The St. Louis Cardinals lost the Tommy Pham trade. Based on the loud majority(?) of Cardinals twitter, this is an undeniable fact.
The repertoire of Génesis Cabrera? Overhyped.
But is it, though? According to Cabrera's Player Card at BrooksBaseball.net, he threw four different pitch types in 2019: four-seamer (56 percent), sinker (4 percent), changeup (17 percent), and curve (22 percent). I have it on good authority that pitch classification systems (with Pitch Info, developed by Harry Pavlidis, being the very best) do not yet have a clue when it comes to Cabrera's repertoire. To be fair, Cabrera, 23, probably doesn't yet, either. With only 20.1 MLB innings under his belt -- and 11 of his 13 appearances coming out of the bullpen -- Cabrera hasn't even had time to open up his full repertoire. Is he throwing that many four-seamers (or are more of them unclassified sinkers)? Is a curve really his only breaking ball (or does he mix in sliders and cutters that will ultimately tunnel better off his "straight" offerings)? Regardless, what we should already know about Cabrera -- in a very limited MLB sample -- is the repertoire is not overhyped. In fact, it carries a legitimate potential to be filthy. in a vacuum, fans would drool over a 23-year-old left-handed starting pitching prospect averaging 96mph with the fastball, in addition to a dynamic breaking ball and an above-average to plus changeup. But factor in the fact that he was acquired by trading away Tommy Pham, and he is immediately thrown into the "likely a bust" category of pitching prospects. Regardless of how Cabrera is viewed on Twitter or how his pitches are classified, let's take a closer look at some of his very best offerings from 2019, starting with his electric four-seam fastball. Here is a 96.9mph heater striking out J.T. Realmuto on May 29, 2019, all .gifs courtesy of @cardinalsgifs, of course:
On its own, this pitch is unhittable. This location and situation (lefty fastball versus right-handed batter) resulted in only one hit during the entire 2019 season, and it was a jam-shot, bloop single (67.3mph exit velocity) by Avasaíl García on July 3. That being said, the vast majority (917 of 1079) of the time the hitter harmlessly takes this pitch for a ball. Why didn't Realmuto? As you can clearly see by the trail, the pitch never once crossed the strike zone --- from release to the catcher's mitt -- so what made it so tempting beyond the usual zone expansion that takes place with two strikes? One can surmise that the superb tunnel created by the curveball thrown immediately prior is the biggest reason why:
The curveball/slider/whatever you want to call it isn't reserved solely for set-up pitch duty. While the pitch was hit around during his first stint up in 2019 (to the tune of a .605 xwOBA, and most notably on this opposite-field bomb by Bryce Harper on May 29), it became a real weapon when he returned in September and throughout October (.251 xwOBA with a 33.33 percent swing and miss rate).
Look no further than this swing by Jake Lamb on September 25, 2019, to better appreciate just how filthy the curve was during Cabrera's second stint in the big leagues:
Focus on his bat path in the following .gif and you'll see that Lamb was nowhere close to making contact with the pitch:
And finally, let's take a look at the changeup. I have come to understand that changeups are inherently boring for most people because a good portion of their success is predicated on their deception off other pitches. Remember back to when you first began pitching, "Throw it like your fastball! Let the grip do all the work!"
Then again, with the widespread introduction of high-speed cameras and pitch-tracking technology, we now exist in an era where we better understand that nearly all successful pitchers work tirelessly to create a complementing repertoire. Edgertronic cameras and Rapsodos wouldn't be commonplace throughout baseball -- at all levels -- if this weren't the case. With this in mind, I believe people are finally coming around to appreciating changeups more readily.
The change is incredibly important for Cabrera's ability to get righties out on a regular basis. Sure, he will still utilize the curve versus righties, but without a changeup, righties know anything moving to Cabrera's arm-side will enter the zone at a fastball velocity. Well, Cabrera utilized the change (well all season, but especially effectively) to close out the NLDS on October 9, 2019, versus a completely-fooled (just look at the breaking down of his back foot) Dansby Swanson:
Admittedly, Cabrera is far from a finished product. And that's okay as he is still only 23 years of age. However, I question the pulse of those that lack excitement behind a lefty prospect capable of throwing the following sequence:
If Cabrera's winter league and spring training control of the strike zone is for real, he should be a weapon for years to come with the St. Louis Cardinals -- out of the bullpen, sure, but even more so out of the starting rotation. As always, credit to @cardinalsgifs, Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, Baseball-Savant, and BrooksBaseball.net for their respective contributions to this post.