Today isn't May 4, 2013, but it's starting to feel like it. There is a first baseman in Detroit who's healthy for the first time since mid-summer of 2013, and he's looking pretty good. After a year of looking closer to human than Tigers fans had previously seen in Detroit, Miguel Cabrera seems to be back to his superhuman abilities.
Cabrera has once again donned the Superman cape and is doing some things with the bat mere mortals only marvel about. Cabrera's three-hit day on Sunday, in support of Alex Avila's three-RBI game, helped lift the Tigers to a series split in the Land of Divine Barbecue, otherwise known as Kansas City. Two sharp singles were followed up with a Goliath shot into the far regions of left field, usually reserved for wind-aided batting practice homers.
As the 2015 campaign starts to evolve and take shape heading into May it's time to take stock in some numbers. April numbers have only so much value and most can agree on this, however, at some point they start to take on meaning and match what observers are seeing on the field. Cabrera's 111 plate appearances will have to suffice for right now.
What we're seeing from Cabrera over the first 26 games is a sight to behold because it's starting to hearken back to the not-too-distant past where Cabrera was running roughshod over the American League in his MVP campaigns of 2012 and 2013. While 2012 gave us the magic of the Triple Crown, it was 2013 where Cabrera simply separated himself and soared into the Superhero heavens -- hitting .348/.442/.636, good enough a wOBA of .455 and a gaudy wRC+ of 192.
After Sunday's action against the second place Royals, Cabrera is batting a cool .366/.459/.624. His wOBA and wRC+? They look familiar from 2013 -- .456 and ,193, respectively. Can it last? No one truly knows, of course, but there are many signs that the 2014 hiatus of sorts is over for Cabrera.
It's not that Cabrera was gone. He spent 2014 struggling with physical maladies including a foot fracture that would require offseason surgery. He was still productive and an everyday force. It's just that he took the demotion from Superman to, perhaps, Aquaman for a season.
In a baseball sense he went from "Miguel Freakin' Cabrera!" down to performing like "in his prime Paul Konerko" in 2014. That's not a knock on Konerko, who was a fine player. It's just a pretty fair comparison to just how talented Cabrera truly is to post an acceptable season under physical duress.
Cabrera just has that look. Patience, power, using the whole field, and looking in control of every at-bat no matter the count.
Cabrera has elevated his walk-rate back to the levels he had in 2011, the season of his career high rate of 15.7 percent. Indeed, he's walking in 15.3 percent of his plate appearances to nearly match his strikeout rate of 16.2 percent. Certainly some of that walk-rate can probably be attributed to Victor Martinez being a mess thus far in 2015.
Cabrera is probably going to test the "lineup protection theory" a bit this season if Martinez continues to struggle. However, his success so far is making Martinez's effect on Cabrera's production appear to be minimal (Martinez limiting the club's offense in general, however, is probably another matter). It's a situation worth monitoring, but a Martinez hot stretch would quiet those concerns, or a switch of Yoenis Cespedes to the cleanup role could as well.
Not including Sunday, Cabrera is swinging at under 48 percent of the pitches thrown to him this season. That's the lowest percentage of his time in Detroit starting in 2008. He's being a bit more selective and we're definitely seeing him wave at a few less low and away sliders than we did in 2014.
Interestingly, the one number Cabrera is posting that isn't close to his MVP seasons is his home runs per fly ball rate (HR/FB). He's around 15 percent right now, but in 2013 he slammed them out at a 25.3 percent-rate when he hoisted a ball skywards. Does this mean his power has waned? Doubtful.
Gargantuan blasts in Minnesota into the second deck and deep beyond the center field wall and Sunday's bomb in KC show the "Boom!" is still in the stick. Those are in non-homer friendly parks to boot. No, it's a safe bet the HR/FB will probably start drift upwards as the weather warms up into the summer months, as long as Cabrera is swinging the bat like he has to this point.
Cabrera lost a battle on Friday night to the estimable Kelvin Herrera in the 8th inning. It was a showdown of power and Herrera survived (Royals fans would say he "thrived" but reasonable folks can disagree), but the sense of impending doom was permeating Kauffman Stadium in that bases-loaded spot. Cabrera, the Superman Edition, is back. But even Lex Luthor had the upperhand on occasion, so Herrera won that round.
Jeremy Guthrie was not so lucky on Sunday. He may have wrenched his neck pretty badly watching Cabrera tattoo that monster shot. The Tigers have scored two runs or less in 11 of their first 26 games. There are some offensive questions looming. However, none of them are in the three-hole that Cabrera inhabits. You can build a competitive offense around one transcendent player.
The Tigers need some others to step up their game if they want to take the leap to "offensive juggernaut" status. Cabrera is the Man of Steel when he has a bat in his hands. He'll do the heavy lifting. Cabrera needs some pals, beyond Cespedes and Jose Iglesias, to don the suits of the Justice League and be his capable sidekicks.