Tag: Miguel Cabrera

Will Miguel Cabrera’s 40-Home Run Power Return in 2016?

Even if he doesn’t change a thing from last season, Miguel Cabrera should be one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball in 2016. Given that he won his fourth batting title in five years in 2015, that just seems like a safe assessment.

But because we’re all a bunch of spoiled Cabrera-ites, what we really want to know is whether the Detroit Tigers star can be an elite power hitter again. Specifically, the 40-homer variety.

Well, there’s good news and not-so-good news. Which do you want first?

The good news? OK, then.

But first, the obligatory background.

After launching 44 dingers each year en route to back-to-back American League MVPs in 2012 and 2013, Cabrera managed only 25 in 2014 and 18 in 2015. That was the first time he failed to top 20 homers since his rookie year in 2003, when he played in only 87 games.

But Cabrera, who turns 33 in April, is going into 2016 with one advantage he didn’t have in 2014 or 2015: good health. 

After undergoing core muscle surgery before 2014, having right ankle and foot surgery before 2015 and missing over a month with a left calf strain toward the end of last season, right now is the first time in a while that Cabrera hasn’t been broken in some way. Even better, he’s feeling it where it counts.

“I feel the difference,” Cabrera said last month in reference to his swing, via Katie Strang of ESPN.com. “I can feel my back leg more. Also, I can stay more back so I can drive the ball up the gap.”

As if to prove the point, the veteran first baseman’s second hit of the spring season was a three-run homer:

A sight like that is especially encouraging after what happened with Cabrera in 2015, as it wasn’t by accident that he hit for power at the worst rate of his career.

According to FanGraphs, Cabrera posted his lowest fly-ball percentage (32.7) since 2003. Also, he hit fly balls hard at a rate of 43.0 percent. That’s pretty good in a vacuum, but it was roughly a 10 percent decrease from where he’d been the previous three seasons.

Knowing this, it’s somewhat impressive that Cabrera’s .196 ISO (that’s isolated power) was still good enough to rank him among the top 20 power hitters in the American League. If he could do that with such a banged-up lower half, then, hey, you can’t fault Tigers teammate Victor Martinez for being optimistic about what Cabrera could do at full strength in 2016.

“You saw what he did last year. He won a batting title, but maybe those balls weren’t traveling like they used to,” Martinez told Strang. “But this year, given his ankle’s feeling better, he’s able to condition more and strengthen more in his legs, I wouldn’t be shocked if we went out there and hit 40 [homers] again.”

For Cabrera’s 40-homer power to return, maybe it really is this simple.

It would be one thing if his hitting prowess had also crumbled, but his .323 average and .401 OBP over the last two seasons nix that idea. It’s really only his power that’s been missing, and his string of lower-half injuries is a pretty logical place to put the blame for that.

Now that he’s healthy, the other side of that logic coin does indeed state that his power will go back to normal in 2016.

Unless, of course, what’s happened with his power isn’t a fluke. Cue the not-so-good news.

With Opening Day creeping ever closer, now is a good time to look at the projections for 2016. And where Cabrera is concerned, none of the big ones expect him to even come close to 40 homers. According to FanGraphs, ZiPS projects 24 dingers and Steamer projects 26 dingers. Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system is a bit more optimistic, but only to the extent of expecting…27 dingers.

Clearly, the projections don’t see Cabrera’s power output over the last two seasons as an injury-induced aberration. They see it as more like a new normal, and history is very much on their side. 

As easy as it is for us to write off Cabrera’s power decline as a casualty of his injuries, his age throws a wrench in that idea. Even putting aside the possibility that the injury bug isn’t done with him yet, there’s the reality that he’s at an age when power declines don’t tend to reverse themselves.

A few years ago, Eno Sarris of FanGraphs presented an aging curve for isolated power that showed a sharp downward slope for players in their 30s. Though Cabrera broke the mold when he hit his power peak in his age-29 and age-30 seasons in 2012 and 2013, where his power is right now is in line with where it’s supposed to be.

In a related story, there’s not a lot of precedent for Cabrera’s power to get back to its peak.

The list of 33-year-olds who have topped 40 homers contains only 17 names. Cabrera adding his name to the list would require him to effectively double his average of 22 home runs per year across 2014 and 2015. The only 33-year-old to ever make a leap that large was Ken Caminiti in 1996, and he famously had some help doing so.

