A New Low for Miguel Cabrera

Sunday night, the Rangers hosted the Tigers in a matchup between two of the American League’s better teams. You’d think the big story would be that the Rangers rallied from a deficit to beat the Tigers 11-8. But then, it’s May, and the Rangers are going to win a lot, and the Tigers are going to lose a lot (albeit, presumably, a smaller lot than the first lot). Sure seems to me the big story is that Miguel Cabrera clubbed three dingers. That sort of game for Cabrera shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it’s a bigger surprise than the Rangers beating the Tigers. Cabrera’s individual effort has people re-analyzing his game, in the exact same way everyone did last November.

And Cabrera didn’t just club three ordinary dingers. According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, there were 22 homers on Sunday. The longest was hit by Miguel Cabrera. The second-longest was hit by Miguel Cabrera. The third-longest was hit by Miguel Cabrera. The fourth-longest wasn’t hit by Miguel Cabrera, but now you’re being greedy. All of the homers were similar, and all of the homers were significantly different.

Cabrera homered in the third off Derek Holland, he homered in the fifth off Holland again, and he homered in the eighth off Tanner Scheppers. The balls wound up in similar places — the first went to the right side of center field, the second went to just about dead center field, and the third went to the left side of center field. But then, the first was hit off a changeup out over the plate:

cabrerafirsthr

The third was hit off a two-strike fastball inside, off the plate:

cabrerathirdhr

That’s Cabrera pulling his hands in to knock a 97 mile-per-hour inside fastball more than 420 feet. I don’t think there’s anyone in baseball better at turning unusually inside pitches into dingers than Miguel Cabrera. The second homer was also hit off an inside fastball, over the edge and thrown by a lefty. Let’s touch on something before we get to that.

A lot of players hit home runs. Some players hit a lot of similar home runs. Some players hit a variety of home runs, and I think implied by the latter is greater ability on the hitter’s part. One chart I’ll never be able to forget is Jose Lopez‘s dinger chart from 2009:

joselopez2009

All of Jose Lopez’s homers were the same. Now, he is bad. Lopez wasn’t a one-trick pony, but he was exploitable, and he’s since been exploited. Now here’s Miguel Cabrera’s homer chart for 2013 to date:

miguelcabrera2013

All fields, varying lengths. What’s evident is that Cabrera has a more disciplined approach and a more complete swing that covers the entire zone. Just by looking at these images, you’d come away thinking that there’s maybe one or two pitches that Lopez could’ve hit out. You’d also come away thinking that Cabrera is a constant threat, which he is. Miguel Cabrera finds a way to hit the baseball out of the yard, no matter what’s pitched or by whom.

Back to that second home run. Here’s a video highlight. Here’s a .gif:

Cabrerahomerfull.gif.opt

You can tell, even without thinking about it, that this is a real line drive. This ball got out of the yard in a hurry, and according to the ESPN Home Run Tracker again, it’s the second-fastest homer off the bat of the season, at 117.6 miles per hour. The ball was gone in just under 3.7 seconds. For the sake of confusing reference, let’s cut off this Mark Trumbo homer from earlier in the year at just under 3.7 seconds:

Trumbohomerfull.gif.opt

Among the Tracker’s other measurements are elevation angle and apex. The former measures the angle above horizontal at which a homer left the bat. The latter measures the highest point, in feet, of a homer’s path. The two are closely related, and here’s a graph of the 2013 data so far:

anglechartcabrera

That guy all the way to the left is Miguel Cabrera’s second home run on Sunday. It’s estimated to have gotten 47 feet above the surface of the field. And it’s estimated to have left the bat with an elevation angle of 15.9 degrees. That’s the lowest angle of the year.

And that’s tied for the lowest angle for any standard home run since at least 2006, which is as far back as the Tracker data extends. In 2008, it’s alleged that Corey Hart also hit a homer with the same elevation angle, but video confirmation isn’t available that I can find. The only homers with lower elevation angles have been inside-the-parkers. And for whatever it’s worth, Cabrera’s missile left the bat a little faster than Hart’s, according to the numbers. In a sense, Sunday night Miguel Cabrera drilled the ultimate line drive.

