Jake Cave is Primed to Break Out in 2020
Image courtesy of © Ken Blaze-USA TODAY SportsJake Cave burst onto the scene in May of 2018, when he belted a home run in his MLB debut. Since then, he has done an excellent job as the Minnesota Twins fourth outfielder, hitting for a .262/.329/.466 (.795) slash line, with a 111 wRC+ in 537 plate appearances across both seasons. Additionally, Cave has provided solid defense in the outfield, finishing with a catch probability added of 0 percent in 2018, and 2 percent in 2019. For reference, among outfielders with at least 50 opportunities in those seasons, Cave finished 74th out of 174 in 2018, and 52nd out of 184 in 2019.
It is clear that Jake Cave has been an average, to slightly above average, outfielder in his first two seasons in the majors. However, there are plenty of signs pointing towards Cave elevating his game to a higher level in 2020. The first factor that has Cave trending in the right direction is his age and experience. 2020 will be Cave’s age-27 season, which means he will be entering into his prime years starting this season. Factor that in with roughly a full season’s worth of MLB plate appearances under his belt, and Cave should have his feet under him.
In addition to entering his prime years, there are also statistical factors that
suggest that a Jake Cave breakout is on the horizon. One of the biggest improvements to his game that Jake Cave made from year one to year two, was his ability to recognize pitches. In 2018, Jake Cave struggled with this a bit, as he swung at 35.9 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, which ranked in just the 22nd percentile among all MLB hitters with at least 300 plate appearances that season. Jump ahead to 2019, and Cave cut that rate down to a much more respectable 31.7 percent. At the same time, he also made a drastic improvement at swinging at pitches inside the strike zone, as his swing percentage on those pitches increased from 65.8 percent in 2018, up to 72.9 percent in 2019. This all helped Cave’s on-base percentage improve from a mere .313 in 2018, to a strong .351 mark in 2019.
More great signs that point toward further success for Jake Cave are his Statcast metrics. Per Baseball Savant, Jake Cave collected an expected wOBA (xwOBA) of .360 in 2019. This ranked 55th out of the 360 MLB hitters who had at least 200 plate appearances last season. Among Twins players, Cave had the sixth highest xwOBA, and finished higher than each of the other outfielders on the team. A big part of that is due to his ability to hit the ball hard. Last season, Cave finished with an average exit velocity of 90.5 MPH and a hard-hit rate (batted ball events at or above 95 MPH) of 43.8 percent. Those two numbers finished in the 82nd and 84th percentiles, respectively, among all MLB hitters with at least 50 batted ball events in 2019.
With as hard as Jake Cave hits the ball, it is easy to wonder why his power numbers aren’t better than they are, and why they dipped slightly in 2019. Perhaps the best explanation for this is the slight drop in average launch angle he had from 10.0 degrees in 2018, down to 7.4 degrees in 2019. If he can make a slight adjustment with his swing to get that number up to a more optimal number of roughly 12 degrees or higher, without seeing a dip in his hard-hit rate, we could his a huge increase in his power numbers, similar to what happened to Max Kepler in 2019.
While most Twins fans might not realize it, Jake Cave is already more than good enough to be a full-time starting outfielder at the major league level. If he is able to take the leap forward in 2020 that he is more than capable of, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cave starts getting some playing time over Eddie Rosario later in the season, especially in games where either Jake Odorizzi or Michael Pineda (both heavy flyball pitchers) are starting, and the effects of Jake Cave being a far better defensive outfielder than Eddie Rosario are more pronounced.
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