Sometimes trades fail to work out immediately. Dave Dombrowski traded the farm prior to the 2008 season for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis – the perceived final pieces of a championship puzzle – only to see both play well shy of expectations. For the first time in four years, Cabrera posted an OPS below .900 – not quite the fall from grace Willis experienced, but also not the alpha dog Detroit desired. For a multitude of other reasons, the Tigers collapsed around the pair, and failed to qualify for the playoffs.
It’s fitting that as the Tigers bounce back, so does Cabrera; who is experiencing a sophomore bump during his second season in the Motor City. His .395 wOBA falls in line with seasons of the past. Not only is he hitting well through component measures like homers and OPS, but Cabrera is literally hitting the ball hard. Hit Tracker Online lists Cabrera as current “Golden Sledgehammer” leader, meaning Cabrera’s long balls are averaging a longer distance than anyone else in the league. Cabrera’s dozen dingers have an average standard distance of 423.7 feet, a full 60 inches further than runner-up Michael Cuddyer.
Any talk of American League pitchers mastering Cabrera is over. His walk rates are creeping upwards and his amount of whiffing borders near a career low. A .341 BABIP rarely constitutes being “below expectations”, but this is true in Cabrera’s case. From 2006-2008 Cabrera maintained a higher average BABIP as well as a higher ISO. The difference seems to arise from an increased amount of groundballs hit. These are leading to an influx of additional singles and a decrease in doubles; buoying Cabrera’s batting average while leaving his slugging emptier than usual. Given his homeruns, it seems apparent Cabrera still has a fantastic amount of power, so at some point the doubles should come.
Cabrera should breeze past the four win mark and could make a legitimate run at five wins. He won’t quite match the total value attained during his seasons as a third baseman – the first base positional penalty just won’t allow it – still, Detroit will be hard pressed to find much fault in Cabrera’s 2009.