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Jake Cave’s slow statistical start to the season

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We still love him.

St. Louis Cardinals v Minnesota Twins
A rare sighting outside the Cave for Jakes.
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Now in his third season with the Minnesota Twins, outfielder Jake Cave has become a TwinkieTown favorite.

From the memetic potential brought on by RandBall’s Stu when introducing the Cave for Jakes, to his early 2020 highlights — a grand slam in the season’s opening weekend and a leaping catch to rob Whit Merrifield this past Friday — Cave has become a player nearly universally rooted for in even the most loathsome of comments sections. I started liking him because he’s an outfielder who wears No. 60, which you don’t often see on a position player.

All that being said, Cave’s season start has not been as pleasant as his highlights may suggest. His early grand slam is his only home run of the year and he sports an anemic slash line of .130/.286/.261.

What’s been going on?

Strikeouts

As a major league hitter, Cave’s strikeout rate has increased nearly ten percentage points from his minor league rate. In both his 2018 and 2019 MLB stints, Cave struck out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances, while his minor league strikeout rate ran consistently in the 20s, topping at 27.6 percent in Triple-A while still in the New York Yankees’ farm system.

Through his seven games played in 2020, Cave has struck out a career-high 35.7 percent of the time. Pairing that with a low 7.1 percent walk rate — a rate consistent with the rest of his career — will always knock down a player’s OBP.

As for contact...

Bad luck

Cave has regularly had a high rate of hard-hit balls throughout his career, leading the MLB in 2018 in average distance per home run. While in that season most of his batted balls were considered medium-hit (53.8 percent) rather than hard-hit (37.6 percent), he flipped those rates in 2019, hitting 52.3 percent of balls hard and 42.2 percent medium. While his medium-hit rate has gone down in 2020 (38.5 percent), his hard-hit rate has gone up, currently sitting at 53.8 percent.

What’s gone down is his BABIP. Similar to the statistical variance experience by Luis Arraez, which Jonathan wrote about earlier this week, Cave has a BABIP of .167, far below the average. Small sample sizes are always going to result in larger variances, so positive regression should be in the cards.

Oh yes...

Small sample size

See the final sentence in the preceding paragraph.

While the season is a quarter gone, there’s still time for luck to turn and Cave’s hard-hit balls to fall in. And as long as the Twins need a reliable fourth outfielder in 2020, the Cave for Jakes will be vacant one room, its occupant in the dugout in uniform.