Miguel Cabrera’s Best

The 2009 season ended poorly for Miguel Cabrera. An arrest and the Tigers’ collapse coincided with the worst month of his season which wasn’t all that poor by anyone else’s standards. The dialect associated with the 27 year old was unkind and the offseason carried with it rumors of a potential trade for budgetary concerns. Those passed and as such Cabrera has spent the 2010 season changing the language like Babylon.

As far as pitchers are concerned, Cabrera’s play is in Brail since encountering him includes feeling a few bumps along the way. Here he is, the same guy who broke into the league as a 20 year old with an above average wOBA; the same guy that has recorded a wOBA over .400 in three of the past four seasons; that same guy, posting inflated numbers even when compared solely to his career.

How’s he doing it? By walking more and striking out less than he’s ever done as a resident in the American League. A career best ISO of .291 (previous best: .245) is fueled in part by a career high home run per flyball percentage; a measure that Cabrera is generally consistent in:

2004: 20.1%
2005: 17.9%
2006: 15.6%
2007: 18.5%
2008: 18.9%
2009: 18.3%

He’s not doing it with an inflated batting average on balls in play as a .349 mark is one point above his 2009 total and only three points above his career average. He’s not hitting too many more liners or grounders than usual either and he’s making contact at the same rate. This next level performance is driven solely by the aforementioned improvements which could be a degree of luck as well as Cabrera moving into the expected statistical prime of his career.

ZiPS updated projection has him finishing with a .424 wOBA which would simply annihilate his previous best, and that’s saying something, since Cabrera produced five wins with his bat alone in 2006. He probably won’t crack six, but he’s going to come close.

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56 Responses to “Miguel Cabrera’s Best”

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  1. He’s been having an outstanding season. I look forward to what the next two or three years have in store. Truly elite players like Cabrera tend to always have one or two years like this where they aren’t just among the league’s best, but they’re virtually unstoppable. In the pre-season I wondered when he was going to have one of those years because he hadn’t to date — So far, looks like this might be it.

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  2. TheImpossibleMan says:

    Soooo why did you make me have to go look up Cabrera’s 2010 HR/FB%?

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  3. anon says:

    Braille, not Brail.

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  4. AlecTrevelyan006 says:

    I was hoping for more metaphors/similes after the “Bumps along the way” and “changing the language” comments

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  5. Cronus says:

    The only knock you can have on Miguel this season is he’s been too liberal with trying to steal bases. I’m not sure if he’s trying out a new comedy act or being serious trying to steal 3rd like he has this season…

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  6. CWhit says:

    I think Miguel is proof that 1B mashers are hurt too much in WAR. You can’t say that he’s been worth less than Ichiro to his team.

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      You are either just being a homer or being moronic if you are going to continue to argue that Ichiro has not been more valuable than Cabrera. And if you do, bring back some fucking evidence instead of bullshit.

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      • Dwight S. says:

        Cabrera-20HR .337avg .412OBP .628Slg .437wOBA 175RC+

        Ichiro – 3HR .331avg .385OBP .424slg .360wOBA 127RC+

        Cabrera’s numbers DWARF Ichiros in every offensive category except BA where he’s only slightly higher. So Ichiro has been better because he plays RF and has better defense? Honestly I really don’t think so and I certainly don’t think I’d call somebody moronic for thinking that.

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      • Dwight S. says:

        And just to add to this, if the Tigers decided to switch Ordonez and Cabrera defensively and put Cabrera out in RF to loaf around would that make the Tigers or Cabrera any better? I doubt it yet according to WAR it would.(Assuming his UZR is similar there of course)

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      • Naliamegod says:

        Of course it would, it would also be better if he was a average fielding SS. Neither of them are true in reality though.

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      • The Nicker says:

        VEP, as someone who has been trolling around fangraphs as long as you have you think you’d understand that, as it’s the INTERNET people discover new websites, and new ideas, everyday.

        Not only that, but the whole idea with fangraphs is for people to challenge the ideas that are currently held in the SABR, so as to strengthen what we already know and not sit around here like a bunch of yes men agreeing on everything. That’s how this movement got started in the first place, remember? So when somebody makes a statement like this, maybe you should not assume they know as much as you do and go through a helpful answer or explanation, or, even a better idea, just shut up.

        In short, you’re a dick.

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      • Kyle says:

        Yes, Ichiro is about to lead his team into another post season. Blame guys around him, but Verlander doesn’t have a King Felix or Cliff Lee to follow him.

