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What has changed for Asdrubal Cabrera during his recent hot streak?

Something appears to have fundamentally changed for Cabrera since coming off the DL.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Asdrubal Cabrera has had incredible success since coming off the disabled list on August 19, hitting .353/.413/.662 with a 187 wRC+ and .309 ISO in just over 150 plate appearances. 150 PAs is not a large enough sample to make a conclusion about a change in skill level for batting average and OPS, but there is a skill that has changed within that time frame that may indicate a fundamental change.

Kevin Long wondered if Cabrera’s knee injury has forced him to not swing too hard, and there’s some evidence that supports Long’s observation. A few of Cabrera’s plate discipline numbers since coming off the DL, like swinging strike rate and contact rate, are the best they’ve been since his age 26 season with the Indians.

Cabrera’s swinging strike rate had steadily risen since that age 26 season in 2012, where it sat at 7.6%. It rose to 9.6% in 2013 and 2014, 10.9% in 2015, and 11.7% in his pre-DL stint with the Mets this year. But since coming off the DL, Cabrera has dropped his swinging strike rate down to 7.2%, comparable to his 2011 and 2012 rate of 7.6%. The major league average swinging strike rate in 2016 is 10.1%. His contact rate has also jumped to 85.5% since coming off the DL, up from a below-average 76.8% with the Mets pre-DL. The 2016 major league average is 78.2%.

Date Swinging strike rate Contact rate
2011 7.6% 83.7%
2012 7.6% 84.1%
2013 9.7% 79.9%
2014 9.5% 81.1%
2015 10.9% 79.5%
2016 pre DL 11.7% 76.8%
2016 post DL 7.2% 85.5%

Cabrera is making more contact on pitches both inside and outside of the strike zone. Using PITCHf/x, Cabrera has increased his contact on pitches inside the strike zone from 86.4% pre-DL to 91.9% post-DL. But what has really jumped for him is contact on pitches outside of the strike zone. Cabrera went from making contact on a below average 57.3% pitches outside of the zone pre-DL to a well above average 72.2% rate post-DL. The major league average contact rate on pitches outside of the strike zone is about 62%.

Prior baseball research indicates that plate discipline numbers like these stabilize within the 150 or so plate appearance sample that Cabrera has had since coming off the DL, so there’s some evidence that it’s not just noise. Maybe the knee injury is slowing everything down mechanically, like Long suggested, and Cabrera is putting the bat on the ball at a much higher rate as a result.