MLB: Atlanta Braves at New York Mets

The Best Hitter In New York (Recently) Isn’t On The Yankees

Among the many (many (many)) wonders of this second half for the Mets is the sudden and unexpected surge of offense from Asdrubal Cabrera. The shortstop has suddenly turned into the Mets’ version of Gary Sanchez. No, really. Over the past 30 days, Cabrera has hit for a .448 OBP and .731 slugging percentage, while the incredible Sanchez has just a .406 OBP and .747 slugging percentage.

It’s inexplicable, in part, because his surge has come in light of two injuries–one major and one minor. Cabrera spent 18 days on the disabled list with a knee injury. Then, on Aug. 28, he left a game with a hobbled knee again. Suffering and re-aggravating an injury which could compromise your swing and power is usually not the best way to facilitate for a hot streak. Yet, here we are.

So what’s behind all this? How did Asdrubal Cabrera go on a tear and set the team’s record for most home runs by a shortstop. (21, at the time of publication.)

First, let’s put his season into three snippets and see how he gradually gets more dangerous at the plate. On July 31, Cabrera got hurt for the first time. He’d miss the next 18 days. Up to that point, he was pretty unimpressive. He was hitting .255 with 13 home runs and a .718 OPS. Cabrera was hitting for more power than he had in any of the four previous years–he hit between 14 and 16 home runs per season from 2012-2015–but he was actually less productive offensively than he had been last year in Tampa Bay.

The respite obviously helped. He came off the disabled list and notched hits in eight of his next nine games, homered three times, and doubled four times. Still, he wasn’t much of a different hitter than he had been. His average exit velocity (88.8 mph, via Baseball Savant) was right at league average and actually below what he had posted over the first four months of the season. His average launch angle (10.2 degrees, via Baseball Savant) was actually near three degrees lower than it had been.

Cabrera’s strong nine games looked like a fortunate blip. Then he left Aug. 28’s game with the sore left knee–the same he had hurt previously. Somehow this has correlated with a boon for his stat line.

From Aug. 29 through Sept. 20, Cabrera batted .324 with a 1.013 OPS. He homered again Wednesday. It’s during this last stretch that Cabrera has changed his results and his pathway to getting there. His average launch angle jumped to 19.2 degrees and his line drive rate spiked from 21.5 percent to 32.2 percent. His average exit velocity bumped to 93.1 mph–35th-best in all of baseball of all hitters with at least 20 at-bats in that time frame.

Cabrera has suddenly become the Mets’ hottest hitter and, most importantly for them, it doesn’t look like he’s just getting lucky on balls in play. He’s hitting the ball harder and higher.

In a season plagued by injuries, it seems like the Mets actually didn’t have one of their best players derailed by one. Cabrera has actually turned into one of the best signings of the Sandy Alderson regime. Like Bartolo Colon and Yoenis Cespedes, he is one of the relative bargains the general manager found a way to buy this past offseason. 

Just as importantly, he’s under contract for next year, when the Mets’ infield situation is uncertain and interestingly vague. Cabrera is likely locked in at shortstop but the rest of it is up in the air. David Wright can hardly be counted on at this point. The Mets don’t have an incumbent second baseman at this point with Neil Walker a free agent to be. Sure, they could just use Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores as roving platoon options for those two positions, along with whatever Wright can provide or even Gavin Cecchini. And while there has been murmurs (mostly from fans) questioning if Lucas Duda will return next year, letting him leave would be short-sighted and deprive the Mets of a possible 30-home-run bat just to save about $6-8 million.

Then again, with the Mets nothing is unfathomable, not even the team’s bargain shortstop out-hitting the Yankees’ newest phenom.

Photo Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

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