Oswaldo Cabrera was off to an absolutely horrendous start in April. Even with Aaron Hicks, Willie Calhoun, and Franchy Cordero on the roster, it wasn’t inconceivable that the team would send Oswaldo down to Triple-A to figure out whatever rut he was in.
But luckily for Cabrera, his defense and great performance down the stretch of the 2022 season gave him a longer leash than his peers. In the first month, his 36 wRC+ made him one of the worst hitters in baseball. Since the calendar has switched to May, he has been formidable with a 93 wRC+ entering play on Saturday. If Oswaldo is a near-average hitter for his entire career, that is a big win for the Yankees, but probably disappointing to him. For that reason, the question is how he can get back to the form we saw last year where he was routinely lifting the ball and getting it to fly over the right-field wall.
Hitters without natural raw power have less room for error. If their batted-ball profile changes, then they could go from a 111 wRC+ hitter to a 58 wRC+ overnight. Oswaldo didn’t get to his six home runs last year because of any overwhelming power. Instead, he molded his swing to lift fastballs to the pull side and let the flush contact do the work. For a hitter like this who isn’t very big to do that, their swing plane has to be optimized. Any faltering from that can lead to a regression back to the version of Oswaldo Cabrera pre-2020 that ran mid to high 40s groundball rates. That is precisely what we’ve seen, and what he needs to try and jump out of.
There is definitely more than just a slight mechanical thing happening with Oswaldo, but for this piece, I want to focus on two measurements of bat angle that prove Oswaldo is a different place than he was last year in terms of swing path and plane. The first is Vertical Bat Angle (VBA).
VBA is the measurement of a hitter’s bat angle at impact; 45 degrees is a perfect diagonal from one corner of the zone to the other. In other words, 45 degrees is basically what we see from somebody like Aaron Judge. Obviously, Oswaldo’s swing is a bit different from Judge. Here are two GIFs for you – the first is from last year, and the next is from this year. It is the same pitch in the same location.
Last year, Cabrera’s average VBA was 33.8 during the time that he was in the big leagues. This year, that number has fallen to 31.5 degrees. Looking at VBA alone with no context can be misleading since it’s highly dependent on pitch height, but since Oswaldo has had virtually no change in the heights of pitches he has seen this season. It’s reasonable to think that his barrel has flatter due to some mechanical deficiency. If you look just a little bit further and see his increase in groundball rate from 30.4 to 50.5, then it makes even more sense. Two degrees isn’t very much at all in the grand scheme of hitting, but like I said, when you don’t have great raw skills, small differences mean more to you than they do an above average skilled player.
Next, I want to cover another metric that is the preamble to VBA. It’s called Vertical Entry Angle (VEA). This is the point where a hitter gets to right before they start their downswing into the hitting zone—hence vertical entry. The relationship between these two is important. Like any other mechanic in baseball, it’s important that a player moves one part of their body in unison with another. If a hitter’s VBA changes too much from their VEA, then their swing plane can be rigid and unpredictable, and lead to the sort of thing we’re seeing from Cabrera where groundballs and popups spike up.
As you probably would have guessed, the difference between Oswaldo’s VBA and VEA last year was 10.4 degrees. That still isn’t great but there are other very good hitters within that range, like Trea Turner and Luis Arraez. This year, that number has shot up to 14.8. Basically, his bat is flattening more from his entry to impact than it was last year. You won’t like the names within the same territory of him right now. They include a recently-DFA’d Eric Hosmer, the struggling Daulton Varsho, and another struggling hitter in Ha-Seong Kim. If you change your swing plane too much from the beginning to the end, you’ll inevitably be all out of whack.
I know this is all easy to point out and what not, so the step forward here is to find out how the heck Oswaldo can fix this. His VEA is up a few ticks from last year, so perhaps he would be better off with flattening his bat angle as it enters the zone so that he doesn’t have to try and overhaul anything else. It’s much easier to change setup and load positioning than to change the points after that during the course of the season. He could cue a different direction during his hand load or place them in a different position to start. His slight hitch before his actual load is likely a contributor, but I don’t think this is anything he can’t figure out with a few cage sessions.
Ideally, Cabrera continues the uptrend he’s on and is a contributor for the hot-hitting team. Small mechanical changes like this are the types of the things that good big league hitters overcome in little time. We can only sit back and watch, but I remain hopeful for this exciting young player.