Melky Cabrera Gives Blue Jays Much-Needed Change In Left Field

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

After three mediocre seasons offensively at the position, the Blue Jays needed to switch things up in left field.

During the Q & A portion of the Blue Jays' State of the Franchise event last week, the second-last question, from multiple season ticket holders, was directed toward general manager Alex Anthopoulos:

We're interested in learning about the dialogue and consideration process behind the ultimate decision to invest in Melky Cabrera, who's been banned for 50 games due to high levels of testosterone, and R.A. Dickey, a 38-year-old man.

While Anthopoulos quickly addressed the topic of Dickey's age, he offered a lengthier reply regarding Cabrera. Although he touched mainly on Cabrera's 50-game suspension, Anthopoulos did add one simple nugget for these season ticket holders that should have stood out the most.

We believe he can help us win games, and that's the number one criteria.

Whether Cabrera plays like he did for the Giants this past season or the way he did during his time with the Yankees, he'll help the Blue Jays win in 2013. Not only will Cabrera bring stability to left field for Toronto—he averaged 144 games per season prior to his shortened 2012 campaign—but in any capacity, he represents an upgrade at the position, one that has been awful offensively for the last two years and far from elite in five of the last six.

Flash back to 2006. The Blue Jays' primary left fielders, Frank Catalanotto and Reed Johnson, contributed to one of the club's best overall offensive seasons in the last decade. That year, Catalanotto hit .305/.393/.448 with 26 doubles in 401 plate appearances as a left fielder, while Johnson managed a similar .315/.397/.459 slash line with 17 doubles and seven home runs while playing left field. Since then, however, production from left field has been mediocre at best for the Blue Jays; something that needed to be addressed given the club's plan to contend in 2013 and beyond.

From a WAR perspective, Blue Jays left fielders ranked 29th in MLB with 0.0 fWAR last season. Zero. The chart below shows the fWAR Blue Jays left fielders have accumulated in each of the last six seasons, along with how they compared to the rest of the league:

Season

fWAR

MLB Rank

AL Rank

2007

1.2

23rd

8th

2008

-0.2

28th

12th

2009

4.8

6th

2nd

2010

1.7

18th

7th

2011

1.3

23rd

9th

2012

0

29th

13th

In 2007, Blue Jay left fielders collectively hit .260 with 38 doubles, 21 home runs and a .742 OPS. Matt Stairs put up MVP-level numbers whenever he played left field that year (.341 average, 1.076 OPS in 148 plate appearances), while Adam Lind and Reed Johnson lagged far behind in larger sample sizes, managing an OPS of just .674 and .641, respectively.

In 2008, a whopping nine different players (Lind, Shannon Stewart, Brad Wilkerson, Kevin Mench, Travis Snider, Stairs, Joe Inglett, Marco Scutaro and Buck Coats) played left field for the Jays, amassing a .258/.325/.384 slash line. Lind started coming into his own, hitting .292 while adding 23 extra-base hits, but when he wasn't in the field, fans were forced to watch veterans at the ends of their careers in Stewart, Wilkerson, and Mench. Snider, who was tearing it up in the minors, made his major league debut and managed an .803 OPS in 24 games.

Despite a hot start, Snider was optioned to triple-A in May 2009 following a three-week hitting slump, and Lind saw more time in left field as a result. That 2009 season was, of course, when Lind won a Silver Slugger award (and received MVP votes) for his career year, when he spent the bulk of his time at DH. But he still raked when he fielded a position, hitting .316 with a .991 OPS as a left fielder -- the main reason that, along with Snider, Jose Bautista and four others (remember David Delucci?), Jays left fielders ranked near the top of the league in offense.

After that bright spot in 2009, though, left field has gone considerably downhill from an offensive standpoint, and the best way to illustrate this is simply with numbers from the last three years:

Toronto Blue Jays - Left Fielders (2010)

G

PA

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

F. Lewis

84

380

336

90

25

4

8

32

82

.268

.343

.438

.781

T. Snider

50

206

193

50

12

0

9

13

54

.259

.306

.461

.767

A. Lind

16

61

58

11

2

0

2

2

11

.190

.213

.328

.541

+ 4 others

19

71

64

11

3

1

1

7

19

.172

.254

.297

.551

Combined Total:

162

718

651

162

42

5

20

54

164

.249

.312

.421

.733

Toronto Blue Jays - Left Fielders (2011)

G

PA

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

E. Thames

53

231

210

52

15

2

7

16

49

.248

.309

.438

.747

C. Patterson

45

192

176

47

7

2

2

8

33

.267

.296

.363

.659

T. Snider

43

166

151

35

9

0

3

11

45

.232

.285

.351

.636

J. Rivera

22

81

74

15

3

0

1

5

11

.203

.259

.284

.543

+ 5 others

10

29

25

6

2

1

1

4

7

.240

.344

.680

1.024

Combined Total:

162

699

636

155

36

5

14

44

145

.244

.295

.382

.677

Toronto Blue Jays - Left Fielders (2012)

G

PA

AB

H

2B

3B

HR

BB

SO

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

R. Davis

105

391

358

91

19

2

4

22

77

.254

.305

.352

.657

E. Thames

41

156

144

37

7

1

4

9

36

.257

.301

.403

.704

A. Gose

14

47

41

6

2

0

0

5

12

.146

.239

.195

.434

T. Snider

10

40

36

9

2

0

3

3

14

.250

.300

.556

.856

+ 4 others

14

24

23

5

2

0

0

0

0

.217

.217

.304

.521

Combined Total:

162

658

602

148

32

3

11

39

139

.246

.297

.363

.660

Will Melky Cabrera hit .346 with an OPS over .900 again this season? Probably not. But it's a safe bet that he'll do better than the sub-.700 OPS that Thames and company collectively put up over the last two years, especially when you look at the favourable change in park factor going from AT&T Park to Rogers Centre.

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