Anyone who has watched more than a handful of Tigers games this season knows that Miguel Cabrera "isn't right." Don't get me wrong, he's still an amazing talent. He ranks seventh among qualified AL hitters with a 142 wRC+. He is tied for third in the league with 86 RBI and is within striking distance of league leader David Ortiz, at 91. He's still hitting over .300. But this is not the real Miguel Cabrera.
However, the still-great-but-not-by-his-standards numbers that Cabrera has put up may be his saving grace among the national media. We have seen several theories about Justin Verlander, ranging from the well-informed to the "this might be the end." And then there's the mindless wit of Joe Sheehan, but that's another story.
Another factor in the "free pass" that Cabrera has been given are the random leaks we've heard about Cabrera's slow recovery from offseason core muscle repair surgery. You know, the same one that Verlander had. The same one that everyone is ignoring in both cases. The same one that ... you get the picture.
The reason why the surgery theory makes so much sense in both cases is because of how their numbers have played out. We already touched on Verlander's stamina earlier this year, but Cabrera's off year didn't seem like as big of a deal, largely because he was still performing at an All-Star level. He looked to be getting off to a slow start in August, but four doubles in this weekend's series brought his month-long OPS back up to .843, a shade over what he did in July (.830).
Here's the thing: despite the lower overall numbers, Cabrera has been nearly the same hitter we've seen in the past few years. The only difference? All those home runs he has hit — 244 in a Tigers uniform, to be exact — aren't going over the wall in 2014.
The table above shows how Cabrera's 2014 numbers stack up with both his amazing 2013 season and his overall career. While he is far off of his torrid pace from last season, he is only slightly underperforming his career standards. Still, these numbers — all his lowest since his first season in Detroit — are not what the Tigers are hoping for from Cabrera.
However, let's take a look at some of his peripheral numbers to see where the dip in production is coming from.
One thing that jumps out right away is that Cabrera already has more doubles than he did in all of 2013. He's on pace to double last year's total, which would be a career high for him. Those doubles have come at the expense of his home run totals. His home-run-per-fly-ball rate has been halved since last year, resulting in way more warning track flyouts than we are used to seeing. His previous career low was 15.6 percent with the Florida Marlins in 2006. Since arriving in Detroit, it has never dipped below 18 percent. His extra base hit percentage is percentage points better than last season.
The only other concern that the eyeball test has given us is Cabrera's seemingly increased tendency to swing and miss at pitches outside of the strike zone. While your eyes do not deceive you — Cabrera is making less contact at pitches outside of the strike zone in 2014 than in 2013 — it isn't really an issue. Cabrera is swinging at a lower percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone than he did last year, and has a lower overall swing and miss percentage.
There is no guarantee that this decline in power is completely due to his offseason surgery, but given that nearly every other aspect of Cabrera's game is well within his career norms, it seems to be a safe assumption. He may not see his usual power return this year, but the numbers show that the Tigers are still in good shape with number 24 at the plate.