Yesterday, Melky Cabrera went three for four and scored two of the Giants’ three runs. If that’s a surprise, you clearly haven’t been paying attention, as it’s the Melkman’s 16th multihit game of the month, and seventh game of 3+ hits. With his third hit, Cabrera collected his 50th base knock of the month, passing Willie Mays for the Giants’ all-time record for hits in a single May that had stood since Mays set the mark in 1958.
With two games to go, Cabrera’s line for the month sits at an eye-popping .435/.463/.661. After collecting 1.9 WAR in May, Cabrera has now amassed 2.4 wins for his new club. When Cabrera came up for a cup of coffee with the Yankees, back in 2005, hopes were high, with BA’s John Manuel placing him eighth on the team’s list of top 10 prospects. Cabrera, however, spent five years beginning to realize his potential, toiling away with the Bronx Bombers before moving to Atlanta when the Yankees acquired Javier Vazquez. In Atlanta, Melky had his worst year yet, putting up -1 WAR and earning his outright release to end his age 22-25 seasons with a total of 2.5 WAR.
As a free agent, Cabrera signed in Kansas City, and spent all of 2011 quietly turning his career around in the much lower-stress environment. Holding down the two-spot in the lineup for 144 of his 155 appearances, the switch-hitting Cabrera made the most of his team-leading 706 plate appearances to put up offense 18% better than league average while playing a passable, albeit below-average, centerfield. Cabrera set career marks in essentially every offensive category, and managed a 4.2 WAR year that nearly tripled his previous total.
In 2012, Cabrera hasn’t looked back. While much of his rate-based success so far this season stems from an astronomical .415 BABIP (career .306), he’s also taking some true steps forward from his breakout year 2011. Somewhat surprisingly, Cabrera’s career 2011 featured both a career-high strikeout rate (13.3%, career 12%) and a career-low walk rate (5%, career 7.4%). He’s rectified those issues somewhat in 2012, pairing a 2.6% spike in walk rate with a 1.2% drop in punchouts. Cabrera’s power has also continued to take a small step forward, as his current .180 ISO bests his 2011 career-high mark of .164.
Possibly most importantly for his team, Cabrera has held down the third spot in the order while Pablo Sandoval tends to his injured hamate. Without Sandoval’s bat, the Giants’ already light-hitting offense looked to be in danger of becoming simply anemic. With Cabrera and fellow offseason acquisitions Angel Pagan and Gregor Blanco firing on all cylinders, however, Buster Posey’s had enough help to allow the team to tread water at a mark of 15-13 for the month. When Sandoval comes back, the team will need to make a big push to catch up to the torrid Dodgers and stave off the inevitable run from the Diamondbacks, who almost certainly have the most overall talent of any team in the division. If Cabrera can continue to prove his 2011 was all breakout and no fluke, they may just have the firepower to do so.
Twitter Question of the Day: Who is the most surprising performer so far of the 2012 season?
Questions or comments are welcome in 140 characters or less @saberbythebay.