Miguel Cabrera’s Most Incredible Strength

Do you want to see footage of Miguel Cabrera hitting a home run? Of course you do. You’re not a monster. Now let me  find the last time he — oh,  right, he hit a homer yesterday. Went yard off John Danks. Sixth time he’s homered in eight games, with two of those coming off Mariano Rivera. Neat little stretch. Here’s the Danks pitch Cabrera got rid of:

cabreradanks

I know it’s kind of blurry, and I included a vertical red line for reference. Let’s watch this loop:

CabreraDanksHR.gif.opt

The camera angle makes it harder to tell, but that pitch was off the plate, inside. According to Gameday, it scraped the edge of the strike zone, so I guess you could say this occupied a gray area where a pitch might be called a ball or a strike. But then it doesn’t matter how this pitch might’ve been called, because Cabrera didn’t leave a chance for a call. Cabrera doesn’t see balls and strikes. Cabrera sees dinger pitches and non-dinger pitches. He’s been seeing a lot of the former, especially lately.

This article was nearly titled something along the lines of “What Miguel Cabrera Does Best,” but then the whole post could’ve just been the word “hitting.” Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball, but we can get more specific than that and use the pitch right above as an example. Cabrera is able to hit everything. Drew Sheppard looked at his plate coverage in May. He’s gone deep on pitches up, down, away and centered. But where Cabrera really excels is inside. Even inside, off the plate. Cabrera’s a good hitter, and pitchers like to try to jam good hitters to neutralize their bat speed. There is no jamming Miguel Cabrera. If anything, that’s the guy’s wheelhouse.

The core of this post is going to be the following table. The front of home plate is 17 inches wide, meaning, from the middle, it extends eight-and-a-half inches in either direction. That’s about seven-tenths of a foot. With the help of Jeff Zimmerman, I looked at every major-league home run hit since 2010. I narrowed down those to home runs hit on pitches at least a foot inside from the plate’s middle. All of these pitches, obviously, are would-be balls. In all, there have been 365 such home runs. Presented below is the top-11 leaderboard:

Batter Dingers
Miguel Cabrera 21
Ryan Zimmerman 13
Delmon Young 7
Nelson Cruz 6
Michael Young 6
Matt Holliday 6
J.P. Arencibia 5
Chris Denorfia 5
Billy Butler 5
Josh Hamilton 5
Pablo Sandoval 5

Since the start of 2010, Miguel Cabrera has hit 21 home runs on pitches at least a foot inside the plate’s center. His home run against Danks doesn’t count. The only other player in double digits is Ryan Zimmerman — and no one else has more than seven. Of the 365 such home runs, Cabrera is responsible for 5.8% of them.

As another look, here are all the home runs by right-handed batters since 2010, and all of the home runs by Cabrera within the same window. The little box is a quick zone approximation, and is intended only for reference. Don’t use it for science.

dingerplotlgcabrera

Cabrera hits his share of “ordinary” home runs. You certainly don’t want to make a mistake over the plate. But it’s not a whole lot better to pitch inside of the plate, because that’s where Cabrera truly stands out. You can try to throw in — and you can hit your spot exactly — but where a lot of hitters would foul off those pitches or ground them weakly, Cabrera has proven he can punish them without breaking a sweat.

Let’s use a neat little feature available at Brooks Baseball. Here’s Cabrera’s slugging percentage by pitch location, since 2010:

cabrerazone

Note that we’re looking at slugging percentage on contact, but you can see Cabrera thrives against the inside pitch. He kind of thrives against all pitches, but he really thrives on inside pitches. As a comparison, here’s Mike Trout since the start of 2012:

troutzone

Trout’s a player with few weaknesses, but Cabrera has an exceptional strength. It isn’t just that he’s successful inside off the plate. It’s that maybe he shouldn’t even be pitched there.

What you’re going to see now are some examples of Cabrera going yard against inside pitches. These are his four most inside home runs, and they’re all from the past two seasons. They’re also four of the seven most inside home runs since 2010. Jeff Francoeur, Delmon Young and Carlos Lee hit the others, if you care yo know. In descending order:

4.

