"I hit the city and I lost my band.
I watched the needle take another man.
Gone, gone, the damage done."
With a little help from new friends
"The Needle and the Damage Done," Neil Young's heart-sinking ballad about heroin addiction, is quite the haunting, sobering tune.
It's also been applied in pun form to proven (and unproven) users of performance-enhancing drugs. Melky Cabrera has been the latest player "taken" by the stigma. Drafters far and wide have chastised his name since he was suspended and shut out of the San Francisco Giants' title picture. Users scare off baseball analysts because their system clean-out often leads to a downturn in production.
Cabrera, unfortunately for those detractors, landed in one of the ideal environments to combat the hangover from his 1.5-year rush.
The 28-year-old joins a stacked Toronto Blue Jays lineup, now complete with Jose Reyes on top of, in some order, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Emilio Bonifacio, Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind and J.P. Arencibia. Whew, with Cabrera sitting at second or in the middle of this order - either way, it's a productive spot.
The personnel and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy's skills for reviving lumber wielders have contributed to it, but Rogers Centre, in a division familiar to Cabrera, is quite the homer haven. (That outfield sign-stealing stuff? Overrated factor.)
Cabrera's 11-homer showing in his abridged 2012 presents a fine baseline for a complete 2013. His AB/HR rate dropped from 36.6 in 2011 to 41.7 last year. Natural correction, fear of getting caught, biologically downward cycle - whatever it was, it led to that rectifying nudge, doing the job that needed to be done to properly value him in the first place.
That being said, there has to have been a natural power gain as he grew into a full-time player. This wasn't a complete light-switch flip. He had the build for it even back in his Pinstriped youth.
He's not going to be a 20-homer guy, but 15 as a ceiling would still give us the "peak" Melk Man.
That is, if he maintains a clip somewhere near that from 2011 (.305). Forget last year's .346 with a .379 BABIP. A .332 in-play clip was enough of an outlier the previous year. That's what you should hope for, max.
Murphy one of the best
Juicing can enhance that, too; you, in theory, can get around on more fastballs and make harder connections. But that doesn't fully justify the grounder increase he showed in 2012, unless it's a result of him losing gas. My inkling is that it more so leaned toward him altering his approach.
His contact percentages have sat in the high 80s for all six available years of his PITCHf/x data. There's a fear that he'll get less out of his hacks without pharmaceuticals, but he puts the ball on the turf - and he now has BA-aiding bounce on his home field - often enough to balance out the other warning signs. He has to embrace even more emphatically a method he's already shown through much of his career.
The .274 BA he put up with the New York Yankees in a full 2009 should be a basement for optimistic prognosticators, of which there should now be much more.
This doesn't eradicate the high drop-off risk, but you should be thankful he was caught before 2013 drafts. His statistical inflation is now neutralized, but there'll still be rampant fear over any impending thump decrease.
Don't forget psychology: Sure, there'll be pressure with more scrutiny, but he's in a smaller market, and Cabrera was a humble player even during his deceit, so maybe he'll attempt character redemption with extra hustle ... hopefully in the form of increased SB output that also will help him regain dollar returns. That TO surface could aid him there, as well.
Cheater? Fine. But where others put morality first in their fantasy baseball league, you should target a four- or five-category bargain - a potential .275-15-80 player with 80-plus runs and 20-plus swipes. As a ninth-rounder in deep mixers, he stands to match your investment. In many circles, he'll go for much cheaper, which'll further diminish the bust quotient and increase his profit.
The Melk Man, for the right price, should deliver again.
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About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum competes in Tout Wars and LABR and has won several industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, hear him every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore. On Thursdays, he visits 106.1 FM WMTI in New Orleans and Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, where he often crashes other shows, as well.
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