Buster Olney pointed out on Twitter that Derek Holland briefly reacted as if he thought the ball was coming back at him. Here’s what he means:

HollandCabreraHands.gif.opt

You can see Holland flinch before he turns around to watch the rest of the ball’s flight. He tries to get his hands in front of his face before he realizes the ball has long since passed by. As a former pitcher who has been drilled in the head by a comebacker, I feel like I can speak with some authority on this. It can be terrifying. The instinct is to flinch, when the batter makes contact and the ball is coming back up the middle. The ball doesn’t even have to come that close — the contact just needs to be solid, and it needs to look like it could be in the vicinity right off the bat. A ball hit to either side, or a fly, or a grounder — those don’t make a guy flinch. But any liner can be a momentary nightmare. Cabrera hit a ball close enough to Holland to make him ever-so-briefly afraid. It ended up a home run. Holland didn’t quite understand:

hollandcabrera

I don’t know who could understand, to be honest. Those hits aren’t supposed to be home runs. They’re supposed to be singles or doubles or line-outs. The only explanation is that Miguel Cabrera can do things that other hitters just can’t, or don’t. The quality of his contact is such that normal rules don’t apply.

Think back to how all three of Cabrera’s homers wound up in similar places. They were all hit to center, one off an inside fastball from a righty, one off a less-inside fastball from a lefty, and one off a changeup over the plate from a lefty. That says everything you need to know about Cabrera’s timing and his ability to square the baseball up when it’s anywhere hittable. There will be times that a pitcher makes Miguel Cabrera look bad, and each of those times is incredible.

Miguel Cabrera is a mediocre runner who bats from the right side and who has a .347 career BABIP. This year it’s up to .400, to go neatly with his 200 wRC+. Cabrera is capable of making a lot of contact, and on contact he’s capable of doing some extraordinary things. This was readily on display Sunday night, when Cabrera made a meaningful baseball game feel somewhat irrelevant. Against Derek Holland, Cabrera reached a new low, all in the process of exploring new heights.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


78 Responses to “A New Low for Miguel Cabrera”

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  1. AR says:

    Would you kindly write another article focusing on the Derek Holland expression picture? So much could be written about it.

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  2. NATS Fan says:

    Thanks this is a cool article.

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    • Trotter76 says:

      I dunno Jeff, this wasn’t about the Mariners, and since we ALL know you ONLY write about the Mariners …. Oh, wait, I’m channelling the d-bag from your other awesome writeup on the Indians/M’s game. Thanks for your writing, in all reality.

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  3. clone wars says:

    Tigers should clone Cabrera to be the DH too. I’m worried about Victor Martinez; he has a low BABIP and his plate discipline numbers are ok, but he’s been sucking a lot so far.

    Cabrera is a beast of a hitter, though. Absolutely disgusting.

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    • chuckb says:

      or they could just find a real 3B and have Cabrera DH (or play 1B w/ Fielder moving to DH).

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      • clone wars says:

        V. Martinez: Starting to look like a sunk cost. :(

        Yeah, Cabrera and Fielder lose a lot of value for being terrible defensive players but at least Cabrera compensates somewhat with his strong arm and the fact that somewhat competent 3rd basemen are much more scarce than 1st basemen.

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        Miguel Cabrera was more valuable last year playing -9.7 defense at 3rd than DHing, according to positional adjustments.

        He just needs to stay in the -10 run range.

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        • Bronnt says:

          But the real question is whether it’s easier for the team to find positive value at third base or DH, since Cabrera is well into the positive either way. To find an average starter at third base, you’re looking at guys like Pedro Alvarez, Jamey Carroll, and Will Middlebrooks. To find an average DH, you’re looking at guys like Paul Konerko and Kendrys Morales.

          The availability of talent at each position obviously varies year to year-sometimes there’s a Jim Thome out there looking for work. But for the Tigers, you wonder if it wouldn’t be better to put Nick Castellanos back at third base and make Caberera their DH, rather than search for an answer to the DH problem. If not this year, which might be pushing it, then next year.

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        • Rick says:

          There’s the possibility of Cabrera’s numbers suffering if he were moved to DH. I’m not sure how much the numbers back this up, but you hear about it all the time. Some people don’t have the capability to perform up to their potential when all they do is DH.

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        • wally says:

          Rick, that DH adjustment would happen to anyone though. So, you’d have to assume either Cabrera or your other DH option is more/less likely to be effected by the DH penalty to really care about the DH penalty in the first place.

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        • Big Daddy V says:

          Cabrera is a better fielder than Fielder anyway. In all likelihood he’d be moved back to first base.

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        • Greg says:

          @Wally, but you know what you’re getting in someone who’s been a full-time DH before. With Cabrera, you don’t know whether he’ll hit .350/.400/.650 or .300/.350/.500 as a full time DH.

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    • clone wars says:

      Unfortunately there is a DH penalty; I think fangraphs has written a few articles about DH’s usually having worse stats than when they were playing in the field.

      We can’t put Cabrera at DH and Nick Castellanos because 1. It might piss off Cabrera and 2. Old smokes Leyland is too old-school and not smart enough to think outside the box.

