St. Louis Cardinals: Genesis Cabrera has quietly improved

Genesis Cabrera has been on the edge of breaking out. So far this season, he’s looked really good out of the bullpen for the St. Louis Cardinals.

For a couple of years, the Tommy Pham trade wasn’t viewed as a good one for the St. Louis Cardinals. However, 2021 may be rewriting that script.

Back at the 2018 trade deadline, the Cards sent then-struggling outfielder Tommy Pham and some cash to the Rays for Justin Williams, Genesis Cabrera, and Roel Ramirez. Pham was solid for the Rays but was then flipped to the Padres.

Flash forward a couple of years, and now Justin Williams is playing almost everyday to start 2021 (still with mixed results), and Genesis Cabrera is slowly becoming a bigger and bigger part of the bullpen.

Overall, the Cardinals’ bullpen has been pretty good. Alex Reyes and Jordan Hicks have looked deadly at the back end of the bullpen, and the team’s lefties have looked alright too. I want to look a little deeper into Cabrera’s start though.

So far, he has allowed just three earned runs over 7.2 innings pitched, striking out 8 and walking just 3 so far. While Cabrera has one appearance in both the 8th and 9th inning, the bulk of his workload has come in the 7th inning.

This spring, one prediction I made for spring training was that Genesis Cabrera would secure a late-inning role with the bullpen. While that hadn’t and hasn’t materialized yet, the thoughts I had at the time about what Cabrera needed to do to make that jump still are true.

These are not novel or revolutionary ideas, but for Cabrera, it comes down to walks. 2020 was his best year with a 2.42 ERA and a 12.9 K/9. However, his 6.4 BB/9 last season is too much for a late-inning reliever to sustain success.

This year, Cabrera’s K/9 has dropped to 9.4, but his BB/9 has also dropped to 3.5. This has resulted in a stellar 0.913 WHIP and a growing sense that maybe 2021 is the year the 24-year-old lefty breaks out.

But how is he doing it?

So far, the sample is still too small to get any concrete results. However, the early change in pitch usage is definitely noticeable. It appears Cabrera is throwing his fastball less and sinker more. This may be allowing him to command the zone a little better.

There are some issues with Cabrera’s early-season success, as his BABIP is a very small .158 and he’s getting just 30% groundballs versus 45% fly balls. His advanced stats also show that he is in just the 13th percentile in barrel percentage as well. Cabrera might be getting a bit lucky with his batted ball luck.

However, the biggest thing to keep watch on is the walk rate. Cabrera has great stuff and the batted ball luck stuff will even out. If he’s not shooting himself in the foot with walks, he’s going to have a lot more success, simple as that.

Cabrera’s sample is still small enough that one blow-up blows this whole argument out of the water. However, this is what we have to go on at this point and Cabrera has looked really good out of the gates.