Miguel Cabrera is one of the very best in the world at what he does. No matter what you want to write about him, it all boils back to the undeniable gifts he brings to the table. We can nitpick here and criticize there but at day's end, he's Cabrera and you're glad he's on your side.
Despite ending the 2013 in gimpy fashion due to abdominal issues, Cabrera put up some of the best numbers of his career, putting him once again in rare company. However, Cabrera ran into some issues in 2014. Recovering from off-season core muscle surgery led to a winter where his workout routine was interrupted for rehab.
An up-and-down season with more injury concerns was the result. While still a productive bat for the Tigers, Cabrera's performance was down and it resulted in some of the lowest numbers of his career, several dating back to 2008.
The 2014 Campaign
Cabrera's season was anything but easy. The six-month campaign can be broken down into two quiet months, two very solid months, and two months where he exceeded typical expectations.
Much was made in the media in April about Cabrera's recovery from surgery taking time. Torii Hunter was outspoken about having had the same surgery once, and his strength didn't come back until the summer months. Hitting .277/.320/.415 in a month might be good for your average first baseman, but they weren't Cabrera-like numbers.
The second quiet month was in August and it came at a rough time for Detroit. The Royals were surging, coming back from a seven-game deficit for the second time on the season. Cabrera's injuries were sapping his strength and mobility. A month of Cabrera hitting .252/.354/.336 was tough to watch after so many seasons of watching him dominate.
Cabrera rebounded from his rough start in April with a massive May where he hit eight home runs en-route to a 1.130 OPS. September would also see him snap out of his funk from the month prior. The injuries probably didn't subside that much, but Cabrera found a way to cope and suddenly his bat was back when the Tigers needed it.
Down the stretch as the Tigers were recapturing first place in the AL Central and then holding off the Royals, Cabrera was flashing his old MVP form to the tune of a 1.118 OPS with 18 extra-base hits. It was timely stuff because the Tigers' offense down the stretch was roughly comprised of four players — Hunter, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Cabrera..
If Cabrera hadn't found the extra gear in September, it's doubtful the Tigers would have won the division and the wildcard might have been in jeopardy.
It wasn't a vintage season for Cabrera but the surge in the end while playing on a damaged ankle/foot was stirring and impressive. It was the sign of a great player putting mind over matter when his club needed it.
Two monster months of production in a season don't carry a player to an "A," however. There were long swaths of the season with very limited power production. This power outage was showcased by a seeming boatload of outs to the warning track in right-field that would have been opposite field homers in prior years.
Cabrera's walk-rate was his lowest since 2008, matched by his strikeout-rate jumping to a high since that same season. He also had his lowest wOBA and wRC+ figures since 2008. For good measure Cabrera's .524 slugging percentage was his lowest since his second season with the Marlins in 2004.
The cumulative effect of Cabrera's surgery from 2013 and his injuries in 2014 made him a distinctly different hitter. Cabrera was still an extremely valuable contributor and had stretches of potency, but overall it was a season where concern grew for good reason.
The Prince Fielder trade also put Cabrera back at first base. The move helped Cabrera defensively as he posted a reasonable -1 DRS in his return to first base. Despite the injuries, Cabrera had some impressive moments in the field and he looked fairly comfortable for the most part.
Miguel Cabrera signed a large contract extension during Spring Training, two seasons before free agency. The Tigers did this with Justin Verlander in the same "two years early" time frame. There is a lot of risk to doing that and it is carried entirely by the team.
There was two years worth of data for the Tigers to evaluate Cabrera's long-term value to the club. Tigers President and GM Dave Dombrowski gave the reasons why, going on about Cabrera being a rare talent and the numbers he posted required them to sign a player of Cabrera's stature.
The Tigers watched the first year of Cabrera's Era move along in halting fashion. It wasn't what they hoped for and it's not what they can afford moving forward. Cabrera is not the new Ryan Howard in reference to "two years early" contract extensions, but he's still diversely talented. Cabrera's bat control alone will make him a more productive hitter at 45-years-old than Howard is now.
At his best, Cabrera is a durable force and he is still young enough to be a prime performer for at least the rest of the decade, given good health. Despite the injuries this season, Cabrera still managed to get into 159 games on the campaign.
For 2015, it would be great to see Cabrera's strikeout and walk rate both move back to his 2009-2013 levels. The re-emergence of his power to all fields will also be something to monitor. The Cabrera that fluidly flips a low outside pitch into the right-field bleachers with an almost graceful swing is the player signed for big money. The Tigers need that player show up more often than they saw in 2014.