When Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games near the end of the 2012 season, the Giants appeared to be dead.
Then, without their so-called best player, the Giants went out and shocked the world by winning it all.
Cabrera hit .346 in 501 plate appearances, and he tore up pitchers. So when he was busted for testosterone use with 45 games remaining in the regular season, it was supposed to kill the Giants. However, the team came together, and everyone—particularly Marco Scutaro—started producing more. The Giants rewrote the definition of team and came out on top for the second time in three years.
And they didn’t need Cabrera then. So why would they need him now?
The Giants won with the 12th-most runs scored in 2012, scoring 718. However, they didn’t accumulate a lot of those runs with the long ball, as the Giants recorded 103 home runs, which was the worst in the league. San Francisco needs guys who keep the chain moving with walks, singles, doubles and unselfish play, and that’s what makes them so good.
Cabrera did exactly that. He hit just 11 PED-aided home runs, but he drove in 60 runs and scored a ton. In just 113 games, Cabrera touched home plate 84 times. His offensive stats were great, and he definitely helped the offense by getting on base and providing RBI opportunities for Buster Posey, San Francisco’s MVP catcher.
So who will hit in front of Posey now? Pablo Sandoval.
Because of the 2012 postseason, Sandoval is best known for his three-homer game in Game 1 of the World Series. Sandoval torched the Detroit Tigers and hit .500 while making some slick defensive plays. The World Series MVP hit .364 with six home runs in the playoffs, and he made up for his poor 2010 postseason performance.
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However, Sandoval isn’t the best guy to hit in the three-hole in San Francisco. He can be very inconsistent, and his power can almost evaporate at times. He had a streak of 161 at-bats without a home run in 2012, which would be more than 40 full games without a home run (assuming he gets four at-bats per game, which is still a bit of a stretch).
It’s also no secret that Sandoval’s weight issues have been a concern and that they can affect him. When Sandoval’s weight got the best of him in 2010, he hit .268 with 13 home runs and was benched for all but four of San Francisco's 15 playoff games.
That's a risk the Giants just can’t deal with in 2013.
When a player hits .346 with a .390 on-base percentage (OBP), you know they are consistent. Sure, Cabrera took PEDs, but he hit a lot of line drives that he will still hit, and he used the spacious AT&T Park to his advantage. Cabrera had 10 triples in 2012, or one triple for every 45.9 at-bats (and one triple for approximately every 11 games).
Even without PEDs, Cabrera would help the Giants. He hit .307 with 18 home runs in 2011 (in spacious Kauffman Stadium), and the Bill James Projection System predicts that he will hit .295 in 2013.
During Spring Training with the Toronto Blue Jays, the team that signed Cabrera to a two-year, $16 million contract during the offseason, Cabrera hit .348 with three homers, 15 RBI and a .968 OPS. Spring Training doesn't paint an accurate picture as to how good a player is, but Cabrera's spring numbers are certainly encouraging.
And they're showing that the Giants will miss their former left fielder as they watch their two left fielders struggle.
Gregor Blanco and Andres Torres, owners of .244 and .230 batting averages in 2012, will replace Cabrera. Both Blanco and Torres struck out in more than 24 percent of their at-bats in 2012, which isn’t exactly keeping the chains moving. Cabrera, on the other hand, does keep the chains moving.
In 2012, his strikeout rate was a mere 12.6 percent, and he struck out in 13.7 percent of his at-bats. Torres and Blanco are good defensive players, but Cabrera made some nice plays as well. His wins over replacement (WAR) in 2012 was 4.6, meaning that Cabrera added an estimated 4.6 wins to the Giants.
Torres posted a 1.2 WAR, while Blanco had a 2.0 WAR. Considering that the two will platoon and that both will see less time, you could average those numbers and get a 1.6 WAR. That's an estimated difference of three wins between Cabrera and San Francisco's current platoon, and those three wins could go a long way.
Neither Blanco or Torres stack up with Cabrera in talent or production. The Giants run on small ball and playing to their park, and Cabrera does that better than anyone. However, he can also supply extra-base power and consistently reach base, which is something no one on the Giants (other than Posey) can do. It's going to be harder for Posey to drive in runs, especially when Sandoval isn't doing well. The chain will break, and it will cost the Giants.
And it will cost the Giants even more when they watch Cabrera tear up pitchers in Toronto.