The picture doesn’t change much if the focus is shifted from home runs to isolated power. Cabrera posted a .282 ISO as he was mashing all those dingers in 2012 and 2013, and even so much as getting over—to pick a random but reasonable number.250 in 2016 would make him only the 39th 33-year-old batting-title qualifier to do so.

That would require a 45-point increase over Cabrera’s .205 ISO across his age-31 and age-32 seasons in 2014 and 2015. Of the 38 players who have pushed their ISO across .250 in their age-33 seasons, only 12 experienced an increase that large from their previous two seasons. Not surprisingly, half of them were steroid-era guys.

If there’s a bright side here, it’s that we’re obviously not talking about some random schlub who lucked into a couple 40-homer seasons before falling back to earth.

We’re talking about Miguel Cabrera, who has a firm place among the greatest hitters ever. If he makes it his mission to hit over 40 homers again, it would be foolish to underestimate him.

However, Cabrera doesn’t sound like a guy who’s about to commit to a mission like that.

“I want my power, but you don’t look for home runs,” Cabrera said in January, via Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press. “You look for good contact and try to be consistent. If you look to pull the ball in the gap, the home runs are going to come.”

Consider this a reminder that Cabrera isn’t a great power hitter. He is, and always has been, a great hitter with power. And looking at how he operated in 2015, this may be more true now than ever before.

Cabrera’s .338 average and .440 on-base percentage last season didn’t happen by accident. He tightened up his discipline and took more walks. In lieu of fly balls, he pushed his line-drive rate to a career-high 25.2 percent. He also put on his Derek Jeter hat and went the other way more than ever, hitting the ball to right field a career-high 33.5 percent.

In all, he went from being a tremendously well-rounded hitter to being even more of a tremendously well-rounded hitter. 

Cabrera could abandon the approach he had last year for the sake of hitting a bunch more home runs in 2016. But considering that his mindset is to let home runs come to him, it seems much more likely that he’ll stick with it and run into just a few more home runs.

Of course, it’s still hard to disagree with Martinez. It really wouldn’t be shocking if Cabrera hit 40 homers in 2016. Heck, at this point, nobody should be shocked by anything that Cabrera does at the plate.

But nobody should be disappointed if he doesn’t get there. Cabrera’s improved health makes another 40-homer season an intriguing possibility, but neither his age nor his approach is conducive to him actually getting there.

So, here’s our advice: Rather than 40 homers, just expect another season of great hitting out of Cabrera. With him, that’s never anything less than a certainty.


Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Miguel Cabrera Comments on Health, 2016 Goals, Justin Upton, More

Detroit Tigers superstar Miguel Cabrera dealt with nagging injuries and went to the disabled list for the first time in his career last season, but he believes he’s healthy and will be ready to roll in 2016.

Cabrera spoke Tuesday to ESPN.com’s Katie Strang about his aspirations for this year, how he’s fully recovered this offseason, has added strength in his legs and has improved his conditioning.

“I feel the difference. I can feel my back leg more. Also, I can stay more back so I can drive the ball up the gap,” said Cabrera, who added, “I mean, play 160 games. That’s my goal. I’m trying not to miss too many games. I’m trying to play every day.”

The 10-time All-Star will turn 33 in April but sounds as though he’s in great shape and appears determined to bounce back after playing in only 119 contests during the 2015 campaign.

Cabrera still managed to bat .338 even as his power numbers declined—his 18 home runs were the fewest he hit since his rookie year when he played only 87 games.

Renewed optimism for his future as a player has to have Cabrera feeling particularly good about a fresh start this year. The same could be said for a reunion with new Tigers general manager Al Avila, who, according to Strang, played a big role in signing Cabrera to this first contract with the Marlins franchise at age 16.

“Back in the day, I say, ‘Sign me, please,'” Cabrera said of his longtime relationship with Avila. “It’s amazing because we still here and we want to win a World Series together.”

Another notable offseason addition to Detroit, prized free-agent acquisition Justin Upton, is someone Cabrera feels will add a new dimension to the Tigers’ batting order and provide an upgrade in the outfield.

“He plays defense, [brings] power, brings speed to the whole lineup. That’s great to have him,” Cabrera said of Upton.

But Cabrera did emphasize to Strang how vital it is for Detroit to stay healthy as a team in order to bounce back from missing the playoffs last year. It helps to have a proven workhorse in Upton, who has averaged well over 150 games played per season since 2011.

The American League Central alone figures to be tough, headlined by the defending World Series champion Kansas City Royals, who played in the Fall Classic the year prior as well. The Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Indians also finished north of .500 last season.

