What once seemed like an almost certain American League batting title for Miguel Cabrera -- his fourth in the past five seasons -- is not at all certain now, thanks to a late season slump by the Tigers’ slugger and a September surge by the Red Sox’s Xander Bogaerts. Cabrera is hitting .336 for the season to Bogaerts’ .322 after Saturday's games.
Cabrera held a 42-point lead over the rest of the league, with the Indians’ Michael Brantley just ahead of Bogaerts on August 29. It seemed that all Cabrera had to do was to stay healthy and accumulate enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. While Cabrera is closing in on the magic number of plate appearances needed, he is not exactly healthy, now having issues with his back. A couple of games off may not only help Cabrera's back, but may help to slow the decline in his batting average.
Cabrera has batted just .202 with no home runs and eight RBI since August 27. At the same time, Bogaerts has hit .382 in September with hitting streaks of eight and 12 games. It would still take a stellar performance by the Boston shortstop to make up the difference with just eight games remaining in the season, but the trends are in his favor. If the two players continued on that pace for the remainder of the season, they would finish in a dead heat for the batting title.
In order to automatically qualify for the batting title, a player needs to register 3.1 plate appearances for every game that their team plays during the season. With a full 162-game schedule, that would come out to 502 plate appearances. However, Detroit and Cleveland had a scheduled game that was rained out, and is not likely to be made up unless it would impact the playoff picture, since the two teams have no off dates in common the rest of the season. That would put the automatic qualifier at an even 500 plate appearances.
Cabrera enters play on Sunday with 495 plate appearances for the season. Just five more trips to the plate, and he will automatically qualify for the batting title despite missing six weeks on the disabled list in July and August. Barring a season-ending injury, qualifying won't be an issue for Cabrera.
If Bogaerts were to continue hitting .382 for the duration of the season, making four plate appearances per game with his current walk rate of 4.5 percent, he would finish the season with a .3257 batting average. Based on the same number of plate appearances and walk ratio as above, Cabrera would need just five hits in 27 at-bats to finish with a higher batting average, .3265, by the slimmest of margins. For each game that Cabrera does not play, subtract from that magic number.
We’re rounding off percentages and wandering into the world of speculation here, but it’s easy to see how current trends could lead to a very close contest for the American League batting title. The odds still strongly favor Cabrera winning his fourth batting title, which would put him in rare company historically.