Life without Miguel Cabrera was difficult to adjust to while he was on the disabled list. His presence in the third spot in the Detroit Tigers' lineup is one of the few familiar things on a team that has seen a lot of turnover in the last few years. In fact, fans have become used to his greatness, which is perhaps why his 2015 season is not generating the buzz it deserves.
We'll see Cabrera jump back onto the list of qualified hitters in a few days -- he's five plate appearances short of that distinction at the moment. When he does, his batting average will lead the American League by nearly 40 points. That means that the next best hitter for average in the American League, Jason Kipnis, hits safely one less time for every 25 at-bats than Cabrera, an incredible gap.
Since returning from the DL, Cabrera has somehow elevated his game even further. The Tigers' first baseman has hit .500/.618/.846 in his first 34 plate appearances of the second half, good for a 296 wRC+. According to Fangraphs, Cabrera is hitting line drives 50 percent of the time since returning. As for the quality of contact? Just one of his 22 batted balls have been quantified as "softly hit." That goes a long way to explaining his elevated BABIP, which has recently climbed over .400. Cabrera isn't getting lucky so much as he's killing the ball, although it would be unwise to expect him to keep up a .410 BABIP.
All in all, the batting line for Detroit's franchise player is insane. He's hitting .363 (a career-high) with a 16.6 percent walk rate (a career-high), which helps explain why his on-base percentage is .471 -- you guessed it: a career-high. As for wRC+, an excellent statistic that provides context for a hitter's achievements in any given year, Cabrera sits at 193. He was hovering just above this level in 2013, but an injury-riddled second half resulted in his wRC+ falling to 192. By wRC+, and several other rate measures, it is fair to say that Cabrera is hitting the ball better this year than he ever did before.
At some point, opposing pitchers are going to make the decision to give Cabrera nothing to hit. The question is, will the added bonus of walking more than he already is offset the BABIP regression he'll likely see? A 200 wRC+ is the signal of a historic offensive season, as evidenced by this list of hitters who have broken 200 since 1970.
- Barry Bonds: 4 times
- Jeff Bagwell: 1994
- Frank Thomas: 1994
- Mark McGwire: 1998