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Miguel Cabrera’s lack of power is becoming a problem

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The big man seems healthy, but the Tigers really need him to produce power again.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Miguel Cabrera is a once in a generation type hitter. From 2008-2015, Cabrera had a batting average of .325, the highest average of any player in that time frame. He won four batting titles, batting over .340 twice and topped .330 two other times. Obviously Cabrera has also hit for tons of power. From 2008-2015, Cabrera hit 308 home runs, averaging 34 home runs per year and winning the home run title twice. Only one other player hit more home runs in that time frame, Albert Pujols, and it was by just one. In back to back years in 2012-2013, Cabrera hit 44 home runs, winning the MVP award in both years.

Then in 2017, Miguel Cabrera only hit 16 home runs, well short of the pace he set in previous years. In 2018, Cabrera only played in 38 games, but still only managed three home runs, again well below the pace he established in earlier seasons.

Miguel Cabrera home run rates

Year Home run rate HR/FB rate
Year Home run rate HR/FB rate
2008 5.4% 18.9%
2009 5.0% 18.3%
2010 5.9% 19.8%
2011 4.4% 18.2%
2012 6.3% 23.0%
2013 6.8% 25.4%
2014 3.7% 14.0%
2015 3.5% 15.8%
2016 5.6% 22.1%
2017 3.0% 13.4%
2018 1.9% 13.6%
Baseball-reference/FanGraphs

When Cabrera was Cabrera, his home run rate was between 5-6 percent. Only four times since 2008, has Cabrera fallen below a 4 percent home run pace, 3.7 percent in 2014; 3.5 percent in 2015; 3 percent in 2017; and 1.9 percent in 2018. Also starting in 2017, Cabrera’s home run to fly ball ratio fell below 14 percent for the first time (13.4 percent) and stayed that way in 2018 (13.6 percent).

So far in 2019, Cabrera has yet to hit a home run and only has two extra base hits, both doubles, in 73 plate appearances. This equates to a .281 slugging percentage and a .031 isolated power. Those are objectively terrible marks, and this is obviously very unfamilar terrain for one of the game’s greatest hitters to occupy.

Miguel Cabrera exit velocity and launch angle

Year Exit velocity Launch angle
Year Exit velocity Launch angle
2015 93.6 12.3
2016 93.6 12.2
2017 91.3 12.2
2018 94.4 7.3
2019 92.5 8.5
Baseball Savant

Launch angles is a relatively new stat, so data only goes back to 2015. This is in the end of Cabrera’s peak years, but it still shows a consistent 12.2-12.3 degrees on his average launch angles from 2015-2017. Then it goes down to 7.3 degrees in 2018 and 8.8 degrees in 2019. The one constant is that he is still hitting the ball hard, an average of 92.8 MHP in 2019, not that much different than the 93.6 MPH he had in 2015-2016. The only difference is that he is not elevating the ball as much and therefore a decline in power.

Miguel Cabrera batted ball data

Year LD rate GB rate FB rate
Year LD rate GB rate FB rate
2008 19.6% 41.1% 39.3%
2009 20.0% 43.2% 36.8%
2010 18.9% 39.3% 41.7%
2011 22.1% 44.1% 33.8%
2012 21.7% 42.3% 36.0%
2013 24.0% 38.7% 37.4%
2014 24.8% 40.0% 35.2%
2015 25.2% 42.1% 32.7%
2016 22.7% 41.7% 35.5%
2017 27.3% 39.8% 32.9%
2018 25.0% 54.6% 20.4%
2019 24.4% 53.3% 22.2%
FanGraphs

From 2008-2017, Cabrera’s fly ball rate ranged from 32.7 percent to 41.7 percent and his ground ball rate never went above 44.1 percent. Both last year and this year, his ground ball rate is over 50 percent (54.6 percent and 54.1 percent respectfully). His fly ball rate also fell to an all-time low 20.4 percent in 2018 and so far in 2019 hasn’t really rebounded.

On April 10, Miguel Cabrera told Jason Beck on MLB.com that he is not a major prominent of launch angles. Given his track record, it makes sense. However, injuries have taken a toll and age is now a factor (Cabrera is in his age 36 season). It is still early and in we are still in “small sample” territory, but some of these signs have shown as far back as 2017. Miguel Cabrera is not the same hitter he once was and some adjustments may have to be made, namely putting more emphasis on putting the ball in the air. Whether he can do so as the toll of age and injuries pile up is an open question.

Manager Ron Gardenhire batted Cabrera second in the lineup on Sunday, something he has only done in three games prior (once in 2017 and two times in 2004). If Cabrera does not start hitting for power soon, batting second may just be the new norm instead of the middle of the order. For now, we’ll hope for the best as he builds up repetitions after a long absence. But if things don’t turn around by summer, the Tigers are going to face some tough decisions about their fading superstar much sooner than they’d hoped.