Even the Chicago White Sox have upgraded their roster considerably in the infield in particular, with the likes of All-Star Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie coming aboard.

There’s no shortage of top-tier personnel in the Tigers’ core, yet it will take a total team effort to markedly improve from 2015’s 74-87 record, which came even as Cabrera claimed the AL batting title.

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Miguel Cabrera and Jose Altuve Mess Around by Untucking Each Other’s Jersey

Teammates joke around with each other quite frequently, but oftentimes the most fun comes from opposing players messing with each other.

On Friday night, Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera and Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve got into a silly little war—during the game.

Altuve reached base on a single in the bottom of the third inning. While the Astros star was standing on the bag preparing to take a lead, Cabrera caught the runner by surprise by yanking on his jersey and untucking it.

Caught off guard, Altuve provided a great reaction before asking for time to fix his uniform.

And then he started planning his revenge.

Altuve eventually found a way to get back at Cabrera, pulling out the Tigers first baseman’s jersey as he took a lead before a pitch. 

The two All-Stars are on opposite teams, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy having a mini-prank war with each other.


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Miguel Cabrera Injury Will Test Tigers’ Playoff-Race Mettle

This is what you call a snowball. Or at this point it might seem more like Murphy’s Law trying to take effect on the Detroit Tigers, because anything that can seemingly go wrong is creeping around the team right now.

The Tigers have now won two in a row after Saturday’s 8-3 win against the Toronto Blue Jays. But that is coming off being swept at home by the Pittsburgh Pirates and, even worse, Saturday’s news that the best hitter in the game has a severe calf strain.

Miguel Cabrera, who leads the American League in several offensive categories, was pulled from Friday’s game in the fourth inning. After being evaluated, the Tigers announced a Grade 3 left calf strain for the MVP candidate, putting him on the disabled list for the first time in his magnificent career and on the shelf for six weeks.

“When you lose the best hitter on the planet it’s a huge blow,” manager Brad Ausmus told reporters. “We’re going to have to find a way to get it down [sic] without him, at least for the next month and a half or so. We still have a very good offense.” USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale noted losing Cabrera was a “huge blow” for the Tigers:

It is true that the Tigers still have a good lineup. It has scored 15 runs since Cabrera left Friday’s game while running the bases and entered Saturday ranked second in the league in wRC+ (109), wOBA (.328) and third in FanGraphs WAR (13.4). However, the offense has been somewhat inconsistent, showing heavy firepower one day and futility the next far too often. 

Cabrera leads the league in average (.350), OBP (.456), OPS (1.034), wRC+ (184) and wOBA (.436). He has 15 home runs and entered Saturday leading the Tigers with 54 RBI.

He has obviously contributed mightily to steadying the offensive output. Cabrera is as consistent a hitter as you’ll find in the history of the game. Losing him for a significant portion could be devastating for the Tigers, and in a division where they are currently third and a disappointing two games over .500, they cannot afford to be wounded.

“We have to find a way to win without Miggy,” Ausmus told reporters. “Injuries are part of the game, and unfortunately it happened to one of the better players in baseball. It affects us tremendously, but we’re not the first team to have a star player go down.”

But because of who the injury occurred to and where the Tigers stand as an offense and team, Cabrera might be a top-three player whose team can least afford to be without.

So much so that upon news of Cabrera’s DL stint, the Internet flooded with stories of the Tigers’ four-year run as AL Central champs being finished and them going from contender to seller because Cabrera won’t be in the lineup. And, honestly, both storylines have some substance.

The Tigers’ playoff mettle is to be tested in the next few weeks. They travel to Seattle to face that much-improved rotation and then to Minnesota to face a Twins club that sits ahead of them in the Central. They then host the Baltimore Orioles and the Mariners.

At that point, the July 31 trade deadline will be a week away. Decisions will have to be made with conviction.

If the Tigers pass the next three weeks, it makes sense for them to attack the trade market for an arm like Jeff Samardzija or Scott Kazmir. If they fail, it will be brand-new territory for this bunch. Over the previous nine trade deadlines, the Tigers have been above .500, and for the previous six they have bought to improve their postseason chances. If they fail, pieces could be sold.

Six players—David Price, Yoenis Cespedes, Alfredo Simon, Alex Avila, Joakim Soria and Rajai Davis—are pending free agents, and time has likely come and gone to extend any of them beyond this season. That is where the Tigers could start if they decide to sell, which could begin to replenish a farm system that has been virtually nonexistent in recent years.