  • Pitcher: James Shields
  • Date: July 21, 2013
  • Location: 1.54 feet inside

CabreraShieldsHR.gif.opt

cabrerashields

This is a home run that got some attention. From the AP game recap:

James Shields thought the pitch was way inside to Cabrera. So did Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost.

It made no difference was [sic]. Cabrera knocked it 387 feet down the left-field line for his 31st home run.

“That pitch was way, way inside,” Yost said. “That ball was five inches inside. You’ve got to tip your cap to him for keeping that ball fair.”

Said Shields, “That’s why he’s the best hitter in the game.”

Cabrera:

“I’m not looking for it (inside),” Cabrera said of the pitch. “I just reacted.”

This pitch was more than a foot-and-a-half from the center of the plate. Meaning it was nearly a foot from the edge of the plate. Cabrera homered, and the ball left the bat at 111.4 mph. Here’s an incomplete selection of guys with at least 20 home runs this season who have yet to hit a single home run that hard:

Cabrera’s home run was faster than all of their home runs. Left un-swung at, the pitch stood a chance of drilling Cabrera in the back leg.

3.

  • Pitcher: Hector Noesi
  • Date: April 26, 2012
  • Location: 1.73 feet inside

CabreraNoesiHR.gif.opt

cabreranoesi

I remember this when it happened. It was windy that day, and Cabrera might’ve gotten a boost from the elements. Chone Figgins, in left field, certainly looked like he didn’t think the ball would keep carrying. On the other hand, Cabrera was the only Tiger to go deep, so it’s not like the conditions made a mockery of the sport. Main point: That pitch became a home run within seconds.

2.

  • Pitcher: Lucas Harrell
  • Date: May 4, 2013
  • Location: 1.75 feet inside

CabreraHarrellHR.gif.opt

cabreraharrell

cabreraharrell2

As Cabrera rounded the bases and returned to the dugout, the Tigers broadcast talked about a time he faced Harrell in spring training. Harrell had apparently knocked the bat out of Cabrera’s hands two times with running two-seam fastballs, which is a pitch Harrell likes to throw. It’s hardly surprising Harrell would’ve tried the same approach in a meaningful game. He didn’t even throw a bad pitch. He threw the pitch he wanted, and he got the swing he wanted. He just didn’t get the outcome he wanted, because Miguel Cabrera has talent — and Miguel Cabrera has a memory.

1.

  • Pitcher: Phil Hughes
  • Date: Aug. 10, 2013
  • Location: 1.88 feet inside

CabreraHughesHR.gif.opt

cabrerahughes

cabrerahughes2

After this happened, Buster Olney tweeted out a screenshot, showing that Cabrera had homered on a pitch inside his own batter’s box. During this series, Cabrera hit a pair of home runs against the greatest closer in the history of baseball, and neither was even his most remarkable home run in New York. Said some of his teammates:

“That was a ball,” [Torii] Hunter said, laughing, mostly because he’s running out of ways to describe what he is watching.

No player in the game hits home runs on pitches out of the strike zone like Cabrera does. When Cabrera hit the inside fastball off Phil Hughes, Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez couldn’t believe it.

“I’ve never seen that before in the big leagues,” he said.

I can’t tell which is more impressive — that Cabrera hit a home run Sanchez said he’d never seen before, or that Sanchez was basically wrong, given what Cabrera had already done to other pitchers. This pitch was only 1.7 inches more inside than the Harrell pitch. True, it was the most inside. But this is a pattern, not an outlier.

There are batters whose arms a pitcher doesn’t want to let get extended. Cabrera is one of them. But Cabrera can also do damage with his arms not extended, as no one in baseball does a better job of keeping his hands in and leading with the bat knob. At that point it’s a whole lot of wrist, and Cabrera doesn’t need to involve that much of his body to knock a ball over the fence. It comes almost too easy to him.

