Comping Cabrera: Eeyore’s Rebuttal

I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by Everth Cabrera. He doesn’t figure to be as critical a piece of the eventual puzzle as guys like Kyle Blanks and Mat Latos, but Cabrera’s skill set intrigues me.

Also, there’s the fact that he successfully made the jump from A-ball to the big leagues. We’ve noted that Rafael Furcal followed a similar path. We’ve identified several other players with comparable skill sets, including Pete Rose, Steve Sax, and Chuck Knoblauch. Reader Pat suggested Delino Deshields.

All of these comps make sense on a certain level. However, they also have something in common that potentially distorts the picture: These players were all really good and enjoyed successful careers.

We need a counterexample to show what can go wrong. We need Mike Caruso.

Caruso, part of 1997′s infamous White Flag Trade, became the starting shortstop for the Chicago White Sox in 1998. Like Cabrera, he skipped the high minors and made it look easy:

                A-ball                   MLB
        Age  PA   BA  OBP  SLG  Age  PA   BA  OBP  SLG
Caruso   20 617 .311 .365 .416   21 555 .306 .331 .390
Cabrera  21 550 .284 .361 .399   22 438 .255 .342 .361

Caruso’s sophomore campaign didn’t go so well. He hit .250/.280/.297 in 564 PA, then returned to the minors before making a 12-game cameo with the Royals (arguably still the minors) in 2002. Last year, at the ripe old age of 32, Caruso played five games for Newark of the independent Atlantic League.

Although this is only one data point, it’s worth acknowledging. I don’t mean to kill anyone’s buzz about an exciting young player that I happen to like a great deal, but it’s useful to know that there is precedent for someone jumping from A-ball, succeeding initially, and then falling to pieces.

Do I think Cabrera will regress to the extent Caruso did and find himself out of a job by age 25? No. Do I think it could happen? Sure.

Ryan from Padres, Chargers, Illini Blog got me thinking about this topic a while back when he posed the following question:

Is there any indication from Cabrera’s rookie numbers that he won’t end up like [Josh] Barfield? Does the fact he gets on base more often and plays a more marquee position really make him that much more valuable than Josh was after the ’06 season?

I can’t point to any studies, but my suspicion is that Cabrera’s superior on-base skills will help. Barfield succeeded initially despite his inability to discern balls from strikes. He never solved that particular problem and it caught up with him.

Some guys (Vladimir Guerrero, Alfonso Soriano) can hack their way to nice careers. Most people, however, don’t possess their hand-eye coordination or plate coverage. Anecdotally speaking, even the guys who start reasonably strong with such an unrefined approach tend to stagnate (Jose Guillen, Corey Patterson) or fade early (Carlos Baerga, Juan Samuel, Cory Snyder).

But maybe I’m telling myself this because I want Cabrera to be better than Barfield turned out to be. If history has taught us anything, it’s that learning from history is harder than it looks.

That said, Ryan has identified two points (superior on-base skills, greater defensive utility) that should work in Cabrera’s favor going forward. Cabrera was also a year younger than Barfield during their respective rookie seasons. As Bill James demonstrated many years ago (and others have since confirmed), that makes a huge difference.