Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The 07 Rotation: Daniel Cabrera...

...OR I can see clearly now.

I am calling it right now, Daniel Cabrera has turned the corner. We do not need to wait for him to turn the corner, he already has. To some of you that m
ay seem like the insane ramblings of a crazy person - perhaps, but its true and I will show you why.

Cabrera's 2006 was a tumultuous year, but an exciting one. Who can forget the absolutely ridiculous game against the Devil Rays, his second start of the season, where he pitched 5 innings walked 9 and struck out 10! He left the game ahead by 1 and in line for the win before the bullpen gave it up, as would be a theme for most of the season.

Daniel's 2006 campaign is summed up by one baseball term - walks. Cabrera walked 104 batters, that was the second highest total in the majors last year (behind the Cubs' Carlos Zambrano) He also struck out 157, 35th most in the majors. That K ranking may not sound impressive but think about this. Daniel struck out all those batters in only 148 innings pitched. There was only one other pitcher that posted that at least that many Ks in fewer innings Tampa Bay's Scott Kazmir.

Daniel Cabrera's K/9in ratio last year was 9
.55. Taking into consideration his limited innings it still puts Daniel in the ranks of Johan Santana, Scott Kazmir, Jake Peavy, El Duke and Jeremy Bonderman. This kid definately has the stuff.

But can he harness it? That has always been the question with Danny. When he is on there is no mistaking it - he is damn near unhittable. In his 9 wins last year Cabrera's ERA against is at a remarkable 0.85. And in 63.2 innings pitched he struck out 63 batters. That is right, in his wins he averaged a K an inning. in that same span he only allowed 38 hits and 9 runs only 6 - SIX - of them were earned. But when Danny was off last year, boy was he ever. In his 10 losses Cabrera's ERA ballooned up to 9.12 and walking 45 batters over 49.1 innings.

What was exactly his problem? Well I think there were a couple factors.

1- Daniel is still growing. Last year he showed up to camp 2 inches taller and 20 lbs (of muscle) heavier. Daniel was already an imposing presence on the mound but at 6'7" and 258 lbs that is a body that a young pitcher could have trouble controlling.

2- The WBC/ Mazzone. Alone, these things are beneficial for someone like Danny, but I feel the timing of the WBC and the arrival of Mazzone hurt him during the first half of 06. I remember people being worried that Leo would have trouble coaching the young and emotional Cabrera, the exact opposite was true. Danny loves Leo and listens intently, but the timing of the WBC robbed him of important instructional time during the spring where he would have been able to learn more from the coach and fall into the new Mazzone-routine of things easier. Consequently Cabrera (and the rest of the O's staff) had to learn a new system on the fl
y. Some will call this a lame excuse, I'm sorry but I do not think it is a coincidence that the most consistent pitcher in the spring of 2006 was the only one who spent an entire summer with Mazzone.

Basically I think that Daniel started off the year with a mechanical hitch in his delivery and he got frustrated. It became a mental thing with the walks and sort of devolved from there until his stint in the minors came. After that stint though Daniel came back stronger and had a very good second half.

In second half Cabrera started 11 games ending with a 5-4 record. He lowered his ERA almost 1.00, from 5.15 to 4.26. Most importantly in 67.2 innings Cabrera threw only 34 walks and struck out 69. That is a K/BB ratio of 2.02. Daniel Cabrera showed MASSIVE improvement over the second half of 2006 as compared to his horrendous first half. He was healthy, the cobwebs were cleared, he got glasses - he turned the corner.

So what can we expect from Daniel in 07? No glasses that's one thing, as he recently got laser eye surgery to permanently correct his eyesight. Which is a good thing, though I was really hoping to keep that Ricky Vaughn comparison going a little longer. But after all is said and done, Daniel will probably still be a bit more erratic than we would like to see, I don't think he has outgrown that just yet, but after a full year of Mazzone and a better offense and bullpen to support him I expect only good things - namely a lot of strikeouts. Opponents' AVG against has fallen each year Danny has been starting and last year he held them to a .241 mark. Looking deeper Daniel also showed that he can be counted on when it REALLY mattered. With RISP Cabrera held batters to a .208 mark and an OPS under .690.

Between he and Bedard the Orioles could have two pitchers on staff that have the ability to become one of the best one-two punches in all of baseball.

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