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  • Writer's pictureAndy Singer

Has Oswaldo Learned A New Trick?

By Andy Singer

March 19th, 2024


Photo Credit: Adam Hunger, AP Photo

Hope Springs Eternal, or so I've heard. The previous optimism of Spring Training has been soured somewhat by recent injuries to Gerrit Cole, Aaron Judge, and DJ LeMahieu. As the Optimist-In-Chief here at SSTN, even I have allowed myself to sulk just a bit at the injury developments that have taken place in the last week or two. I had planned an article discussing the value of depth and what the reality of a team losing their top players really is from a statistical perspective, but a quick clip from Monday's Yankee Spring Training game caught my eye for a really good reason. Really good, if we consider the recent injury news.


As you may or may not have heard, Oswaldo Cabrera went 2 for 3 with a home run off of Seranthony Dominguez in the Yankees' 4-3 win versus the Phillies. Now, great as that sounds, Oswaldo's OPS remains south of .600 this spring even with his good day...so why am I so excited? It is true that I have remained a semi-irrational Oswaldo Cabrera fan, even with his poor 2023 performance. Even as a prospect, he was clearly flawed, but I actually consistently ranked him higher among Yankee prospects dating back to his initial cup of coffee at AA. The tools that made him an exciting prospect (from my perspective, anyway), remain. Cabrera has a very good arm, great hands, more agility than most, is defensively versatile, and he brings tons of energy. The issue has always been whether or not he will hit enough to justify a spot on a big league roster consistently. Cabrera was a revelation offensively during his call-up in 2022 and came crashing back through the Earth in 2023, so 2024 feels like a big year.


Back to some reason for excitement. Cabrera has been working on some major changes prior to the start of the 2024 regular season. Most obvious are the changes to his batting stance and his decision to at least temporarily ditch switch-hitting, choosing to hit from the left-side basically full-time. Cabrera has switched from a leg kick, which displayed varying lift heights in 2023, to a short stride and toe pivot/tap. To-date, those changes haven't made much impact to the bottom-line numbers, but then I saw Cabrera's homer, and I saw very real reason to be excited. Here's the clip:



There are two very important factors that make this clip interesting. The first, which is what I noticed straight away, is the location of the pitch. From the camera angle, it appeared to be a hard fastball up-and-in. Seranthony Dominguez is a mainstay in the Phillies' big league bullpen. He throws hard, and this pitch was no different, coming in at 98.1 MPH. I wanted to know that the camera angle wasn't fooling me, and sure enough, Statcast confirmed my suspicion:



Sure enough, that's right near the edge of that zone of the strike zone. That alone is huge, and before we talk about the mechanical aspect of the clip above, we need to talk about Cabrera's history as a batter.


To really understand the changes Cabrera is making, you first have to understand the fatal flaw in Cabrera's swing that even I saw and acknowledged numerous times when evaluating Cabrera dating back to his prospect days: his swing had a huge hole at the top of the strike zone, particularly up-and-in. Cabrera's swing has always had a big loop, making it difficult to square up pitches up in the zone. This also became clear at the big league level. To prove it, I did a search for every pitch Cabrera has faced up-and-in throughout his admittedly short MLB career. The numbers are startlingly awful:


No power, 3 hits across 2 seasons, and even worse peripherals in the form of low exit velocity outputs and absurdly high average launch angle that is well above the happy zone. If you look at his spray chart on these pitches, you'd find a ton of weak fly balls, while the vast majority of contact between the foul lines are weak pop-ups on the infield. Add this weakness to his general lack of performance against fastballs in his short MLB career, and it is pretty easy to see what the gameplan is to attack Oswaldo. Change was needed to close this hole.