After it lost Willy Adames and Jake Thompson in the Price and Soria deals last year, respectively, Baseball America rated it the worst in all of baseball entering this season.

That is the unlikely scenario, though.

If the Tigers remain around the .500 mark and within a David Price gem or two of a wild-card berth, they have to keep prying at the window. Cabrera’s eight-year, $248 million extension doesn’t kick in until next year. Justin Verlander is owed $112 million over the next four years. They signed Victor Martinez to a four-year, $68 million deal after last season, and Anibal Sanchez has $37 million remaining over the next two seasons.

Doing a complete teardown with those names and numbers on the books could turn the fanbase against the club and would not sit well with those veterans. And anyway, aside from Price, no one else who would be on the trading block would fetch a nice enough return for the Tigers to execute such a plan.

This is how this will play out: While Cabrera is out, the Tigers will be all in. That might mean making a blockbuster kind of trade sooner than expected, and it definitely means the next three weeks without their best player will define their season.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Cold Hard Fact for Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fact: For the 1st time in his career, Miguel Cabrera is headed to the DLSince his 1st full season in 2004, nobody has played in more games (1,809).

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats & Info, SportsCenter

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Miguel Cabrera Appears a Lock for Immortal 600-Home Run, 3,000-Hit Club

It doesn’t take much time to run out of superlatives when describing Miguel Cabrera’s ability to make square contact with a baseball.

He is, after all, one of the two best hitters of his generation. The best since Barry Bonds, probably better than Alex Rodriguez, right there with Albert Pujols, and it might take somebody like Mike Trout continuing his greatness for another 12 to 15 years for anyone in the next generation to match Cabrera’s offensive aptitude.

Cabrera reached another milestone Saturday afternoon, further establishing himself as one of the best hitters Major League Baseball has ever employed. On a totally misplaced Tyler Lyons first-inning cookie, the Detroit Tigers slugger smoked his 400th career home run over the center field wall of St. Louis’ Busch Stadium.

The home run made Cabrera the most prolific home run-hitting Venezuelan in MLB history, surpassing Andres Galarraga as well as former Tigers great and Hall of Famer Al Kaline. Cabrera is the 53rd player to amass 400 home runs.

While the glowing adjectives inserted before Cabrera’s name are running low, his latest feat reminds us that he is destined to gain another before the end of his career: immortal.

Cabrera is 32 years old, and after this season, he is under contract for eight more years and an unforgettable $248 million. As long as his body does not completely betray him, Cabrera is a lock for 600 career home runs and 3,000 career hits.

That would put him in the company of only Henry Aaron and Willie Mays as of now, but by the time Cabrera reaches those marks, Rodriguez and Pujols will both likely be in the club as well. That would make Cabrera only the fifth player to ever get to 600-3,000.

So yeah, “immortal” is a fine superlative.

We might have believed Cabrera’s health was already starting to betray him in the past year. He posted a 147 OPS-plus, hit 25 home runs and drove in 109 in 2014. For many players, that is a career year. But for Cabrera, those were his lowest OPS-plus and RBI marks since 2009, and it was his lowest home run total since his rookie year, when he played in just 87 games. Cabrera followed that with offseason ankle/foot surgery to remove bone spurs and repair a stress fracture.

To wonder about his health and production going into 2015 was reasonable, but Cabrera already buried those concerns before Saturday’s 400th homer. He entered the game with a .338/.442/.592 slash line, a 1.035 OPS, nine home runs and 28 RBI. His OPS-plus was 183.

His 154 career OPS-plus, which is an adjusted OPS calculated at Baseball-Reference.com used to compare players of different eras, is currently the 25th highest in baseball history. Seventeen of the 24 players ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame. Bonds, Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pujols are also in that group of 24.

Of those ahead of Cabrera, only Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Jimmie Foxx have 400 career homers, a Triple Crown and multiple MVP awards.

Cabrera, who still might be in his hitting prime, is already in truly elite company.

“What makes him so great and special is that you never, ever, ever catch Miguel off-guard,” teammate Victor Martinez told Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan in early May. “Once he steps up in the box, he’s ready to hit. I don’t know how he does it. … He’s always ready to hit. You throw a pitch on the plate, he’ll do damage.”

