It has been just over a week since Asdrubal Cabrera was traded to the Washington Nationals and already, there are those who miss him. After his first error of the season, the Tribe fans that base their point of view on whatever happened last were calling for Francisco Lindor, disregarding Lindor’s development and being willing to throw away Ramirez’s career because of one play. While the Indians front office doesn’t appear ready to do anything as wasteful as exchanging Ramirez with Lindor, there are a few long term numbers that could make those short term thinkers change their minds.
It has always been known that Cabrera is a below average fielder and above average bat for a short stop. The Nationals were obviously aware of this as well, as he has been moved to second base from day one in Washington. In fact, it was likely his prowess at second during the 2007 play-off run along with Jhonny Peralta’s lack of range that created the illusion that Cabrera was an above average shortstop. Since basic defensive metrics like errors and fielding percent are unreliable, a few more contemporary numbers need to enter the equation.
The chart below shows GP (games played), RF/9 (the number of balls fielded per nine innings), Fld (the number of balls reached, not the same as total chances as every ball touched by the player counts), F2O% (the percent of those balls turned into outs, RARf (runs above replacement saved in the field at all positions), errors, fielding percent and UZR (ultimate zone rating courtesy of fangraphs.com, it is a cumulative, all encompassing defensive metric and the most accurate descriptor available in judging defensive performance). All numbers except UZR come from baseballreference.com and are for the players entire career at the short stop position.
Without trying to be redundant, the chart shows what we have all known for years. Asdrubal Cabrera is not a good defensive short stop. In addition to being one of the worst short stops in baseball in UZR (Zach Cozart of the Reds is the best), he fails in the more common traditional statistics like errors and range factor. Since UZR is cumulative and Cabrera has played many more games than the other two, it should be noted that his UZR/GP is just -0.07, while Aviles’ is 0.04 and Ramirez’s is 0.01.
While an imperfect stat as it does not take into account the number of balls hit to short, range factor is still useful here, especially combined with the percent of balls fielded turned into outs. If a player has incredible range, but is unable to turn those plays into outs, he is not helping his team as much as a player with a higher F2O%. In this case, all three players turn balls fielded into outs at the exact same 88% rate, just lower than the league average short stops rate of 92%. Since the players are equal at getting batters out when they get to the ball, the deciding factor in the superior defender will be who gets to the ball more often and that is easily Mike Aviles. While Aviles has made more errors/chance than Ramirez, this is likely just a factor of opportunity and will likely change as Ramirez gets more playing time.
Since he has such limited experience in the Majors, it can be helpful to glance at Ramirez’s minor league numbers, although sabrmetric stats such as UZR and WAR are unavailable at that level. Considering four seasons of numbers across four levels at short stop, Ramirez actually has a worse fielding percent than Cabrera at .963. He also had a diminished RF/G of 4.24 although both of these numbers could have more to do with the rough nature of minor league fields. Also included in the errors are poor throws that possibly could have been caught by another Major League infielder, so it is hard to judge too harshly from these numbers. Ramirez was also primarily a second baseman in the minors, spending time at third and outfield as well as short stop, so it stands to reason he should improve if he is able to focus on a single position.
The second part of the comparison between Cabrera and Ramirez is the offensive component. Here is where Cabrera brought something to the game that Ramirez likely never will. Offensively, Cabrera provided 18 runs over replacement over 96 games this season, while Ramirez has provided -0.3 in 24. Divided by games played, Cabrera added about 0.2 extra runs per game compared to a replacement level player while Ramirez has been, not surprisingly, a replacement level player.
This is only considering the situation as if Cabrera was still on the team and there was a choice between him and Ramirez. If this was the case, Cabrera would likely still be the starter due to his added offense, but when his $10M salary is compared to Ramirez’s league minimum and the bonafide power prospect, Zach Walters, is added in exchange for Cabrera, it is obvious the Indians made the right move and are continuing to do so with Ramirez at short. As far as Francisco Lindor is concerned, even if he would be able to contribute at the Major League level right now, which his .226/.284/.339 batting line at Columbus begs to differ, it is much better to have a full season at the age of 27 of any player than an extra month at the age of twenty. Be patient, he will get here when he gets here.