Now, lets look at the mechanics. Here is a fly out from October 1st last season against Zack Grienke on a 2-0, 90 MPH fastball:



That fly ball resulted in a deep fly out to right-center. We can see that there are a lot of moving parts in Oswaldo's swing, and though he gets close to timing his swing correctly, he still wasn't able to capitalize on a weak fastball up-and-in, a pitch a Major League hitter should crush. Compare that to the swing above from Monday. Cabrera has a timing mechanism to begin his swing, but the swing itself is short and powerful. Most critically, it is the first time I have seen Cabrera's bat path level out, a necessity on pitches up. Need proof? Here's Cabrera's follow-through on the swing you saw against Grienke in October 2023:



Clearly, he's trying to lift the ball, and the bat comes up over his lead shoulder to finish the swing. Here's his follow-through from Monday's homer:



Cabrera's swing is more rotational and most critically, the bat remains on a much more level plane, as evidenced by his much more level follow-through. The leveling of Cabrera's shoulders and bat path allowed him to square up a high fastball, something he has not yet done in his Major League career to-date. It may be Spring Training, but Cabrera hit a homer on a 98 MPH fastball up-and-in against a solid MLB reliever in a way he never could have in 2022 or 2023. If these mechanical changes stick, and Cabrera can discover his timing consistently, I think Cabrera has the potential to be the valuable utility guy the Yankees hoped to see last season. With DJ LeMahieu set to potentially miss time to begin the season, the Yankees couldn't have asked for a better time for Oswaldo Cabrera, a natural third baseman, to begin to realize some success with the obvious changes he has made at the plate. I hope it sticks.

12 Comments


Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
Mar 19

Very informative piece, thank you. I'm also a Cabrera fan, and I hope this new swing gets him straightened out (pun intended).


One question (thus, revealing my luddite-icity about analytics): From where is Launch Angle measured? If I pop a ball straight up, is that an LA of 0, 90 or 180? Same question for a line drive that travels parallel to the field?

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fuster
Mar 19
Replying to

there's a story about Vlad the Father hitting a pitch after it bounced


but if we assume that a batter impacts a pitch ankle-high or above and grounds it,

then it's Bret Easton Ellis

all the way down

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Alan B.
Alan B.
Mar 19

I get that analytics isn't going anywhere, but analytics, in my honest opinion, needs to be a support not the coaching driving force. The Sports Lab, can really show the swing that needs fixing, but as we learned last year from both Volpe and Hicks (when he went to BAL), plus the piece that MLBN ran last Spring Training, sometimes going only to the video is easier. Like when they showed Jason Heyward's 'fixed' or 'new' swing, it turned out to be the swing he had as a Brave, years earlier, when he was hitting. He hit last year. And too many times with analytics, they want to treat everything the same, and everyone the same. With so m…

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Alan B.
Alan B.
Mar 19
Replying to

I understand you and what you say has a lot of truth in it, but in the end not all number crunches can be an actual, real baseball coach. Lawson was lost, and when he opened his mouth, he proved, at least to me, just how in over his head he was. Also, what I've notice about pitch usage, is that these guys get taught a pitch, and either it won't be that good or it gets tattooed and they still have the pitcher throw the pitch. I mean, did it really have to take 9 starts before they realized the cutter was causing more problems for Schmidt than it solved? But the data says it's all good. My eyes…

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Alan B.
Alan B.
Mar 19

The Yankees, because of Clueless Lawson, really got Cabrera into a deep funk that he could never really get out of in 2023, until he was sent down the first time. But he got, what something like maybe 90 PA over June, July, & August despite being on the roster except for something like an accumulated 11 days. I'm not a big believer in coaching based on the analytics.

1) See the ball, hit the ball.

2) Understand what that pitcher is trying to do;

3) See if you have wasted motion or some sort of hitch in your swing.

Generating exit velocity doesn't help. The hitting meetings/scouting reports will help you to understand. A real hitting coach can tru…


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Andy Singer
Andy Singer
Mar 19
Replying to

Most analytical evaluations are more about assessing strengths and weaknesses, and creating a plan to keep one's strengths while minimizing weaknesses. To be successful in the modern game, you need both analytical assessments and old school coaching, unless you are a truly special player.


And thanks for asking - it was a good two day break in the middle of a work trip.

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