured while not, it doesn’t make sense to brush that off.

    - None of us know what the impact is on your body when you start taking something like that and then stop, but it’s certainly plausible to think that the body has difficulty healing itself normally when it has become reliant on PEDs.

    - Again not a doctor, but when the Jays examined his legs there were injuries there. It wasn’t as if they were baffled as to what was gimping him. It’s a bit of a stretch for me to believe that removing the tumor also magically heals his legs. I think both were problems for him this year and fixing one doesn’t necessarily fix the other. If his legs remain a problem, you can’t just discount the possibility that PEDs were helping him avoid injury and stay mobile in the past.

    Having said all this, I hope the Jays give him another look anyway and the injuries don’t recur, but I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss the role PEDs may have played getting him to where he is today.

  21. At this point it almost doesn’t matter. He’s on a one-year deal that’s almost impossible to move and there are holes on this team he may be able to fill. They’ll roll with him until he proves he’s hurt or regressed or both, then if they have to cut bait they will.

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