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Fernando Cabrera Is To Blame (For Why I Distrust Relievers)

Fernando_Cabrera_in_motionYou probably don't remember Fernando Cabrera. I sure hope you don't remember Fernando Cabrera. From his debut with the Cleveland Indians in 2004 until he was waived by the team in mid 2007, Cabrera made 94 relief appearances, the majority of them during the team's rough 2006 season (51 games, 60.2 IP). Cabrera, 33, hasn't pitched in MLB since 2010, when he threw an inning and a third for the Boston Red Sox (allowing three runs, all earned on two walks and two hits, one of those hits a home run).

If "games pitched" seems like an odd stat to use in an attempt to jog your memory, well, I like to think I'm doing you a favour, because I certainly didn't want to remember Fernando Cabrera. In retrospect, he was a pretty nondescript reliever; drafted in the 10th round in 1999, got a cup of coffee in 2004, pitched a bunch of (crappy) relief innings in the (crappy) Indians bullpen in 2006. Waived in August 2007.  Hadn't thought of the guy in years. So, of course Jon Heyman ruins my week with this #HeyBomb:
OK, so probably the only reason Heyman bothered to tweet this was because it was nearly 3 p.m. in the middle of February and James Shields had already signed, so what else is he supposed to do?

I wrote last week about two MLB players who influenced me for the better, but Cabrera (whom I've never met in person and could be a terrific fellow, for all I know, so don't interpret anything here as indication otherwise) is effectively the Palpatine to my Vader; for better or probably worse, he made me who I am.

Fernando Cabrera instilled a deep, festering mistrust of relief pitchers on my part. And I'm not certain there's anyone who can help me let go completely.

Let's rewind: in his brief MLB bio, I pretty blatantly omitted what Cabrera did during the 2005 season, all after the calendar turned to July: 30.2 IP, allowing seven runs (five earned), 11 walks, one home run, with 29 strikeouts. Cabrera wasn't all luck, with 2.63 Fielding Independent Pitching, and a drool-inducing 289 ERA+ (if Fangraphs is more your jam, his ERA- was 34). He also pitched in the MLB Futures Game during the All-Star break (the Futures game was set up differently back then).

Cabrera was one of the Indians most promising relief prospects, a 23-year old hurler who looked absolutely fearless trying to help an insanely young 2005 Cleveland team make the playoffs. That team fell short, and Cabrera's failures certainly played a small part in that collapse, but the future appeared bright for the right-hander.

Now, 2015 Ed would happily smack 2005 Ed upside the head, remind him that relievers are fickle beasts and sing the following song over and over until 2005 Ed got it (probably would have taken awhile, to be honest):
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw9qqvm-LT8?rel=0]

But 2005 Ed wasn't so hip to this notion, and was all-in on Cabrera as the next elite reliever. Sigh.

In all honesty, there's no "Tragedy of Fernando Cabrera" here. No, Cabrera never became a great MLB pitcher, or even a good MLB reliever, and no, he probably didn't make a ton of money in his career (Baseball Reference estimates Cabrera made just under $1.5 million in salary during his career, but numbers might not be accurate). But it looks like that's the extent of his failure in life -- no issues with the law, doesn't appear to be homeless and completely poor, and hey, he MLB teams are still giving him a look.

So most of my dislike for Cabrera is simply because I had a bunch of faith in the guy and it didn't pay off. This is something which, in 2015, I realize happens all the time. In 2015, I don't GAF about being wrong about a guy (what's up, Blake Wood!) as long as my reasons were sound-ish at the time. In 2005, I did, and usually my reasons for having faith in a guy were far from sound (I hadn't yet discovered the joys of advanced metrics). Cabrera's failures with the Indians scarred me pretty badly; It would be a long time before I would trust another reliever, and then, stupidly I trusted the wrong one: Kerry Wood.

If you don't remember Kerry Wood
can we switch lives? , he was the crown jewel of the Indians's offseason after the 2008 season, signed to still-ridiculous two-years, $20-million dollar contract. Wood wasn't as awful as everyone remembers (he was actually worth 0.4 fWAR in 2009), but he never came close to the production he put up with the Chicago Cubs in 2008 (2.1 fWAR) and, surprise! It's silly to expect a closer, no matter how good, to rack up saves on a bad team, something which was pointed out by both myself and fellow EHC teammate Nino Colla way back in 2010 for a random article I had forgotten.

Yes, most of this distrust was built on my own (stupid) blind trust. I hadn't learned yet any sort of way to evaluate players, let alone relievers. But Cabrera and Wood did end up teaching me a lesson. A stupid, annoying and blatantly obvious lesson, yes, but one I needed to learn. And no, the lesson wasn't simply "don't pay relievers.'

It's impossible to predict everything. We all know this. There are also some things in life that are just so volatile and difficult to predict (such as, say, MLB relief pitchers), you feel like you're better off completely ignoring those things. "Pay them no mind, they're gonna perform how they will." Things happen for no reason.

I've come back from that idea, to an extent, as the bullpen is not an area of a baseball club to be ignored, and Indians manager Terry Francona won't ignore it anyways so I might as well pay them mind. I pay more mind to sample sizes (and uh, yeah, 30,2 IP is definitely a small sample), but have learned to adjust my thinking when it comes to relief pitchers, who deal in small samples by nature. For example, current Indians relief ace Cody Allen, one of Francona's iron men with 69.2 IP, only pitched in approximately two percent of the team's innings (1468.1 total innings). Two percent certainly matters -- just ask the Tampa Bay Rays -- but it's also not a large predictive sample, either.

I was young in 2005. I'm not as young in 2015. The demons of Fernando Cabrera and Kerry Wood aren't gone, but I'm not sure I would want them to be. The worst mistakes are the ones you don't learn from, and I like to think Cabrera and Wood have taught me well.
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