DETROIT--Baseball teams spent the better part of a month shaking off the winter rust and numerous players fell victim to the cruelty of an unforgiving offseason. But while teams scrambled to find replacements and fill the gaping holes popping up in their lineups--including the Detroit Tigers--a healthy Miguel Cabrera was quietly putting up numbers reminiscent of his last two years in spring training.
Cabrera never received the ‘spring training games do not count' memo. The preseason does not apply to him the same as the rest of Major League Baseball. Where other players are getting to where they need to be for the start of the season, Cabrera is already four months ahead of the entire league.
Cabrera's spring numbers are a blueprint to indicate the kind of season he will have. What Cabrera achieved in his 2012 and 2013 seasons following identical spring numbers, what he accomplished this spring and taking into account the fact that he is healthy again, the likelihood that Cabrera earns another Triple Crown in 2014 is more probable than you might think.
In 2012 Cabrera finished spring training with .413/.491/.652 and an OPS of 1.143. He went on to win the Triple Crown, something no one in baseball had achieved since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. But Yastrzemski won the award in a tie for first in home runs (44) alongside Harmon Killebrew. Cabrera was first in all three categories and the last man to win the crown without it ending in a tie was in 1966 when Frank Robinson won the title.
Cabrera's 2013 exhibition numbers were lower than in 2012. He posted .309/.381/.618 with a .999 OPS, however Cabrera would go on to either match or overtake his Triple Crown season statistics with the exception of his RBI, which he only missed by two. Cabrera's regular season .348/.442/.636 numbers and 1.078 OPS were a career high with the exception of his on-base percentage which was .006 lower, and he did it all while battling various injuries.
Last season there were discussions that, had Cabrera not been injured last season he would have become the first baseball player in history to win the Triple Crown in back-to-back seasons. A healthy Cabrera also would have taken the Tigers to the World Series where they would have likely won it all.
After a long and brutal winter, a new season has dawned at last. No longer plagued by injuries, Cabrera had what can be classified as a typical preseason by Miggy standards. Cabrera spent the Grapefruit League season putting up a respectable .352/.439/.611 and 1.051 OPS.
In 54 at-bats Cabrera had 19 hits, reached base 33 times, struck out 10 times and was walked nine, none which were intentional. Cabrera had two sacrifice flies, one of which occurred during the March 18 game against the New York Mets where his at-bats accounted for 3-of-4 runs scored in the game.
Cabrera hit four home runs in spring training, none of which were cheap. Two home runs (both which were 2-run homers) occurred in the same game and were placed right center and dead center, accordingly. Cabrera's third home run was special simply because of the timing. Mets announcers were commenting that Cabrera was in a slump as Miggy was taking his at-bat.
Cabrera proceeded to hit a scorcher that shot past the right-center field fence and into the forest beyond the field. Cabrera's fourth home run (a three-run bomb that nearly took out several birds and some fans in the left field berm at Joker Marchant Stadium) occurred on the same day he signed the largest contract for a sports athlete, ever, in the history of, well, ever.
Cabrera finished the 2014 preseason with numbers below his 2012 exhibition season where he went on to win the Triple Crown and above his 2013 preseason in which he proceeded to post career high numbers. The only area in which Cabrera was below his 2013 spring training stats was his slugging and that was off by only .007 percent.
Cabrera's injuries (which began shortly after the 2013 All-Star game and peaked in September) were largely to blame for his quiet bat in the late portion of the season, stopping Cabrera from posting larger numbers than he had already done. He simply reached his limit.
But that is an impressive limit. Most players would have benched themselves much earlier and called it a season. Instead Cabrera pushed through, waiting until the postseason had ended to undergo major core muscle surgery. There were concerns that Cabrera would not be ready to report for spring training. However Cabrera arrived at camp on February 5 which was well in advance of the Tigers team report date on February 17.
Cabrera's 2014 preseason numbers show an increase of power and focus which coincides with the fact that he is now playing injury-free. Anyone who watched the spring training games when they were available or kept up with the shenanigans around camp saw that Cabrera was not just healthy but relaxed, and very happy.
As players were reporting to camp in mid-February, Cabrera spoke to reporters about the difference he was experiencing following his surgery. "Oh my God. I feel free. I can do anything right now. I don't worry about anything. I feel free and ready to go." The Tigers had a lot of setbacks this spring so a healthy, happy and focused Cabrera has been reassuring.
It is hard to repeat a season as spectacular as the last, however keep in mind this is Cabrera we are talking about. Not only is Cabrera consistent but he is always improving consistently. Every time his numbers improve they have generally remain in that vicinity for the foreseeable future.
He will have competition. Players like Mike Trout (who is knocking on baseball's door of destiny) and Chris Davis (who dated home runs quite seriously last season) will make the 2014 season an interesting battle. By no stretch of the imagination will this be an easy uphill climb, in fact it will be an outright fight, down to the very last day of the season.
But because of Cabrera's track record for consistency and power which takes into account his preseason stats, now combined with the fact that he is healthy, Cabrera has a solid shot at winning another Triple Crown in 2014. Based on that premise, he will also win the American League MVP along the way.
Whether Cabrera collects another crown in 2014 will depend entirely on him and March 31 will begin the 162-game journey to finding the answer to that very question. The signing of Cabrera's lifelong contract with the Tigers assures he will have endless cracks at earning any achievement he can get his hands on.
In any event, going into the 2014 season the one thing the Tigers and fans do not need to worry about is their reigning Triple Crown ruler, 2-time MVP champion, Silver Slugging All Star player.