        Cabrera is a better player than Ichiro… sorry… he’s far more valuable and unless Ichiro is on a team where he has a true number 3, 4 hitter who cares? His stats mean nothing for his career. They couldn’t even win when he had a great team around him.

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  7. Josh says:

    Brail lol, can’t be making those kind of mistakes now R.J.

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  8. CircleChange11 says:

    He’s also entering his peak years of 27-29.

    This guy carried DET last year (and they had the worst lineup of the playoff comtenders).

    He puts up “Manny Seasons” (~.300-30-100) with regularity on teams that are less productive than Manny’s Indians and Red Sox.

    He’s Impressive to say the least. IMO, he gets slighted (in some regards) b/c of the position he plays.

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  9. CircleChange11 says:

    If he maintains in 2010, he’ll have 5 years of 5.5+ WAR in 7.5 ML seasons … and he’s only 27.

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  10. Phantom Stranger says:

    Hall of Fame hitter, but should really be a DH. His defense at first is not good to say the least.

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    • It’s not particularly poor. He’ll not be confused with Keith Hernandez, but he isn’t awful.

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    • Alireza says:

      Actually, his 1B defense hasn’t been that bad at all. He has the arm to be a force on the 3-6-3. Indeed, he has the arm to play RF and he has soft hands. No need to waste him on DH.

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  11. CircleChange11 says:

    That sounds like the fielding description of LOTS of first basemen.

    Not too many Keith Hernandezs or Mark Graces playing the position. Heck those two were rare when they played.

    Let’s face it, 1B is where you put the mashed that’s too slow for the OF and doesn’t have the skills for 3B … and it’s also one of the few positions a lefty can play.

    At this point, we should compare 1B to DH. The best thing a 1B can do is “pick it” and I’m not sure that’s reflected in their defensive metrics.

    As the “Armando Galarrage Play” illustrated, when a 1b ranges too far to his right, they often turn an easier play (for the 2B) into a more difficult one , the 3-1. Just because a 1B has range to his right doesn’t mean he should always use it.

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    • Dwight S. says:

      Excellent point. Unless I’m mistaken being able to pick it isn’t factor into their UZR which is one of my biggest beefs about it. I think that is one of the most important aspects of fielding 1B, the ones that are great at it will save countless hit or would be errors throughout the course of the season yet not be rewarded for it.

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  12. d says:

    No, Cabrera is worth much less than a comparably hitting player that plays a more demanding defensive position with the same fielding prowess. There is a much higher supply of people that can play 1B but few that can play SS or catcher well, for example.

    Your post was a little mean, Viva el Pujols.

    @Dwight S., the scooping ability of first baseman has been shown either on this site or on hardballtimes.com to be relatively unimportant, along the lines of a few runs AT MOST per yea.

    If only Cabrera would loose weight and focus on defense so he could be a 3B again….he would be so much more valuable. Sigh.

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    • Richie Abernathy says:

      I love when a people say that a guy who’s hitting .337/.412/.628 needs to “lose” weight. Oh, and by “love”, I mean hate.

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  13. JoeElPaso says:

    I’ve lurked here for a good long time, and I like and understand advanced stats/analysis, but I now am motivated to add a comment because this debate (CWhit vs. VEP) captures something important about the favorite stats at Fangraphs, particularly WAR.

    There is no universally best metric. All metrics must be contextualized against focal concerns (values, interests, etc.). This has been demonstrated in many different ways, qualitative and quantitative, in the social sciences. (For a start, look up Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, which is just one narrow case of this issue.)

    WAR works best against the backdrop of making choices with scarce resources (ditto with its extensions to contract values). It is highly interesting in that regard, such as many good analyses of moves by General Managers and ownership. It is also good for the folks who are interested in roto. But it is not a universally best metric of who contributes the most to their team. For example, I personally do not share the value of conserving contract dollars on behalf of the titans of baseball. I know that we live in a capitalist society, but in my little mental world of fanhood, I just care about metrics related to pure baseball.

    Now, there are other metrics based on various uses of linear weights (for the moment, I am too excited by this to look up the definitions/titles of some of them). You may want to take another approach, but the point would be the same if you were looking at metrics of pure contributions to winning games, without regard to scarcity and team construction. There are good offensive metrics. There are good pitching metrics, and some decent ways of relating them to the offensive metrics. Defensive metrics are considerably more flawed, as we all know, and the weighting involves some challenging assumptions.