Another thing to keep in mind: Cabrera’s 6’4″, 240-pound body does not seem to be betraying him. Despite the surgery and the “down” 2014, Cabrera has missed a total of 33 games since the start of the 2009 season. He has played in at least 148 games in all of his seasons except his rookie one, and he has averaged 191 hits and 34 home runs in each of those.

If Cabrera averages 180 hits and 25 home runs a season starting this year, he will reach 3,000 hits and 600 home runs in 2019. His contract extension, which doesn’t even kick in until next year, goes through 2023 with club options for the following two.

The Tigers were absolutely crushed by many for giving Cabrera that contract extension in March 2014, both by the baseball media and by major league executives. And rightfully so, since the deal takes Cabrera through his age-40 season, and players rarely produce at elite levels at the ages for which the Tigers extended Cabrera.

Even Pujols, the previous best hitter in baseball, is in major decline with the Los Angeles Angels. That makes the team’s $240 million investment in him look foolish, as it did at the time he signed. The decline, not coincidentally, started in Pujols’ age-33 season, the same age Cabrera will start his extension. And like Cabrera, Pujols was quite durable before he played in only 99 games that year.

That mistake is on the Tigers, though. It should not, and likely will not, tarnish Cabrera’s greatness. He is a truly amazing hitter who has produced through two eras, one that greatly favored hitting and the current one that greatly favors pitching. He is also unlikely to eek out milestones by hanging around as an average hitter, piling up the counting stats.

No, Cabrera is an all-time great. And sometime within the next five or so years, he will cement himself among the best the sport has ever seen when he undoubtedly reaches 600 and 3,000.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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Paul Goldschmidt: The Best All-Around First Baseman in MLB

First base is one of the deepest positions in all of baseball, possessing an eclectic crop of talent including power hitters such as Edwin Encarnacion and Anthony Rizzo, high-average hitters like Joey Votto and Jose Abreu and some who are just pure hittersMiguel Cabrera and Paul Goldschmidt come to mind.

But if you could pick any of them right now to play first base for a season, who would be the best choice?

The obvious selection would be Cabrera. After all, he won the Triple Crown in 2012 and was the American League MVP in both 2012 and 2013. He is the best pure hitter on the planet, possessing the unique ability to hit for both average and power.

But Cabrera’s 2014 performance really makes him stand out from the rest of the pack. That year, he hit .313 with 25 home runs and 109 RBI in what was labeled a down year. Anybody who can hit over .300 and pass the 25-homer, 100-RBI plateau in a “down year” must be an absolute stud at the plate.

While Cabrera definitely is that, he would not be my choice this season. My selection would be Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, the best all-around first baseman in the league right now.

Not an overly heralded prospect coming out of Texas State, Goldschmidt broke out in 2012, hitting .286 with 20 homers in his first full big league season.

He improved on that in 2013 with MVP-caliber production, racking up a league-leading 36 home runs and 125 RBI while hitting .302. He also led the league in slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Goldy was on his way to similar numbers last year, but he suffered a fluke injury when he was hit by an Ernesto Frieri fastball in early August, which forced him to miss the final two months of the season. He still finished with a .300 batting average, 19 home runs and an All-Star Game appearance, though, and he was primed for a huge year in 2015.

As expected, he has started this year on a tear. Through 15 games, the slugging first baseman has already hit five home runs, driven in a league-leading 16 runs, scored 13 runs and stolen two bases. He is also getting on base at a stellar .415 clip.

Cabrera is off to a hot start, too, hitting .367 with two home runs so far in 2015. But that doesn’t change the fact that I would want Goldschmidt as my first baseman right now.

Goldschmidt, 27, is five years younger than Cabrera and does not have the injury history that the Tigers slugger has. Cabrera had core surgery after the 2013 season to repair muscles in his groin that connect to the abdomen, and he had ankle surgery this past offseason to remove bone spurs in his right ankle and repair a stress fracture.

While Cabrera seems to have recovered from these injuries without much difficulty, the threat of injury is always there for him. Goldschmidt, however, has not been injured, except for that fluke last year, courtesy of a Frieri fastball.

Goldschmidt is also a better fielder than Cabrera is. Goldy won a Gold Glove in 2013, when his 5.4 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) was the sixth best in the league among first basemen, according to FanGraphs. Cabrera, on the other hand, has never won any kind of defensive award and has recorded mediocre-at-best defensive metrics throughout his career.