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    • PhilCoke says:

      Jose Bautista hit a lot of HRs the past couple years and about 99% of them were to the very left side of left field l

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  4. Well, holy shit, Miguel Cabrera.

    (But here’s Miggy last Thursday night: http://i.imgur.com/IhZqKB2.gif)

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    • Erick says:

      That’s one of those incredible times a pitcher makes Cabrera look foolish. Darvish does that to a lot of guys.

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  5. phys says:

    I think he was still angry about Beltre’s 2 RBI bloop double when he hit that third homer.

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  6. TheGrandslamwich says:

    The way he kept his hands in on that second HR off of Holland was incredible. To have that much power on that swing to center field was the most impressive hitting display I’ve seen all season.

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  7. chuckb says:

    Really great stuff, Jeff. Thanks.

    Every hitting coach should take those 2 pics and blow them up to show their students what they should look like at the point of contact.

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  8. jrogers says:

    That’s all great, but seems like in the end he didn’t have TWTW.

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  9. JBentley says:

    Though this entire article was top notch, that headline was even more top notchier.

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  10. CSJ says:

    Want a hitter that sprays his home runs around the ballpark? Try…Ryan Howard

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    • l1ay says:

      Want a “slugger” who gets paid $20M to be a below average hitter? Try…Ryan Howard

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      • Bronnt says:

        And a below replacement level player, who’s going to earn a $5 million raise next season.

        Worst contract ever?

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        • clone wars says:

          A-Rod, my friend, A-Rod. When healthy, I think he is a 3WAR guy but it doesn’t look good right now. He’s breaking down a lot.

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        • Aidan says:

          Nobody’s contract makes sense as late in their career as A-Rod is. He gave the Yankees terrific value for 5 or so years and was indispensable in two title runs. And breaking down is an easy thing to say about a player who hasn’t seen grass this year.

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        • clone wars says:

          A-Rod gave them good value for the first 4 years of the new 10 year contract (6, 4, 3.8, 4.1 WAR)but only 1.9 in the fifth year.

          So he was only worth his contract the first year and the next 5 years are going to be bad.

          I actually like him as a baseball player but it’s an ugly, ugly, contract.

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        • Bronnt says:

          Actually, let’s look at the math. Ryan Howard was paid $20 million in 2012, and he provided -1.1 WAR, so that’s -$4.8 million in value. His value deficit was therefore $24.8 million.

          A-Rod had a lot further to go, since he was paid $29 million. But he provided at least something positive in his 1.9 WAR, so he was worth $8.8 million. His value deficit is therefore $21.2 million.

          This year is only the second year of the Ryan Howard extension, but if A-Rod can get healthy at some point and play a bit this year, he’s likely to have a smaller performance deficit once again.

          Of course, the A-Rod contract is twice as long, so it will be too much to overcome. But on a year-by-year basis, that Howard deal is tough to top, especially considering that they didn’t need to extend Howard back then.

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  11. Glomp says:

    Not sure if I did the math right on this and it’s obviously a huge approximation, but here goes:

    Ball starts ~3 feet above the plate. The rubber is 60 feet away. Let’s say the ball apexes exactly halfway through it’s flight (it doesn’t probably), so the ball is at 47 feet above the ground when it’s 241 feet away from the plate – in less than two seconds. If the ball takes a straight path (which it obviously doesn’t, but it’s probably somewhat close considering speet and angle) from Point A (where it meets Cabrera’s bat) to Point B (the apex), the ball is only ~13 vertical feet off the ground when it passes the 60 ft mark.

    Holland is 6 feet tall, so the ball would have only been, very very roughly, 6-7 vertical feet above his head when it got to him – about a 1/3rd of a second after contact.

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    • joser says:

      And the sonic boom reaches his ears just a fraction of a second later. Which is I think what causes his tongue to pop out.

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  12. Derek Holland says:

    Well you know what, I only have to wear one goggle when I go swimming in my pool!

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  13. Jon L. says:

    A shortened version of this game was replayed late at night on my cable system, and I flipped it on to catch Cabrera’s home runs. The full-motion shot of Derek Holland’s reaction was awesome, with a brief shrug and shake of his head – he simply could not believe it. But even better was hearing the announcers react to his third home run, and the way he pulled his hands in to drive a really good inside fastball over the centerfield fence. They agreed that they’d never seen anyone do that before.

    In none of the at-bats did it appear that Cabrera was taking a good approach. He simply took his usual swing at anything near the strike zone, and looked like he was taking all the way on everything not near the strike zone. I couldn’t see his greatness at all – except in the results, where it was manifest.