    If we look at these non-positional-scarcity based metrics, if we ask who contributes the most to their team winning as such, Cabrera is distinctly better than Ichiro (and I say this with full respect to Ichiro). That is in spite of the fact that Cabrera is a bad defensive player and loses some runs to Ichiro in that regard. We can debate if Cabrera is the best in the AL or even the majors this season (vs. other position players, vs. pitchers), but he is definitely up there.

    I have a scarcity related aside. Offensive talent like Cabrera’s is also scarce. WAR measures offense, but not offensive scarcity. The distribution of talent is non-linear in many regards, ability to play SS, C, or CF, but also the ability to hit like Hank Aaron (which is arguably a good characterization of Cabrera). The statistics of non-linear or non-normal (better said) functions is scary, and someone else would need to construct an offensive scarcity/mediocrity/replacement measure. (I personally think that Cabrera will be the offensively best ballplayer in the majors for the next three or so years, entering his peak just as Pujols leaves his. Now, in total value, Pujols is the superior fielder and runner, Alex Rodriguez continues to add some defensive value to his offense, Mauer adds considerable defensive value,and so forth. But for offensive scarcity, I would put forward the proposition that at this moment, Cabrera is the scarcest player in the MLs).

    Now, let me return to Fangraphs. As I said, I love and understand this site. But it does tend to treat WAR as a universal metric of value, which is a mistake. It does tend to take the General Manager (and behind them, ownership) perspective as an unintended byproduct of that focus. Roster construction is interesting, but so is the beauty of pure performance. The “is Ichiro equivalent to Cabrera debate” does raise such observations.

    Respectfully, Joe

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    • Sky says:

      What is your basis for this claim?

      “If we look at these non-positional-scarcity based metrics, if we ask who contributes the most to their team winning as such, Cabrera is distinctly better than Ichiro (and I say this with full respect to Ichiro). That is in spite of the fact that Cabrera is a bad defensive player and loses some runs to Ichiro in that regard. We can debate if Cabrera is the best in the AL or even the majors this season (vs. other position players, vs. pitchers), but he is definitely up there.”

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      • JoeElPaso says:

        On Fangraph’s WAR page, if we leave off the positional adjustment, Cabrera has 29.2 batting and -4.9 defensively. Ichiro has 11.3 batting (which is what sparked the debate) and 10.4 defensively. Add those two together, and Cabrera has 24.3 while Ichiro has 21.7. Not a vast difference, but yes, distinctly better. And this is setting aside debates over the problems with unifying the fielding metrics with the offensive metrics. I like Ichiro. He’s a wonderful ballplayer. But Cabrera at this time is distinctly better, yes. Now, if the debate had been ballplayers who are comparably excellent offensive players and who also add significantly on defense (H.Ramirez, Cano, A. Rodriguez, Pujols) then the comparison would be different.

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      • JoeElPaso says:

        For some reason, FG does not allow us to reply to our own comment. This is not meant, then, as a criticism of Sky’s point so much as it is further elaboration of my reply. The difference between Cabrera and Ichiro (offense plus defense, minus replacement level and positional adjustment) from the WAR tables is, in my opinion, a **conservative** estimate.

        (1) The offensive statistic here is linear (it is the linear sum of a set of events). But I posited earlier that offensive value is not linear, with high values being non-linearly scarce. Batting order slots are limited–there are only nine of them. Three Ichiro value hitters cannot fully substitute for one Cabrera value hitter. We can ignore this, but it is worth keeping in mind in evaluating the comparison.

        (2) I am not convinced that we can add defensive indices to offensive ones. Just because we can create a numerical scale for both of them does not mean they can be added. The challenge is that we are still limited in our understanding of how to attribute run values to defensive statistics (as well as problems within those statistics). This does not mean that defensive runs don’t exist–I am sure they do. It is that a lot of uncertainty is added by assumptions made in creating comparable scales to offensive runs. Maybe the assumptions are close to correct; maybe they are too generous to defense (or to some defensive roles), maybe insufficiently generous. But since this is most of the ground that Ichiro makes up on Cabrera outside of positional adjustment & replacement floor, we need to bear this fuzziness in mind. In a speculative mode, I find it hard to believe that the number of chances in a game taken by a RF like Ichiro has such a vast run impact, but I won’t say that I claim to be definitely correct–this is just a feel for the data going into the statistic.

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    • Patrick M says:

      Joe – that was a great, insightful comment. That is the one thing I wish Fangraphs would do a slightly better job of – questioning and/or critiquing their own statistics and metrics. Too often have I seen Cameron or someone try to evaluate a GM’s decision to sign a player according to WAR projections and the like, rather than critique their own understanding of what WAR is.

