The A’s Against the Shell of Miguel Cabrera

One of the weird things you just get used to when you’re a hockey fan is the vague, non-informative reportage of injuries, especially around playoff time. If a guy has a broken foot, it’s a lower-body injury. If a guy sustained a concussion, it’s an upper-body injury. No one ever goes into specifics until a playoff run is over, nominally so as not to give the other team some kind of advantage. If a guy’s playing through pain, you don’t want the other team targeting his sore spots, after all. Once a team is eliminated, or wins the Stanley Cup, everything comes out, and everyone admits what they’ve been dealing with. By the end, nobody’s healthy.

Tony Paul’s suspicion is that, whenever the Tigers are done playing baseball, everyone will come clean about what’s going on with Miguel Cabrera. It’s no secret that Cabrera’s playing hurt, and we’ve all heard about his litany of aches and pains, but we might not have a true understanding of how bad things have gotten. I don’t know, that’s speculation, but Cabrera most certainly doesn’t look like himself. He most certainly didn’t look like himself — or perform like himself — in September, as nagging pains mounted. The Tigers, like everyone, are more than just one player, and they’ve still got a shot at a title, but they’d have a better shot with a healthy Cabrera, a Cabrera who doesn’t presently exist.

Sam Miller posed a question on Twitter the other day just as I was thinking about the same question to myself. Cabrera’s a superstar, a probable MVP, and he was just worth a career-high 7.6 WAR. He’s the most important player on the Tigers, not that they’re hurting for star-level talent. But what would Cabrera’s WAR be now? That is, if Cabrera played a full season like this, how would his numbers turn out? It’s almost inconceivable that this version of Cabrera would play a full season and stay at third base, but consider it as a thought exercise. Cabrera’s obviously limited in the field, even more than before. He can’t run, such that doubles are singles and certain singles are outs. I can’t speak to the degree to which his power is sapped, but his power is sapped at least some, so basically, Cabrera’s worse everywhere.

How much worse? Two wins worse? Five wins worse? 7.6 wins worse? More than that worse? Is Miguel Cabrera, right now, an average player? Is he a replacement-level player, or a below-replacement-level player? Would the Tigers genuinely be better off sitting Cabrera, shifting Jhonny Peralta back to the infield, and playing an extra like Andy Dirks? We can’t know the answer, and the Tigers won’t sit Cabrera as long as he’s ambulatory, but I think this is fascinating to think about. Miguel Cabrera is ordinarily terrifying, but right now he’s Miguel Cabrera in name only. He is not the American League’s most valuable player. He is not the Tigers’ most valuable player. More than anything, he might be an un-sittable burden.

Let’s just say, for the sake of simplicity, Game 5 between Detroit and Oakland is a perfect coin flip. 50/50, between Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray on Oakland’s own turf. If Cabrera were, say, five wins worse, Detroit’s odds of winning would drop from about 50% to a hair under 47%. Replacement-level Cabrera? 45%. It’s evident that Cabrera isn’t everything; it’s evident that Cabrera is important.

This season, the Tigers posted a team 113 wRC+, while Cabrera himself came in at 192. Here’s a small table of what the Tigers’ offense would be with inferior versions of Cabrera in the middle:

Cabrera wRC+ Tigers wRC+
192 113
150 109
125 107
100 104
90 103

With a worse Cabrera, the Tigers remain a good offense, but they fall short of being a great offense, to say nothing about Cabrera’s inhibited running and defense. He is, right now, the very definition of a base-clogger, at least when he’s able to get on base, and I don’t know why the A’s haven’t attempted to bunt the ball right at him a handful of times. It seems like there’s an opportunity there to be exploited. Maybe they’re saving it.

Cabrera’s worse right now, and more, the A’s know it. They’ve treated him like it, at least when he’s been hitting. Here’s Cabrera’s longest pulled ball in play of the series:

cabreradistance

Here are his two overall longest balls in play of the series:

cabreradistanceoverall2

cabreradistanceoverall

It’s been a continuation of a September in which Cabrera went deep only once, slugging .333. It’s incredibly, underratedly easy to overreact to what’s happened over just four games in October, but you do get the sense Cabrera has mis-hit pitches he used to be able to drive. Or he hit them square, and hitting balls square doesn’t mean the same thing right now as it did two or three months ago.

The A’s, as a staff, have thrown a lot of fastballs in this series. Cabrera, during the season, saw just about as many fastballs as his teammates did. His teammates, in the ALDS, have seen 78% fastballs. Cabrera himself has seen 87% fastballs. It’s been 45 out of 52 pitches, as the A’s evidently don’t believe that he’s able to catch up and impart the usual force. Cabrera’s done nothing to prove them wrong — he has four hits in four games, but they’ve all been singles, and they’ve been spread over 16 at-bats. He hit one potential groundball double, but he doesn’t have the legs to take the second 90 feet.

