The second-year utility man has serious swing issues from the left side.
Oswaldo Cabrera’s second half showed signs of small victories for a while. Cabrera came back strong in July and August with a demotion to Triple-A in the middle to reset. He posted a .302 batting average and a 124 wRC+, though only in 51 plate appearances. But Cabrera performed so badly in the first half that he merited little playing time in the ensuing two months, even with the Yankees mixing and matching unknown commodities in the outfield, and even with Cabrera producing better results when he saw the field.
Cabrera doesn’t have a ton of power, but his pull-heavy approach from the left side means he can generate enough to get by. In a strong debut in 2022, he performed equally from both sides of the plate, but strangely, in 2023, he’s seen much more success batting right-handed. I want to hone in on his left-handed swings and their variance in results and timing because he’s longer and loopier from the left side, and because he also needs to find both swings, even if they are slightly different.
Cabrera has an in-his-prime Aaron Hicks-esque wrinkle between his two swing shapes, but Hicks had the top-tier bat control to compensate for the loopiness in his swing and make his power work for him as a lefty. There’s a power stroke somewhere in there for Cabrera — he’s taken some tantalizingly good swings left-handed for us to analyze. He’s a more intriguing but more flawed hitter as a lefty. So what does a mechanically sound swing look like for Cabrera from the left side?
These three GIFs quantify Cabrera’s left-handed hitting potential, all from July and August. The swing is long but his quick bat allows him the luxury of generating more bat speed to compensate. His righty swing has less moving parts, making it more versatile, but when he gets the lefty pop going, it has Yankees fans dreaming about the short porch. His swing remains long through all three but his course-correcting, punctual bat path allows him to adjust to each movement profile.
Here’s Cabrera mashing a Jimmy Herget changeup. Often, a pull-oriented left-handed hitter will pound this into the ground. In fact, inducing that very swing is how Herget earns his living. But Cabrera stays back, takes advantage of the location and drives it:
Here’s a line-drive double on a backdoor curveball from a righty. A pull-oriented lefty can’t generate any power on this pitch without throwing the knob out to it, and instead of pulling off early, Cabrera’s uppercut works perfectly to provide lift and power on the batted ball:
To complete our trifecta, here’s Cabrera taking the same uppercut swing in Colorado, but using it to catch up with a heater up in the zone. Because of its length, the true timing test of his lefty swing is the high fastball, and Cabrera’s bat path is lightning-quick:
Lately, though, like most Yankees, it’s been “Wake Me Up When September Ends”. Cabrera followed up his 51 plate appearance solid stretch with a 53 plate appearance slump in the month of September (on the surface, a decent batting average overall, but with otherwordly batted ball luck and no pop from the left side). The detriments of a long swing haunt him once again, exemplified by many shallow pop-ups to left field. Lefties with long swings tend to have this problem, and the successful ones overcome it … until they don’t. See Gallo, Joey.
Here’s the exact same pitch he smoked in Colorado, a 94 mph fastball in the same spot from Thursday against the Blue Jays:
And finally, here’s a pop-up on a middle-in 92 mph Kevin Gausman cookie, also from this weekend:
These are bad swings, and even more concerning, they’re not issues he’s fixed for more than 50ish plate appearances at a time. Cabrera and Anthony Volpe (to a lesser extent) have exhibited these frustrating, inconsistent lapses in their first look at big-league pitching. Cabrera had an offseason and 468 plate appearances to iron out his swing path consistently, and he hasn’t done so. Certainly, 500 at-bats is hardly enough to make concrete, long-term judgments. For Cabrera, though, right-handed pitchers adjusted to his swing in the offseason, and they’re back to owning him. He will have to adjust back if he wants to stay in the Yankees’ plans.