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  14. d says:

    Dude, he is pretty darn fat. It *may* not be affecting his offense too much (although he could stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples not to mention advance more on hits) but it DOES negatively impact his defense.

    Richie Abernathy says:
    July 3, 2010 at 1:11 pm

    I love when a people say that a guy who’s hitting .337/.412/.628 needs to “lose” weight. Oh, and by “love”, I mean hate.

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    • the fume says:

      If you look at his range, it’s pretty average for a first baseman. If you think his weight makes him commit more errors, I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

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  15. CircleChange11 says:

    Looking at “fat” Cabrera, I don’t think he’s really overweight. I think that’s his body type. He does not have fat hanging over his belt. He has a thick torso and big lower body. He’s 27 and we’re likely comparing his body now to his body at 21. Bodies change a bit as we “mature”. He’s fat like Pujols and Dunn are fat (they’re not).

    It’s not like Cabrera let himself go, like say Bartolo or Livan. Cabrera has a “Big Boy” body. I’m not saying he couldn’t lose 10 pounds, but I’m also not saying his weight is negatively affecting his performance.

    It’s like we’re expecting him to be perfect. We don’t ask Ichiro to walk more. We don’t ask Pujols to lose weight to steal more bases.

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  16. Hmm says:

    If we measured Cabrera’s body fat and compared it to Pujol’s body fat, I would bet that Pujols was almost all muscle. Cabrera doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation for being a slim, weight-lifting, fit player. How come he had to move from third base to first base? His body changed? He’s 27, if he can’t stay in shape at 27, that’s pretty embarrassing since that’s his job.

    He’s very slow, and it affects him both defensively and on the basepaths. He may be getting good results offensively because of his great hand-eye coordination. However, if he was more muscular, his results may be even better. Good results do not equal good process.

    He is a very good player. I’m just saying that his potential could be much more if he only was faster and more dedicated to doing the things to improve.

    Dunn actually is like 280 pounds and 6’6″. (well, those are his listed stats. He’s probably like 300 pounds then!) If he were lean, he would be around 230 pounds. You’ll notice that as he has gained significant weight his speed score and base-stealing ability have severely declined.

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    • spindoctor says:

      Not necessarily disagreeing with the premise of your post persay, but its a poor argument to talk about Cabrera moving off of 3B and mentioning Pujols in the same conversation (while talking about Pujols being all muscle) — keep in mind Pujols broke into the bigs as a 3B as well, and also played some LF, before settling in at 1B.

      I doubt you know the BMI for either of those guys to say who is muscle and who is fat. Ragging on Cabrera’s reputation doesn’t take into account the fact that he quit drinking this offseason and re-dedicated himself to the game.

      I’m not saying he’s a pinnacle of health by any stretch, but the argument above is weak and poorly researched.

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      • BVHeck says:

        Pujols’ arm necessitated the move to first. The right elbow ligament that he keeps playing the pain with and getting minor surgeries on. He didn’t move off 3B or LF because of weight issues.

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      • spindoctor says:

        The arm was merely one of the reasons he moved.

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      • Voxx says:

        The arm ‘was’ the primary reason he moved. If the arm was ‘right’, he could still probably play a passable third or left. Could you say the same about a guy like Cabrera? I really doubt it.

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      • Alireza says:

        Voxx – Cabrera’s arm is what would keep him in LF or at 3B. He has an absolute cannon. His problem at 3B was mostly lazy errors.

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  17. CircleChange11 says:

    Pujols was in the opposite situation … fat in JuCo. That led to some thinking he was lazy. Combine that and him playing short resulted in him being drafted outside of the top 10 rounds.

    Cabrera may be carrying some extra pounds or he may just have his “natural, mature body”. But, has he ever been the guy with lots of range and one that normally stretched singles into doubles to increase his value?

    I think we’re making too much of the body issue, and making too many assumptions about how he would perform if he were leaner.

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  18. Mat Gonzales says:

    lolzers @ Brail.

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  19. pujols says:

    Is Pujols actually his listed age? Or is he like Miguel Tejada and 3 years older than the media guide?

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    • Voxx says:

      I think by this point we really do have to assume he’s his listed age. Some point to his ‘massive decline’ this season as proof that he’s older than he says he is, but those were the same ones saying he was 35 in ’07, when he had a ‘down’ year. As much as you can call 8.4 WAR a down year, anyways.

