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:

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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.


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