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  14. Old School says:

    Cabrera> Trout.

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    • Bronnt says:

      I still don’t understand how Miguel Cabrera was the favorite of the “old school” last season

      Mike Trout: Played good defense in centerfield, hit very well, stole plenty of bases, and contributed on the basepaths when he wasn’t stealing bases (moving first to third, etc.) He hit a lot of home runs and got on base a lot.

      Miguel Cabrera: Extremely good hitter who got a lot of home runs. He plays poor defense at third base, doesn’t steal bases, and doesn’t run well on the basepaths. He led the league in home runs, but didn’t quite get on base as often as Trout.

      Seems like dumber arguments were made in favor of Barry Larkin back in 1995 over guys like Bonds, Maddux, and his teammate Reggie Sanders.

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      • vikedawg says:

        Triple-Crown

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      • Old School says:

        The triple crown is overrated in a statistical sense, but truly a rare feet. WAR, is overrated in the sense that it is so highly coveted by those who want to sound analytical. WAR does not include every variable such as in Cabrera’s case

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        • vikedawg says:

          I agree that the triple crown is not an accurate representation of the best player, but it definitely influenced “old-school” voters.

          I think WAR is as accurate as can be for a player’s worth on the field. Cabrera because of the triple crown is worth more to the franchise than can be represented by WAR. It’s sexy-time for the masses and quite frankly I hope most analytically-minded baseball fans.

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        • Pat Raines says:

          Really, WAR is the best representative? Which WAR because you know there are 3 definitions? How can a stat that cant even be defined consistently be the best representation of a players worth?

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        • vikedawg says:

          Can you point me to a stat that is better than WAR for an overall assessment of a player’s on field value? Whether fWAR, rWAR, or WARP, just average them together or pick the one that best fits your belief, it doesn’t really matter too much in the greater scheme.

          WAR is far from perfect, but like democracy it is better than the alternatives, or something like that.

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        • Jason B says:

          “truly a rare feet.”

          No, that dude with a toe coming out the back of his heel has truly a rare feet. Or foot, as the case may be.

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      • Jay Stevens says:

        Fantasy baseball. That’s the only explanation I can come up with. The “old school” writers came of age when fantasy baseball took off, so maybe they’re more drilled into the Triple Crown rate categories than their forebearers were.

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  15. Requiem says:

    Wish I could post a gif.

    In response to

    There will be times that a pitcher makes Miguel Cabrera look bad, and each of those times is incredible.

    Foolish Cabrera swing

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  16. Pableaux Gunmoney says:

    So what you’re actually saying is…
    In this game Miguel Cabrera posted a 150% HR/FB?

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  17. szielinski says:

    Decades ago I recall listening to a Pirates-Braves game. Aaron hit a line drive over the head of Gene Alley. Alley jumped, trying to catch the ball. Eventually that line drive became a home run, leaving the park about 400′ from home plate.

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    • chief00 says:

      I’m glad you posted this. Tony Kubek used to call Jays’ games back in the day and told a story about his playing days as a SS with the NYY. They were playing the Senators and Frank Howard strode to the plate. Big Frank took a mighty swing (as he was wont to do), connected, and Kubek jumped for the ball. He missed, and when he landed he smacked his mitt or made some other gesture of frustration, only to turn around and see that the ball landed 15 rows deep.

      Kubek’s point was different: he was saying that the ball rose like a plane taking off, in much the same way that batters used to swear up and down that fastballs from hard throwers would rise. Speed and terrific backspin was the explanation I think, but the whole scenario is tantalizingly similar: a screaming liner, a player who thinks it’s playable, it nearly kills a fan ordering nachos (and the people on either side).

      I don’t know the accuracy quotient of Kubek’s story and it’s unlikely to be verifiable. Heck, I’m probably mis-remembering the anecdote! But I’ve never heard another story like it until this article and your post.

      Thanks! :)

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  18. Javy Lopez’s spray chart reminds me of Gary Sheffield who, based on nothing but my recollection, pulled more HRs foul then anyone ever anywhere.

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  19. TheMooseOfDeath says:

    Holland didn’t quite understand…why he was so TURNED ON

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  20. Phantom Stranger says:

    He is still no Albert Pujols or Barry Bonds at their peaks. Come talk to me when he puts up over a 190 OPS+ for a full season. Cabrera is the best hitter in the game right now, but at this point his hitting prowess has been a little overrated by the mainstream press.

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    • Noah says:

      Just to be clear, you only want people to talk about a hitter once they have become the greatest hitter to ever live?

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      • Brandon says:

        Yes and he must do it “clean” … and in a pitcher’s park … and blindfolded, with his shoes tied together, then he’ll be in the conversation.