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    • Alireza says:

      In all seriousness, Pujols and his family immigrated to the US when he was in high school and not through a free agent signing. The Department of State generally frowns on and is far better than MLB at sniffing out fake documents.

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  20. CircleChange11 says:

    Folks enough with the Pujols age issue.

    [1] The original commented was probably joking … And it was funny.

    [2] Pujols wasn’t signed out of Latin America.


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  21. Larry says:

    On Pujols”

    Pujols came to the U.S. before 9/11 and perhaps his birth certificate was not prone to scrutiny unlike many of the players from the Dominican Republic who came over to play post 9/11.

    Pujols did become a U.S. citizen post 9/11, so his birth certificate should have been subject to scrutiny.

    Another possibility however is his formal documents may have a different birth date listed and since he has teh Albert Pujols for a while, no one really bothers to scrutinize the 1/16/80 birthdate that maybe off a couple of years or so.

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  22. CircleChange11 says:

    Still, is that enough to take it seriously?

    There has to be more to it than that. Is it just because he’s the best player in the decade? Because he’s on the downside of his career? Or because we HAVE TO find something wrong with him since PEDs are unlikely to prove out.

    I guess I just don’t see the indications or relevance for the suspicion.

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    • Voxx says:

      Probably not much more than simply pettiness on some people’s part. He’s struggled a little bit this year, with worrisome K rates, but when all is said and done, I expect him to be the model of consistency he always is. Perhaps not a 1.100 OPS this season, but he’ll still put up a fairly gaudy WAR total, and a more than satisfactory wOBA.

      Saying he’s on the ‘downside of his career’ might be a bit premature. He could very well continue to perform excellently for a few seasons yet before the decline starts to set in.

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      • Alireza says:

        Even the best players have “down” years. Changing hitting coaches could be affecting things, as can just chalking things up to a bad year. Everyone was moaning about Cabrera being a “National League” player when he had a little bit of a down year in 2008. Then he turned around and started mashing again.

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  23. CircleChange11 says:

    I don’t think AP is on the downside of his career, I just threw that out there as a possible reason for the age conspiracy.

    Pujols was moved to LF to save some throws on his arm. He could probably still play 3B, but it’s also possible that if he did his elbow may have been seriuosly injured by now. Strong throws are a key component of playing a passable 3B. While AP is better than Chris Duncan in LF, I wouldn’t want to see him out there.

    Admittingly I do not watch DET games, but Cabreras range and reactions and hands so poor that he could not play a passable 3B? Seeing that 3B genreally only have to range a step or two to the right or left, it doesn’t seem to be a huge obstacle. But playing him at 1B, like Pujols, generally allows the team to play a better defensive player at the position (although StL has had Glaus and Freese.

    Keeping Pujols at 3B would also have allowed StL to potentially hand on to either Barron or Wallace. The fact that AP remains at 1B indicates to me that he might not be all that passable there, or remain healthy.

    Certainly 1B is one of the easier positions to play, which also factors in to putting a really good hitter there and not “wearing them down” with defense.

    I could envision teams going with a “defense first” type of mentality regarding 3B instead of the traditional “corner power hitter”. Especially sice LF has taken on that role. We often talk of “once in a generation” or “once in a lifetime” type players, but it seems to me that 3B’s that hit a ton and play great defense are scarce (Mike Schmidt, possibly George Brett). In our most recent generation there was/is Rolen, Beltre ?, and Caminiti … When they are all healthy. You don’t normally hear of a really good 1B that can’t stay healthy.

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    • Alireza says:

      Beltre has had 2 great years as a hitter, despite generally good health. Brett wasn’t exactly a great defender, but played well enough to stay on the position. Schmidt was an absolute freak and Rolen is almost a freak, except that his old swing destroyed his shoulder.

      As far as Cabrera goes, he always had the raw tools to play 3B. The problem is that he makes a lot of stupid errors, and can get a little erratic with throws.

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  24. at least says:

    At least Cabrera isn’t a DH. There are a LOT of players that can DH! :)

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  25. CircleChange11 says:

    @Allreza … I agree completely about what you said about the 3B’s, Schmidt is in a class of his own.

    I get a little fatigued how we, as a group, nitpick the great players on occassion. We should just appreciate Miggy for what he does well.

    Pujols jogs to first on routine grounders, yet leads the team in SB’s. I’m fine with the jogging b/c we don’t need AP to strain a hammy trying to make a routine play “close”. He steals bases by picking the right situation to run.

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