CLEVELAND - MAY 13: Asdrubal Cabrera #13 of the Cleveland Indians fields a ground ball against the Seattle Mariners during the game on May 13, 2011 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
The Indians are going nuts, as they swept the Ohio Interleague Deathmatch Spectacular that tore apart so, so many families this weekend. A big part of the Indians’ success is switch-hitting shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who capped the weekend with a 5-for-5, two-homer performance on Sunday. He was underrated coming into the season, as he had a bit of a down year in 2010, and now he might even be more underrated. Here are three categories in which he contributes to an easy-to-use, easier-to-misuse underrated label:
1. He’s an underrated hitter, and not just for a shortstop
A list of major-league first basemen with an OPS+ over 150:
Asdrubal Cabrera isn’t just tearing it up for a shortstop; he’s tearing it up for a first baseman. His 154 OPS+ is almost certainly unsustainable, but a power spike from a 25-year-old might be real, and Cabrera always had good patience and bat control in the minors. If his power is for real this season -- he’s already hit as many home runs in his last 200 plate appearances as he did over his previous 1,000 -- he should have the plate discipline to take full advantage of it.
He’s not going to be as good as Joey Votto, but even if he hits like a middle-of-the-pack first baseman, that will put him on the short list of best-hitting shortstops in baseball. Do you believe in his very good 2009, his below-average 2010, or his insane start to 2011? The answer is probably a mixture of the three, but it’s easy to forget that he’s the same age as players like Ian Desmond and Reid Brignac, young shortstops who are still unknown quantities. Cabrera is already a good hitter for his position, and he’s young enough that there’s a chance for him to make the positional qualifiers irrelevant.
2. He was part of one of the underrated "worst trades" ever.
When people talk about awful trades, the conversation always turns to A.J. Pierzynski for Francisco Liriano/Joe Nathan, or Bartolo Colon for Grady Sizemore/Cliff Lee/Brandon Phillips. But Cabrera was acquired from the Mariners for the last 43 games of Eduardo Perez’s career. When the Mariners gave Cabrera up, they were 41-40 -- only two games out of first place, but hardly a juggernaut.
Perez came over to DH, but the Mariners felt like he needed a platoon partner. So they did what most of us would have done, which was give up Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard. Once Mariners fans take enough prescription drugs, they can convince themselves that the Indians really are the 2011 Mariners, and then they don’t mind so much. On a galactic scale, Cleveland is just around the corner from Seattle. Go local sports team! But only Mariners fans seem to remember that Perez cost their team a talented young shortstop -- it doesn’t get the all-time stinker reputation that it deserves.
3. He’s an underrated troublemaker
If Cabrera keeps hitting, he’ll eventually win a Gold Glove. Don’t think too much about that sentence, just accept it as fact. Cabrera’s defense has always been heralded by scouts -- it’s why the Indians were even interested in a 20-year-old with a .295 on-base percentage -- and he can sure make some beautiful plays.
But UZR doesn't like Asdrubal’s glove, and he’s been even worse according to the metric this year. This discrepancy hasn’t jeterated into a maelstrom of pointless arguing just yet, but it will. And it’s going to be awesome. When he wins a Gold Glove, there will be a war between the stats. Or, if you’re from the other side, you can call it the war of statistical aggression. Brother against brother. No one will be spared. Stock up on canned food!