With the exception of a seventh inning that saw him concede three well-struck hits — including a homer to Garrett Jones — and two runs, Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander was excellent on Sunday in Pittsburgh, striking out seven, walking just one, and inducing weak contact all day (box).
Indeed, despite the fact that Verlander entered that seventh inning having allowed two hits already, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he could have entered same in pursuit of his 13th no-hitter, or whatever number he’s on now. For, of the two hits that the Pirates recorded between innings one and six, neither left the infield — and, notably, both were hit in the direction of third baseman Miguel Cabrera.
Detroit’s decision to field a number of defensively challenged players (Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Delmon Young) — whatever the advantages in terms of clubhouse morale — appears to be not without its consequences in terms of run prevention. As of Monday, the Tigers are 28th in the majors in terms of unadjusted defensive efficiency (and last in the American League), 26th by Defensive Runs Saved (-22), and last in the majors in UZR (-32.2). There are certainly caveats to be made regarding defensive metrics. In this case, however, they suggest what many would suspect anyways — that the Tigers are a poor defensive team.
In what follows, we’ll consider, specifically, Miguel Cabrera’s role in the first two hits allowed by Verlander. There are likely other instances from this season that we could observe for this purpose — of determining, that is, whether Cabrera turned a likely out into a hit, or vice versa. That said, few batted balls are as prone to scrutiny as the ones allowed by Justin Verlander, who, it seems, is always on the verge of a no-hitter.
Below is video footage of the two plays in question — a first-inning bunt single by Alex Presley and a third-inning infield hit for catcher Michael McKenry. In each case, the reader is asked a question: Do you think a league-average third baseman would convert this batted-ball into an out?
The results will give us a sort of Armchair Zone Rating — that is, an assessment of Cabrera’s performance conducted not by math and computers, but by honest, hardworking Americans (in the 18-49, college-educated, bespectacled male demographic).
First Inning, Alex Presley
The following GIF allows us to see both Cabrera’s original positioning on Presley’s bunt single and his play on the ball.
Third Inning, Michael McKenry
In this case, we have two GIFs. The first one here gives us an idea of the nature of McKenry’s batted-ball, and also Cabrera’s charge of same.
This second one focuses more on Cabrera’s original positioning and his exchange from glove to throwing hand.
A Simple Poll Regarding Miguel Cabrera
In which the reader does his part — for FanGraphs, for America.