Miguel Cabrera, the longtime cornerstone of the Detroit Tigers, comes into the 2018 season on the heels of the worst statistical performances of his career. He’s determined to bounce back this summer. Luckily, for both him and Tigers fans, projections seem to universally agree that’s precisely what will happen. The former Triple Crown winner appears to have left nagging issues of health and on-field slumps in the rear view mirror.
2017 was a nightmare for Cabrera
A back injury sustained during the World Baseball Classic cost him the remainder of the tournament and most of spring training. As the season wore on, various injuries reared their head, leading to extensive slumps that merited uncharacteristic expressions of frustration.
The Cabrera of old, the one everyone expected to be there after all these years, never arrived.
Instead, Cabrera went on to record the worst numbers of his career, posting an unimpressive slash line of .249/.329/.399, with only 16 home runs — the second lowest total of his career to only his 2003 rookie season. For the first time since 2009 he was not selected to the All-Star team. His 91 wRC+ marked the first time in his career he finished below the league average (100 wRC+ is rated as average via FanGraphs).
It was obvious that something wasn’t right
Cabrera looked uncharacteristically awkward at the plate, swinging at pitches he once let pass. When he would make contact he wouldn’t hit the ball as hard as he used to. Cameras routinely caught him wincing in pain after imperfect swings. He moved slower than usual in the field and on the basepaths (yes, it’s possible to move that slow. See also: Victor Martinez). Injury speculation — evident even to the relatively untrained eyes of fans — was rampant, though neither Cabrera or the club would come out and say so.
Late in the season these suspicions were confirmed, as it was revealed Cabrera never fully healed from his WBC back injury. He had been playing through pain for most of the season. Cabrera was diagnosed with two herniated discs in September as he limped to the finish line of a disastrous 2017 campaign.
2018 is a fresh start
After taking the offseason to regain strength and recover from his back injury, Cabrera came into the new season seeking resurgence and redemption. He reported to the Tigers’ camp in Lakeland at full health and things are off to a good start:
Miguel Cabrera said he’s the healthiest he’s been in a while. Leaner and more confident in his body than he was last year. pic.twitter.com/s2dwGDz1oG— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) February 19, 2018
dude this has got to be the slimmest Miguel Cabrera's looked since, like, 2005 pic.twitter.com/jMo7aelWhx— Sung Min Kim (@sung_minkim) February 23, 2018
Jose Iglesias was trotting home from 2B on Castellanos gapper when he realized Miguel Cabrera was charging behind him. He sped home. So Cabrera is moving pretty well.— Jason Beck (@beckjason) February 24, 2018
As seen above, Cabrera looks much leaner and is moving better than he has in previous years. He looks more comfortable, with a much more fluid swing in the at-bats he’s taken in Grapefruit League play.
Cabrera seems to be on the comeback trail, which is the best news the Tigers could hope for with the once-again smiling face of their franchise.
Forecasters agree that things are looking up for Cabrera. Projections, including RotoChamp and ZiPS, among others, expect Cabrera to fare better than he did in 2017, with his median projected averages coming out to .287/.367/.487, along with median numbers of 23 home runs and 80 RBI.
Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA system forecasts a more favorable performance for Cabrera, pegging him for a .299/.380/.505 line to go with 26 home runs and 92 RBI.
FanGraphs’ Depth Charts system (a combination of the ZiPS and Steamer projections, with playing time allocated by the FanGraphs staff) provides another favorable, and by far the most comprehensive, outcome for Cabrera, expecting a .286/.365/.489 slash line accompanied by 26 home runs and 91 RBI. Advanced projections from FanGraphs include a .359 weighted on-base average (wOBA) and an above-average 123 wRC+, considerable improvements from 2017’s wOBA of .313 and 91 wRC+.
After Mighty Miggy struck out in 2017, will we see the hero return in 2018? If any of these projections hold true, we certainly will. But only what happens between March 29 and September 30 will give a definite answer to this question.
Will Miggy bounce back in 2018?
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