Cleveland Indians: Is Asdrubal Cabrera a Great Defensive Shortstop?

Pat KondzellaCorrespondent IJanuary 31, 2012

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 23: Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera #13 of the Cleveland Indians leaps over Michael Cuddyer #5 of the Minnesota Twins who is out at second during the sixth inning at Progressive Field on September 23, 2011 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

Asdrubal Cabrera is an amazing, acrobatic shortstop who dazzles us with highlights that are worthy of standing out on Baseball Tonight's "Web Gems" on a daily and nightly basis.

But is he a good defensive shortstop?

That has to be an easy question to answer because he makes those behind-the-back flips, in-the-hole jumping throws and amazing one-handed plays, and he makes them look effortless.

Of course he's a good shortstop. No, scratch that. He's an amazing shortstop.

But statistically, he's not. He is actually a below-average to even poor fielder.

In first analyzing "basic" stats, this conclusion is emphasized. According to's fielding stats for shortstops for 2011, Cabrera ranked middle-of-the-pack to below-the-middle in most of the categories among 22 qualified shortstops (those who played at the position in at least two-thirds of their teams' games).

Cabrera ranked 11th in fielding percentage (putouts+assists divided by PO+A+errors), 16th in double plays and tied for eighth most in errors committed. He also ranked a dismal 20th out of 22 in range factor (PO+A divided by how many nine-inning games played).

Despite playing in the fourth-most innings, he only managed to be 10th in total chances (TC), tied for ninth in put-outs (PO) and 14th in assists (A). These facts would seem to support the range factor stat and would point to the possibility that he doesn't get to as many balls as maybe he should. Note the discrepancy between the innings rank and the other ranks.

It seems like there should be a fairly close correlation between the rank of innings played and the ranking of total chances, putouts and assists.

For instance, Starlin Castro of the Cubs, who was first in innings played, was second in TC, second in PO and third in A. Alcides Escobar of the Royals, who was second in innings played, was first in all three categories.

Looking at more advanced sabermetric fielding stats yields similar observations. According to, Cabrera had the worst ultimate zone rating (UZR) of any regular shortstop in the league.

Without detailing the stat, UZR puts a value on how many runs a player saved or gave up due to his defensive ability. It includes the ability to turn double plays, the player's range factor and susceptibility to making errors.

With the average being zero, A-Cab's UZR was -12.6. The best was J.J. Hardy of the Orioles at 11.7.

Another stat to look at on Fangraphs is the DRS (defensive runs saved). This stat measures how many more or fewer successful plays a player makes as compared to the league average.

Cabrera was ranked 16th out of 22 at -5. The league average is again zero. The best was Brendan Ryan of the Mariners at +18.

It is very interesting to note that under the "Fan Scouting Report" on Fangraphs, Cabrera's stock rose considerably.

Yet in the actual stats, he was ranked toward the bottom in most areas, on this report A-Cab was ranked 11th overall, 11th in arm strength, eighth in release and eighth in hands.

So which defensive player is Cabrera?

Is he the Asdrubal Cabrera who was named by Major League Baseball in 2011 the best defensive player in the game, who was a finalist in the Gold Glove voting and who is exciting and dynamic to watch? Or is he the player whose stats tell a different story?

He's probably both.

He's probably not as good as those "Web Gems" lead us to believe (as the stats tell us), but he is for certain an exciting and dynamic shortstop whom Cleveland fans do not mind paying good money to see perform his acrobatics.

You have to take the stats with a grain of salt without dismissing them, but you certainly can't downplay the immense skill that Cabrera shows. He certainly passes the eye test of being a good defensive shortstop.