And don’t forget Goldschmidt‘s ability to steal bases. It’s not like he’s Billy Hamilton on the bases, but he stole 15 bases in 2013 and likely would have matched that in 2014 if not for his injury. That’s a high number of steals for a first baseman, and it’s another way that Goldschmidt separates himself from the rest of the pack.

Cabrera is undoubtedly the better pure hitter, but that doesn’t make up for the other areas.

So, taking into account his younger body, his fewer surgeries, his better defensive ability and the fact that he is a legitimate threat to steal bases, Goldschmidt is a better all-around player than Cabrera isand he is the player I would want at first base for one season.

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Healthy Miguel Cabrera Looking Like His Old Dominant Self Again

Not too long ago, it wasn’t beyond reason to think 2015 would be the year Miguel Cabrera finally slipped from the ranks of Major League Baseball’s elite hitters.

But now? Yeah, now that notion comes off as crazy talk. Rather than a hitter in decline, Cabrera is looking much more like his vintage self.

Through 13 games, the 32-year-old Detroit Tigers slugger is hitting .400 with a 1.084 OPS, numbers reminiscent of the height of his power from 2010 to 2013. And while these figures don’t lead everyone else, FanGraphs puts Cabrera among the game’s top 10 hitters in adjusted offense.

Obviously, it’s early. We’re talking a sample size containing two weeks of baseball and only 56 plate appearances, so go ahead and hum the small sample size song if you must. It’s appropriate.

But we’re not going to stop this conversation right there. In light of all that’s recently gone on with Cabrera, his early hot hitting is just too encouraging to ignore.

Let’s hop in the TARDIS and go back to the end of 2013. That’s when another brilliant season by Cabrera suddenly hit a wall, as he was overcome by injuries and just wasn’t the same hitter down the stretch or in the postseason. Then came core muscle surgery in the offseason, which figured to make it difficult for him to bounce back in 2014.

Sure enough, he didn’t. Cabrera freely admitted at the All-Star break to not feeling 100 percent healthy, and it ultimately showed in his numbers. Though he finished among the game’s top hittershe had the lowest full-season home run total of his career, and his OPS dropped 142 points from his 2012-2013 OPS. He then had another major surgery in the offseason, this time on his right ankle.

None of this was a good look on a guy getting further past the danger zone that is the age of 30. Hence why a healthy dose of skepticism about Cabrera’s 2015 season was warranted.

So much for that. Because what’s important now is not only that Cabrera is producing like his vintage self but also that he legitimately looks like his vintage self.

To get at the heart of what’s going on with Cabrera, let’s go back to the utter domination of a three-game series against the Cleveland Indians that’s pictured above.

In that series, Cabrera wrecked Cleveland pitching to the tune of a .786 average and a 2.086 OPS. When asked about what was working for him, he gave a typical man-of-few-words answer.

“I feel very good,” he told MLB.com’s Jason Beck and Jordan Bastian. “I feel like I’m seeing the ball very good, try to get my pitches and try to put a good swing on the ball.”

There’s admittedly not much to be gleaned here. But at the least, it was nice to hear Cabrera say he’s feeling good. There’s also something to him getting his pitches, as his increased walk rate and decreased strikeout rate can vouch that he’s having better at-bats than he was in 2014.

But if there’s something that’s really worth reading into, it’s Cabrera saying he’s putting good swings on the ball. He didn’t elaborate on what he meant by that, but Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press summed up the results of the eye test.

“His at-bats said plenty: his balanced stance, his fluid hip turn, his fearlessness as he planted his (surgically repaired) foot, his unmistakable torque, the result of letting it fly without worry of pain in the groin,” Windsor wrote.

In so many words, Windsor saw a hitter who, for the first time in a long time, finally looked healthy.

And with the help of some moving pictures, we can too.

For starters, this is what a typical Cabrera swing looked like early in 2014:

There’s no frowning on the result of that swing, but the swing itself didn’t look pretty. Most notably, you can see some sluggish hip rotation and bat speed and then a two-handed follow-through noticeably less explosive than Cabrera’s typical one-handed follow-through.

Keep all this in mind while you watch this swing:

Here, you can see everything Windsor noted in action: the sturdy back foot, the explosive hip rotation and bat speed, and the vintage one-handed follow-through. With all that going on, it’s no surprise that the contact being made here is much louder than the contact in the above video.

And if we’re going to get into the benefits of Cabrera regaining his vintage swing, that’s as good a place as any to start.