If you look at his player page, Cabrera’s plate-discipline data will suggest he’s aggressive, even out of the zone. It’s true, but it’s also misleading, because Cabrera has his own personal definition of plate discipline. From Baseball Heat Maps, here’s Cabrera’s swing rate against the league average, since 2010. This is only showing plate appearances against right-handed pitchers, but that’ll do just fine. It gets the message across.

cabreraswingzone

Cabrera isn’t just a guy who swings a lot at everything. Over the outer half, he’s average. Over the inner half, he’s increasingly aggressive, showing that Cabrera has a strength and showing that he understands it. Cabrera knows he can destroy inside pitches — even when they’re off the plate — so he swings at them, even though that might increase his O-Swing%. That’s intentional, and it’s the opposite of a problem.

Throw a pitch somewhere in or near the zone, and Miguel Cabrera might hit it out. In every part of the zone, he’s one of the best hitters in baseball. Throw him inside and he’s one of the best hitters in baseball history. Other players have hit inside pitches out, but to be able to do it so consistently, and to still be able to adjust to pitches up or away — there’s a lot that goes into being amazing, even if, for Cabrera, it’s never seemed easier.




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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.


57 Responses to “Miguel Cabrera’s Most Incredible Strength”

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  1. ben says:

    neat article

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  2. Jaack says:

    Apparently Delmon Young is the third best at something baseball related.

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  3. This is crazy. I published an extremely similar piece, not thirty seconds prior.

    Yours has a lot cooler graphics, though.

    http://newenglishd.com/2013/08/15/miguel-cabrera-does-not-respect-inside-pitches/

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  4. nicky p says:

    Memory isn’t exactly infallible but I believe Cab took Kerry Wood deep in the 03 NLCS on a fastball about a foot inside. Took it nearly out of Wrigley as a 20 y/o rookie…

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  5. Funketown says:

    So that’s three of the four furthest inside homers in the majors since 2010 to Cabrera’s credit.

    I’d like to see a pitch distribution on Cabrera. Obviously he makes more contact on inside pitches from the heat map. But is he seeing tons of pitches on the inside edges? If so, I wonder why.

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  6. suicide squeeze says:

    Article idea for the future: Who has been responsible for some of those other yellow dots on the periphery (most notably the one low and away, just outside the zone)? Maybe you could call it “The Best of The Best”

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    • Chooch says:

      I think one of the very low pitches is Hunter Pence from when he played for the Phillies. It looked like he hit a line drive homer off of his shoe tops.

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  7. DD says:

    “I just reacted.”

    Many hitters will tell you that they react to pitches inside but look for pitches away. This is just further proof that when Cabrera isn’t even THINKING at the plate, he is the best. His raw ability is just incredible.

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    • Baroque6 says:

      I think that’s always or at least often in true in sports (and in life, perhaps). It’s the idea of being in the zone, unconscious, unthinking.

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    • Rick Rivas says:

      “Cabrera doesn’t see balls and strikes. Cabrera sees dinger pitches and non-dinger pitches.”

      Yeah. Seeing balls and strikes is actually not seeing balls and strikes; it’s thinking balls and strikes–concepts that are an umpires concern. Reacting as a hitter is related to what you see not what you think. If a hitter is thinking, he is not seeing. I think? Put me down for this or the opposite of this. Nothing else.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      You can’t think at the plate. There’s not enough time.

      What Miggy has done is work on his swing so much that it’s automatic.

      He has tremendous plate coverage and very few can get their hands inside the ball like that.

      Interesting that he went away from the stride and just lifts his heel off the ground now. Everything starts at heel drop.

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      • Jim Bouldin says:

        I believe the idea there is that you do the thinking about what the pitcher might throw before he actually does so.

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  8. Resolution says:

    Mr. Sullivan,

    Can you please make a .gif file of that time Miguel Cabrera drank some of Albert Pujols’ blood to make the former the best hitter in baseball by far and the latter an above-average-hitting-shell-of-his-former-self?

    Thank you.

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  9. Edgardo Carrero says:

    Awesome article! I’m Venezuelan and a big fan of Miguel since he showed up in Winter Ball… Mariano Rivera got a pair of pitches inside the last time he faced him, then Miguel hit it out of the park. But that’s the thing about facing Miguel, you need to get past him in 6-7 pitches! Those are 6-7 chances to put the ball in play.

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  10. Cubzen says:

    As much as I love everything about this article, my favorite part has to be Harrell’s hop.

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    • KDL says:

      I came down here to write the same thing. Poor guy looked so happy to get a foul-ball strike on Cabrera, until he saw what was really happening.

