San Francisco Giants: Why Melky Cabrera's Absence Is Meaningless
As everyone knows by now, Melky Cabrera's season (and probably career) with the San Francisco Giants is over. While he might make it back if the Giants last more than five games in the postseason, his 50-game ban will certainly keep him out for the rest of the pennant race.
What everyone probably doesn't know is that Cabrera's absence is almost statistically meaningless for the Giants. Here's why:
Cabrera, until he was suspended, was worth approximately 4.5 wins above replacement (WAR) for the Giants. That's an excellent figure, and was second among the team's hitters—behind MVP candidate Buster Posey, of course. But based on Cabrera's expected regression (which was probably a little more harsh than usual because of his disappointing early years), he was only projected to be worth 0.8 WAR the rest of the way (All WAR projections courtesy of Fangraphs.com). Keep that figure in mind.
Now, Gregor Blanco, who started the season as a world-beater—he hit .315 in May—is Cabrera's primary replacement in the Giants' lineup. And while Blanco hasn't had a month anywhere near as good as his May performance, he's still got some value. He'll take a walk, as evidenced by his 12.1 percent walk rate, which is second on the team behind Brandon Belt. He'll also steal a bag once he's on base—he's tied with Angel Pagan for the team lead with 19, despite inconsistent playing time.
And defensively, Blanco has been substantially better than Cabrera both this season, and during their careers.
But here's the interesting part: Blanco is projected to be worth 0.3 WAR for the rest of the regular season. That's only half a win less than Cabrera. So, all things being equal, the statistics indicate that there really won't be a huge drop-off in expected win value from Cabrera to Blanco.
Of course, there are anecdotal arguments to be made that the difference will be more dramatic than the numbers show. You could argue that Cabrera's presence in the lineup has a bigger effect on the rest of the Giants' hitters or that pitchers will never be as afraid to face Blanco as they were when Cabrera was at bat.
But those sorts of arguments go both ways. Anecdotally, maybe the Giants lineup will be better than before because they'll pull together and rally in the face of Cabrera's suspension. Maybe Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence's improvements (both are red-hot right now) will more than make up for the loss of Cabrera. And maybe Pablo Sandoval will be just as good as Cabrera was. After all, the Panda is projected to be worth one full win above replacement the rest of the way, more than Cabrera's 0.8.
Even if those arguments balance out and the rest of the Giants' lineup continues to perform as they have all season, the loss of Cabrera is far from devastating. Gregor Blanco is a solid replacement, despite how much he's cooled off since the start of the season.
If the Giants lose the division by just a half-game, I guess that half-win difference between Cabrera and Blanco will matter after all. But for now, there's no reason to worry about the missing Melk-Man.
In Gregor we trust.
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