According to Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info, Cabrera actually had one of the best hard-hit rates among qualified hitters last year at 23.3 percent. But early in 2015, he’s doing even better than that at a rate of 25.5 percent, putting him near the top of the early leaderboard:

Granted, it sure didn’t hurt that Cabrera got two hanging changeups to tee off on in that game against the Indians. He could have (and probably would have) done that even with the swing he had in 2014.

But one thing that swing wasn’t so good for was catching up to the heat. And so far this season, that trend is looking like ancient history.

As Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs pointed out, pitchers attempted to exploit Cabrera’s diminished state early last season by challenging him with an increased number of fastballs in the strike zone. And it worked. According to Baseball Savant, Cabrera hit just .300 against in-zone heat last April. At year’s end, his .372 against in-zone heat was his worst mark since 2008.

But so far this year? As of the start of play Monday, Cabrera was hitting a whopping .684 against in-zone fastballs. And though this is with only two extra-base hits, it’s still confirmation that challenging him with fastballs in the zone is no longer a sound strategy.

Neither is giving Cabrera anything he can pull. He quietly struggled to hit for his usual power to his pull side in 2014, but here are some figures that can show that trend appears to have bitten the dust:

*These figures are also current as of the start of play on Monday.


And so, it’s to the checklist we go. So far in 2015, we have a Miguel Cabrera who’s producing like Miguel Cabrera, swinging like Miguel Cabrera, punishing the ball like Miguel Cabrera, handling fastballs like Miguel Cabrera and using left field like Miguel Cabrera.

Sounds like he’s all the way back, right? Sure does.

But there’s always a catch. And in this case, there are a couple.

As nice as it is to see Cabrera killing the ball to left field, he’s not using the opposite field nearly as well as he usually does. Also, he’s been vulnerable against breaking balls. And despite his impressive hard-hit rate, his line-drive rate (24.8 to 20.5) and, according to Baseball Heat Maps, average fly-ball distance (304.9 to 291.7) are both down.

So no, the Cabrera we’ve seen so far in 2015 isn’t quite a perfect representation of the Cabrera who wreaked havoc on opposing pitchers between 2010 and 2013. He’ll need to figure things out if he wants to be that guy again.

But for now, it’s good enough that Cabrera is looking more like himself now than he was this time last year. And though noting as much doesn’t necessarily overrule the whole small sample size thing, it can be noted that what we’re seeing is Cabrera picking up where he left off.

Cabrera didn’t have his best season in 2014, but you never would have known it had you only tuned in to watch him at the end of the year. He had a 1.118 OPS and eight homers in September, and he OPS’d 1.144 with another homer in the postseason.

He looked a lot then like he does now. His swing was night and day from where it had been earlier in the year, he hit .500 against in-zone fastballs and he was assaulting left field with extra-base hits.

Even after a hot finish like that, you could still fear that Cabrera’s age and ankle surgery—which, again, was his second major operation in 12 months—would combine to slow him down out of the gate and beyond in 2015. Instead, he hasn’t skipped a beat.

The decline of Miguel Cabrera is going to come eventually. And when it does, nobody is going to enjoy it.

But it doesn’t look like we have to worry about that right now. Instead, let’s leave the worrying to opposing pitchers and allow ourselves to delight in watching an all-time great hitter continue to do his thing.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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Detroit Tigers: Top 5 Takeaways from Spring Training

The Detroit Tigers have now completed more than half of their 2015 spring training schedule. It has been a largely unsuccessful March for Detroit if you only consider its record (7-14). However, wins and losses mean precious little during this stage of the year.

What matters most is players getting in their reps and optimizing their preparation for a minimum six-month-long season.

With the exception of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, most of Detroit’s regular players have spent ample time on the diamond. The aforementioned sluggers began their seasons on March 22 after injuries kept them sidelined for most of spring training. Their return is a crucial development for the club.

Spring has also provided an opportunity for youngsters to make an impression and audition for a roster spot. James McCann, Anthony Gose and Hernan Perez have seemingly booked their tickets to Motown based on their performances to date.

Others, such as Daniel Fields and Jose Valdez, have laid down markers through their strong performances. In contrast, some prospects (e.g., Steven Moya) have failed to impress in the early going.

The ensuing top five spring takeaways are ranked according to their importance to the team as it looks ahead to Opening Day on April 6.

Begin Slideshow

Tigers Need One of Their Young Bats to Step Up as Uncertainty Lingers

Uncertainty surrounds the Detroit Tigers

It has since the end of their virtually nonexistent postseason run last October when they were swept by the Baltimore Orioles, and it became more prevalent as the offseason saw their offensive stars, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, go under the knife. And just because spring training is off and running, the question marks will not subside.