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    • BurleighGrimes says:

      Uh…ok, we’ll only come “talk to you” maybe two or three more times in your lifetime then?

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    • Nathan says:

      Don’t think the article was about putting Cabrera in that category.

      What I think anyone with the ability to objectively look at it can say, is that Cabrera has been one of the top 3 all-around hitters in his era, and unless he is derailed by an unexpected injury, is a lock for HOF numbers (whether you look at old school raw data or new school metrics). There isn’t a single team in baseball that wouldn’t be significantly better with Cabrera on their team.

      And for what it’s worth, I actually do think the Cabrera/Pujols comparison is a pretty decent one. Not to necessarily say that in the end Cabrera will end up with a full career that looks like Albert’s, but especially lining up the age 26 – 30 seasons, the comparison is pretty damn remarkable: http://www.fangraphs.com/comparison.aspx?playerid=1744&position=1B/3B&page=8&players=1177

      Pujols was better earlier, and his hitting numbers are more flat (at a high level). Cabrera took a few seasons to get up to elite level, and his numbers have continued to have more of an upward trend, though slight.

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    • steex says:

      Don’t worry, most of us were looking forward to not talking to you.

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  21. joser says:

    You know, 15.9 degrees is definitely the lowest angle. Yet (according to HitTracker) Carlos Peguero managed a lower apex — 39 feet — and he did it twice in about a month in 2011 (pulling both to the same spot just inside the RF foul pole).

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  22. txkeeper56 says:

    A little handicap on that Mark Trumbo used for both comparison & contrast, it was hit at Houston’s Minute Maid Park, any ball hit towards those Crawford Boxes WILL get out in a hurry. Miguel Cabrera’s 2nd home run which got out in 3.7 seconds was hit towards one of the deeper parts of Rangers’ Ballpark in Arlington. Think about that, Cabrera hit a ball which had to reach a distance of at least 408 feet & higher than 8 feet. Trumbo in Houston only had to hit the ball a distance of at least 316 feet and higher than 19 feet.

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  23. tz says:

    for some more pr0n, look up Miggy’s stats over the last calendar year….

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  24. Bobby Ayala says:

    Is Cabrera untradable in a dynasty league? I can’t think of a reasonable return for him that would trump the loss of his consistent greatness.

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  25. mjmetro says:

    Hey Jeff,

    When you say that ‘the quality of his contact is such that normal rules don’t apply’, do you mean that Miguel Cabrera has broken the laws of Physics?

    If so, you may be on the shortlist for a Nobel Prize!

    Heartiest Congratulations!

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  26. OTHOSOS1955 says:

    As this happened on Brooks birthday(76yrs)I am reminded that in his book he recounted a tale of leaping for a Frank Howard line drive. The ball ticked his glove and when he looked around it was in the LF seats. He said ” What if I had caught that ball, it would have ripped my arm off”. The Hondo was also know to break seats with his liners. I love it all.

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    • chief00 says:

      See my comment above. Weird. Did Hondo do this kind of thing regularly? If so, then someone needs to collect anecdotes about it.

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      • chief00 says:

        Interestingly, Brooks’s biography (1991) was published after Kubek left the Jays broadcasting crew for the NYY crew…

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  27. Gregg says:

    As a Miggy owner in my Keeper league since 2005, I heartily support this message.

    Great article, really. The third homerun was the most badass, and the one I saw live, but the Holland reaction shot really puts the baguette in the baskette, if you get my drift.

    (I drafted Miggy earlyish in the 2nd round, in case anybody wondered.)

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  28. CarolinaTiger says:

    Cabrera seems to have a much better focus the past 2 or 3 years than when he first came to Detroit. Lest we forget, he has a history of self-destructive behaviors including alcoholism and domestic violence, and infamously showed up to the park hung over and with a black eye during the 2009 pennant race. The crazy thing was that he’d abuse his body this way and still hit .300 with power, but many Tigers observers felt that he was cruising on his insane natural talent without Pujols’ single-minded devotion to perfection. What we’re seeing now that Cabrera’s (hopefully) turned the corner in his personal life is a full realization of the potential he never quite fulfilled until recently.

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  29. thalooch says:

    Please, none of these HR’s were as impressive as the one he hit last night off Michael Bourn’s glove. That takes real skill right there. Anyone can hit a HR (or two) off Derek Holland, but to hit a HR in such a way that it will bounce off Michael Bourn’s glove to go over the stands and then cause Michael Bourn to sheepishly smile in a way that reminds me us all of the silliness of life and that baseball is still just a game……now that is a rare feat :-)

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