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Better know a Tiger: Miguel Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter in the universe, when healthy. What new heights can he climb this year?

Miguel Cabrera demonstrates how to hit a home run, July 4, 2012
Miguel Cabrera demonstrates how to hit a home run, July 4, 2012
Dave Reginek

Our "Better know a Tiger" series is progressing towards the more valuable players, so it may be a surprise to see Miggy this early. We are also moving around the diamond, and with his return to first base, his name pops up. But really, do you not know Miguel Cabrera?

Jose Miguel Cabrera Torres is from Venezuela. His goes by his father Miguel's name. He came to the Tigers in the epic deal which sent Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Burke Badenhop and friends to the Marlins.

His career achievements to date include eight All-Star games, back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards, and the first Triple Crown in over 40 years. Cabrera is the consensus best hitter in baseball.

You know his major league history. Ten consecutive seasons with over 100 RBI's. Only five hits until 2000, and still 30 years old. 365 home runs. 36 stolen bases, because he will take the base if you give it to him. But what can we learn from his minor league record?

Year Age Level Position Games PA BA OBP SLG
2000 17 Rk/A- SS 61 284 .259 .338 .347
2001 18 A SS 110 465 .268 .328 .382
2002 19 A+ 3B 124 545 .274 .333 .421
2003 20 AA 3B 69 303 .365 .429 .609
'03-'13 20-30 Majors 3B/1B/OF 1660 7126 .321 .399 .568

The power was not bursting out in his teen years, but when a 19 year old is more than holding his own in Advanced-A, he is a top prospect. When a 20 year old is destroying Double-AA, you may have an MVP. He was called up to help the Marlins reach the playoffs and defeat the Yankees in the 2003 World Series. He had 74 plate appearances and four home runs that postseason.

It may be surprising that Miguel was predominantly a shortstop in the minor leagues, but many players start there and are shifted down the defensive spectrum as they advance. A real joy the past couple years was when the Tigers would shift the infield against a left-handed pull hitter with Cabrera assuming the shortstop position. A ground ball to second would then result in Miggy rather gracefully turning the double play.

Cabrera is a baseball genius and I find it frustrating that his post-game interviews often provide so little insight. His pattern recognition is unlike other players. Even the Wall Street Journal has analyzed his approach, which means he transcends sports. But even there, we find few quotes from him. He will open up on occasion, such as this interview on Intentional Talk. I look forward to a journalist gaining his trust so we can understand more of what allows him to dominate in ways that nobody else can. Perhaps he should be interviewed more often in Spanish.

Contract Status

Cabrera is signed for eight years at $152 million, including $22 million this year and next. I shudder to think what he will be worth as a free agent after 2015. Hopefully the Albert Pujols deal will scare away potential suitors. How much would he be paid this year if he were a free agent and wanted a one-year deal? Is $40 million unreasonable?

Keys to Success

Miggy has moved into the discussion of all-time greats by putting to rest the off-the-field concerns. He simply needs to stay home at night and have family time, rather than go out partying.

Odd Numbers

34% - Miggy swings at over a third of the pitches outside of the strike zone, more than the league average. Yet last year he walked in almost 14% of his plate appearances which ranked in the top ten. Apparently he swings at those pitches because he can hit them, including fastballs that should hit his body. He has ridiculous plate coverage, as you can see here.

2014 Outlook

Miguel Cabrera will play nearly every game and compete for a Triple Crown. I expect that even then he will surprise us with a new achievement. Perhaps this is the year he hits 50 home runs. Players like Cabrera come along less than once in a generation. They allow us to set aside the numbers, and even the idea of winning for a moment, and just enjoy watching someone who is the best at their craft.