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    • AC of DC says:

      Also good is Romine’s immediately-aware, “well, damnit” arm drop after the unconscious glove snap on empty air in the Hughes .gif.

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  11. siggian says:

    I could have sworn Jose Bautista would be on the list of guys who hit pitches inside for HRs. I thought Jose usually just crushes those pitches. But I guess that instead of swinging at the very inside pitches, he either lays off them for a ball or does what every one does with them, which is miss, foul, or make weak contact.

    So, you can throw an inside ball to Jose; just don’t throw an inside strike.

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  12. Moves Like Munenori says:

    The only other guy I’ve seen that seemed to be able to turn on pitches like that was Gary Sheffield. I wonder if there is data to support my eyes.

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  13. Ray says:

    Ryne Sandberg’s bread and butter were keeping inside pitchers fair down the line.

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  14. fergie348 says:

    Every example I saw here was a fastball of some kind, 2 seamers and cutters mostly. That’s got to inform the scouting report, doesn’t it? If he covers those pitches then maybe throw him hard away and soft stuff in. Of course, you can’t miss with the soft stuff in and catch too much of the plate or BOOM!. Yeah, he’s pretty incredible..

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  15. Phantom Stranger says:

    What’s interesting about Miguel is his approach at the plate is really nothing like the great hitters of the prior generation, like Bonds or Manny. Bonds narrowed the strike zone so much that he would sit back and wait on his pitch to drive, using his incredible bat speed to turn on a ball at the last minute.

    Miguel seems much less interested in dictating where the pitcher throws the ball. In that respect the approach reminds me greatly of Tony Gwynn, but obviously with much more power.

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  16. Stan says:

    Why is every single camera angle so horrible? Is it that hard to get a camera set up in front of home plate? I know its possible because I watch Sox games and the local broadcast has the perfect angle, looking straight at home plate. Bizzare.

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  17. Mac says:

    So, does Cabrera have a hole in his swing?

    Barry Bonds used to say that there was a spot where, if a pitcher could hit it, Bonds would almost always miss. This spot was about exactly one baseball in size, and if the pitcher missed the ball was gone.

    Just re-read Moneyball, wherein Michael Lewis claimed that Jason Giambi at his best had a hole about the size of pitcher of milk.

    These pitchers who keep going inside on Cabrera, I can only image they’re aiming for something similar, otherwise why would you ever go inside on this god of inside plate HRs?

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    • Nathan says:

      The slugging by pitch location graphs shows that if you can hit that quadrant that’s as far up and in as you can go, and still be in the zone, you can get him out. The problem is (as you can see from the same graphic) that since Cabrera has a great eye and knows when to be patient, aiming for that spot is high-risk/high-reward for the pitcher. You gotta hit that spot a couple times in a PA. If you miss it up or in, you’re throwing a ball. And if you miss it down or down and in, you’re throwing an extra-bases pitch for Cabrera to drive.

      The thing that’s really shocking and impressive about Cabrera this season is that either one of two things are happening… either pitchers are still pitching to him regularly, for some crazy reason, or they think they’re throwing garbage and it just doesn’t matter. Having Hunter in the 2 spot has probably helped Cabrera see more pitches (don’t have time to look up data at the moment, but if someone else does, I’d be interested), but at the same time having Fielder struggle behind him you’d think would lead teams to be more likely to pitch around him.

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  18. Nick O says:

    Cabrera seems to stand off the plate a bit more than the typical slugger. Could he be even better if he stood a bit off the plate? Seems like he would still be able to crush it when pitchers went inside and would be able to cover a little bit more off the plate as well. I mean, on some level you don’t wanna mess with perfection, but man, seems like he could may be be even better.

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  19. JohnF says:

    Am I the only one who giggled, a little, at “keeping his hands in and leading with the bat knob”?

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  20. Dillon says:

    Never thought I’d see the day when J.P. Arencibia would share a leader board, any leader board, with Miguel Cabrera. Unless perhaps it was for the most atrocious defense. Certainly no leader board anyone would want to be a part of.

