When watching guys field their positions on TV, it's easy to get lulled into complacency when the limitation is based on a lack of athleticism, and not a lack of coordination. If the errors and other visible blunders don't pile up, a substandard defender can go unnoticed for rather lengthy stretches.
Then somebody shows up and puts on a clinic, and it triggers a recalibration of legitimately good defense.
We saw that last year when Manny Machado made plays Conor Gillaspie couldn't during the same series. (We also saw it kinda work against Machado's superficial stats on Wednesday, when he made a throwing error after gloving a grounder that would have gotten past most third basemen for a single.)
More to the point, we saw that with Alex Gordon at U.S. Cellular Field on Sunday. He ran down a line drive, then made a cross-body throw to second for the double play ... only to top himself by flying into the stands to catch a foul fly ball.
Give Melky Cabrera credit for standing up for himself. Although he didn't top Gordon's man-on-top-of-the-people act, he made a fine play in his own right during the eighth inning by taking extra bases away from Eric Hosmer and keeping at least one run off the board
That's a difficult play for any left fielder, but Cabrera was able to somehow keep track of the ball while turning around, and time his leap to take away a double from Hosmer, if not more.
Maybe Gordon makes that play, and maybe he makes it easier. But in this case, it might be more useful to compare Cabrera to the guy who preceded him in left field, Dayan Viciedo.
Viciedo did a lot wrong in left, enough for The Fielding Bible to call him "one of the worst defensive corner outfielders in baseball." He wasn't a complete disaster, but his biggest -- and costliest -- mistakes came on plays that took him back to the warning track. I'm away from my GIF'ing machine to provide a more comprehensive library, but I found video for a couple from last season.
Every player will see his coordination wane the longer and harder he has to run, but Viciedo's tended to unravel on him:
Cabrera, though, has avoided falling prey to the same problems in the first weeks of his White Sox career. His catch against the Royals was the third such play he's made by the wall. There was a lengthy run toward the left-field corner at Progressive Field on April 15, but this play on Joe Mauer on April 11 is a more direct predecessor to the Hosmer-robber.
Cabrera is still probably a below-average left fielder -- the metrics are unimpressed so far, and a guy like Gordon illustrates how susceptible we can be to lower standards. But hey -- those 2014 standards are what they are, and when it comes to left field, Cabrera is exceeding them as expected.
It's his offense (.268/.312/.296) that's lagging behind, but with the Sox averaging the fewest runs per game in the American League, that particular problem isn't unique to him.