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Tigers 2013 Player Preview: Miguel Cabrera is good at baseball

As scary as it is to think about (for opposing teams), Miguel Cabrera can improve upon his MVP numbers from 2012.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

There are just three days left until Spring Training starts, so it's only appropriate that we talk about last year's Triple Crown winner, American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera.

Miguel Cabrera

#24 / Third Base / Detroit Tigers





Apr 18, 1983

What happened last season?

I'm not quite sure, but I'm pretty certain that there were three crowns involved. Then he was compared to a fish. It's all a bit confusing.

Looking deeper, however, one could argue that Cabrera had his worst season since 2009 last year. Sure, he set career highs in home runs and RBIs in 2012, but he also fell off in the following statistical categories:

  • Lower batting average (.330) than in 2011 (.344)
  • Lower on-base percentage (.393) than both 2010 (.420) and 2011 (.448)
  • Lower OPS (.999) than both 2010 (1.042) and 2011 (1.033)
  • Lower OPS+ (166) than both 2010 (178) and 2011 (179)
  • Significantly lower walk rate (9.5%) than both 2010 (13.7%) and 2011 (15.7%)
  • Lower wOBA (.417) than both 2010 (.431) and 2011 (.437)
  • Lower WAR (6.9 bWAR, 7.1 fWAR) than 2011 (7.3 bWAR, 7.2 fWAR)

Of these stats, the one that concerns me most is the decline in walk rate. Miggy only took 66 walks last year compared to 108 in 2011. Take the five extra intentional passes from 2011 (22 compared to just 17 in 2012) and you're looking at a difference of 37 walks in just one season. While some of you may be inclined to attribute that decline to a certain burly first baseman hitting behind him in 2012, I'm looking a bit deeper. According to PitchFX, Miggy swung at 30.9% of pitches outside the strike zone in 2012 compared to just 27.5% in 2011. Unless your name is GWilson, there is no way to determine how big of a difference we're actually talking here*, but I'm willing to bet that Miggy was a bit more aggressive at the plate in 2012, especially later in the season with the Triple Crown in sight. A lesser hitter would have seen a sharper decline in his batting average and power when swinging at bad pitches.

*Fangraphs keeps track of the number of balls and strikes that Miggy faced in 2012, but those swings at out-of-zone pitches will still be counted as strikes. The 30.9% of out-of-zone pitches that Miggy swung at would be a percentage of a percentage of the number of strikes he faced.

What needs to happen in 2013?

Aside from the whole "don't swing at bad pitches" trend we spotted above, I don't know that there is much more we can ask from Miguel Cabrera in 2013. I think that the lack of a Triple Crown race (presumably) will keep him a bit more focused on hitting how he did in 2010 and 2011 -- namely, looking to drive the ball to all fields, not out of all fields.

2012 stats and 2013 projections
2012 161 .330 .393 .606 44 139 4 66 98
2013 160 .331 .413 .595 38 126 3 80 101

All stats via Fangraphs

The part where I predict pretty much the same thing Bill James does

As I mentioned above, I think that Miggy will benefit from "getting back to basics" in 2013. Without the temptation of a Triple Crown race -- no matter what he says, I don't believe for a second that he wasn't thinking about it -- Cabrera will be able to take the more all-around approach to hitting that he has come to develop. While we all still want him to drive in runs and hit 35+ home runs, I think that the Tigers are a better team when he is drawing walks and forcing pitchers to go after him. With the extra lumber in the batting order behind Cabrera, teams will be forced to pick their poison when going through the heart of the Tigers lineup this season.