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  21. Cus says:

    It would be interesting to see an aerial view of his swing to try to determine why he can keep those balls fair. A lot of players can hit home-run distant foul balls on those pitches, but they generally have a lot of hook spin. I expect he is able able to keep the barrel even or behind his hands and wrists through a greater portion of his swing plane than other players, even while opening his hips to get extra clearance.

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  22. Billy says:

    I love the very similar reaction all 4 pitchers have in the gifs. Temporarily not looking back after the swing as 99.9% of the time the ball doesn’t go where Cabrera hits it….then the shocked turn to see the ball disappearing. I bet if the gif’s were just a few seconds longer, each pitcher would be seen giving Miggy the finger.

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  23. bjfan says:

    Hey Jeff.

    There is one thing not accounted for in your charts and that is where players stand next to the plate I would not be surprised if most of the leader board are players who stand far from the plate
    Obviously it does not change your point: don’t throw inside to cabrera
    Jose Bautista hits balls like that on a fairly common basis but he notoriously crowds the plate

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    • Cluth says:

      What’s “fairly common basis”? And why doesn’t it show up at all in the research above? The location of a pitch is determined from the center of the plate.

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      • Chris says:

        I believe bjfan was referring to the distance of the ball from the batter. When talking about Bautista, the claim is that he is hitting balls that are just as far in on his hands, but because of his location relative to the plate they wouldn’t show up as far inside.

        It really is a question of how you define “inside”. Is it inches off the plate, or inches from the batter. the standard when talking from a pitchers perspective is how far off the plate is it, but if we’re curious who can handle pitches the closest to their body, you’d want to know how close it was to the batter.

        IMO knowing how far off the plate is more important, since the plate is the object of the strike zone, and not the batter’s position.

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  24. Really surprised about Ryan Zimmerman hitting so many inside pitches for homers. If anything I thought he would be better at hitting on the outside edge for homers – I’ve seen him launch balls to the opposite field.
    Ergo – don’t pitch Zim outside the zone.

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  25. kmtierney00 says:

    I can fap to this bit of Miggy porn…..

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  26. chief00 says:

    Thanks for including the link to Jeff’s article. That first .gif shows my favourite 6 Cabrera homers. I still can’t believe he hit them at the same time.

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  27. Mr. Cabrera achieved an incredible inverted dong on a fastball well off the plate from Mr. Corey Kluber earlier this season. methinks it was in june, but I’m not that good at internet, so i cannot find it. methinks it must have been six inches in (considerably more than enough), and Mr. Cabrera deposited it roughly 1,000 rows up in the left field bleachers at Mr. Jacobs Park in Cleveland. at the time, i considered it the most impressive inverted dong i’ve ever set my eyes upon.

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  28. potcircle says:

    Remember the year Bonds hit seventy-three, and everyone knew he
    was juiced? He was a little guy and
    he got big and started hitting
    everything. That all started
    because of that 2000 playoff game
    against the Mets, when Franco rang
    him up on that called inside strike
    to end the playoffs. It was bullshit.
    The ball was inside and Barry knew
    it and he took it and the ump rang
    his ass up in a hurry to make a tee
    time. But the thing was, that pitch,
    until then was the way to get him
    out. High and inside, just off the
    plate. Well, Barry spent that whole
    offseason learning how to take that
    pitch and hit it into the water.
    Keep it fair & get the bathead around.

    In 2001, Bonds hit about fifteen home
    runs off that pitch. But the pitchers
    couldn’t adjust, because he could
    take the outside pitch out, too.
    What’s even crazier is that PacBell
    that year had a lefty home run factor
    of forty-nine. Barry was the only
    guy hitting them out of there.

    anyhow, looks like cabrera learned to do it, too…

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  29. ValueArb says:

    Not sure why you guys get so excited about this stiff, Cabrera is just on another hot streak and when it fades he’ll go back to being just a good hitter with lousy defense. I still remember how his latest heater started, he hit a couple easy dingers off some terrible pitcher who was so bad he’s already been sent down, and Cabrera has just kept the ball rolling a little while on sheer confidence. Won’t last. Oh yea, it was

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  30. betolozada says:

    LOL on that sarcasm Arb… kinda loooonnnngggg streak though… cheers.

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