However, while the murkiness might start with the health and performance of veterans, including pitchers David Price, Anibal Sanchez and Justin Verlander, it does not end there. It ends with, and could be cleared up by, some of the team’s youth performing throughout the lineup.

While J.D. Martinez provided that boost last season, this year the Tigers are looking to players like Jose Iglesias, Nick Castellanos, Anthony Gose and possibly Steven Moya. Even Yoenis Cespedes could be a surprise contributor if he becomes more than just a bopper.

Whoever it might be, the Tigers need at least one of them to prove he is a major league offensive force to alleviate any potential health or production concerns that seem inevitable for this club, not to mention the loss of pitcher Max Scherzer in free agency and Rick Porcello as part of the trade that landed Cespedes from the Boston Red Sox.

Aside from Martinez, this spring has given Gose an early stage to shine. And while we are only about a week into games, what he has done is still impressive.

In 14 Grapefruit League at-bats, Gose has eight hits, a double, a triple, two walks and is 3-for-3 stealing bases. He has also created havoc on the bases with his speed, drawing errant pickoff throws and forcing errors while running the bases when the ball is in play.

While this is promising for a player who is expected to be a platooning center fielder when the season starts, Gose, 24, understands about not getting too high on spring training results or seeing himself as the full-time guy out there.

“It’s spring training,” Gose told The Detroit NewsChris McCosky. “It’s been four days. If I’m doing this at the All-Star break, then come talk to me.”

Gose is a long way from that point, especially when you consider he has had a full season’s worth of plate appearances in the big leagues—616 spread over three years—and produced a .234/.301/.332 line. All of those appearances came while with the Toronto Blue Jays before the Tigers traded for him in November.

The other man the Tigers are counting on this season, and to fill a much more prominent and permanent role, is 25-year-old shortstop Jose Iglesias. As a 23-year-old second-year player with the Red Sox and Tigers in 2013, Iglesias showed a ton of promise by hitting .303/.349/.386 over 382 plate appearances, most of them with Boston when he hit .330/.376/.409 in 63 games.

He was traded at the deadline of that season in the three-team deal that sent Jake Peavy to the Red Sox. But since that half-season with the Tigers, Iglesias has not played a single inning. He missed all of last season with stress fractures in both shins, and, of course, the Tigers felt his pain as their shortstops hit a league-worst .223 and played poor defense.

Hope for Iglesias is once again prevalent this spring as he is healthy—he had a minor scare last week when he was hit by a batting-practice line drive in, of all places, his shin—and expects to be productive.

“He doesn’t look like he’s missed a year of baseball,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown last week. “I really don’t think missing a year is going to be an issue.”

If it is not, and Iglesias can return to being a .300 hitter and the kind of threat who gets on base nearly 38 percent of the time, he will go a long way in easing any time Cabrera or Martinez might miss.

While Moya, 23, probably will head to the minors for some more seasoning, another 23-year-old, Castellanos, is around to stay as long as he is reasonably productive. Last year, in his first full season in the majors, he was about that with a 93 OPS-plus, although he was worth a minus-1.5 WAR (Baseball-Reference) because of shoddy defense.

The Tigers need more from him this year. While ZiPS projects him to again be awful defensively—minus-12 runs saved—it also believes he can reach 17 home runs, 77 RBIs, with a .335 weighted OBA and a 108 OPS-plus. If he can give them at least that kind of production and outdo his low defensive projections, he will become a solid contributor in a lineup that needs every piece of certainty it can get going forward.

For all their injury concerns, potential declines and regression, and future uncertainty—Price, the ace, can be a free agent after this season—the Tigers remain the favorites in the American League Central for 2015. That would give them a fifth consecutive division title, but the gap between them and the rest is closing.

The Chicago White Sox improved. The Cleveland Indians might have the best rotation in baseball. The Kansas City Royals will be defending their pennant after missing a World Series title by one mighty whack of the bat. Even the Minnesota Twins should be slightly better than they were last season, if nothing else.

That kind of competition means the Tigers will no longer roll through the Central, and it will require one of the aforementioned young players to become a significant contributor this summer. They might not need to do the heavy lifting, but they will have to at least carry their own weight.

If the Tigers get that production from one or more of them, a fifth straight postseason ticket will undoubtedly be punched.


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired firsthand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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