And beyond the pitch types, the A’s have taken another step to customize their Cabrera-specific approach. Here are all of the pitch locations, separating out those from tonight’s starter:

ascabrera1

During the regular season, 33% of pitches to Cabrera were over or within the inner third, and 46% of pitches to Cabrera were over or beyond the outer third. During this series, 27% of pitches to Cabrera have been over or within the inner third, and 63% of pitches to Cabrera have been over or beyond the other third. The A’s have tried to pitch Cabrera away, and if those numbers aren’t telling enough, consider that Cabrera has seen 14 inside pitches so far. Here are the intended locations of nine of those:

cabrera1

cabrera2

cabrera3

cabrera4

cabrera5

cabrera6

cabrera7

cabrera8

cabrera9

Nine of those 14 inside pitches were supposed to be outside pitches. Five of them, therefore, were supposed to be inside pitches, but you obviously have to keep a hitter honest, and Cabrera likes to swing at pitches inside. Stay appropriately low and in, and you can get a foul ball or a weak ball in play. The TBS broadcasters speculated initially that the A’s would try to pound a hurting Cabrera inside, believing he wouldn’t be able to catch up. They might believe, instead, that inside is where Cabrera could maximize his bat speed, and by staying away, they’ll force him to right and up the middle, where he doesn’t have the strength to punish them these days. Everyone can pull the ball harder than they can shoot the ball to the opposite field. The A’s have tried to keep Cabrera to the opposite field, and it’s worked, and there’s no reason to believe they’ll do differently Thursday night. You still have to respect a hitter like Cabrera because his natural talent is virtually unparalleled, but when he’s right, he’s a hitter without weaknesses. He’s a hitter with weaknesses today.

For all I and the A’s know, Cabrera’s doing better than he’s looked, and tonight he’ll go yard and win a ballgame. It’s easy to pile on a guy when he’s struggling, and sometimes those struggles don’t represent how good a player actually still is. Cabrera’s wrists are fine. His mind is fine. His approach is fine. It’s Cabrera’s lower body that’s letting him down, and maybe for a swing or two or three, he’ll manage to feel well enough. But for more than a month, there’s been little indication that Miguel Cabrera is still a special player. There’s been the value of his name, there’ve been the ovations in Detroit, but these are acknowledgments of what Cabrera’s done in the past. He’s not doing much in the present, and the A’s seem to have a plan to get him out. For once, it’s the pitchers against Cabrera who have the advantage. For once, it’s Miguel Cabrera who has to prove his own ability.



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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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Dan
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Dan
2 years 10 months ago

It’s no secret he’s absolutely useless right now and probably below replacement level. If it wouldn’t be such a PR disaster, they would be much better off simply not playing him for the rest of the playoffs. I suspect he will need surgery as soon as the season ends.

Jake
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Jake
2 years 10 months ago

One day later, this comment looks hilarious.

theroundsquare
Guest
theroundsquare
2 years 10 months ago

Best hockey “lower body injury” also came from Detroit, involving Nick Lidstrom a few years ago. Anyhow, I wonder if a nerve blocker would help Cabrera. Is that even permitted in MLB?

bowie
Member
bowie
2 years 10 months ago

Wondering why the A’s haven’t been bunting more to exploit Cabrera’s very limited mobility.

Matthew
Guest
Matthew
2 years 10 months ago

I think it may be the same reason the Yankees didn’t bunt against Curt Schilling in 2004: it comes off as unsportsmenlike and it has an unwritten-rule feel to it. I mean, I tend to think if you are dumb enough to send out a crippled player to the field you should be punished for it, but I really can imagine both the 2004 Yankees and 2013 A’s saying in the clubhouse, “we don’t need to win like that.”

BIP
Guest
BIP
2 years 10 months ago

I think it has to do more with the stigma of bunting being weak and unmanly. Players won’t even bunt against shifts!

wally
Guest
wally
2 years 10 months ago

I think its because when batters that might try to bunt for a hit are up (ie Sogard, Crisp), Cabrera is moving up almost even with the pitcher. Same with possible sacrifice situations.

If he’s playing that far up, you have to try to swing away, or maybe bunt it past him. Even with his glacially slow speed, he should be able to put out most bunters from where he’s playing.

Brian McCann
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Brian McCann
2 years 10 months ago

Damn straight. No place in the game for it.

Helladecimal
Guest
Helladecimal
2 years 10 months ago

Weird explanation. If hitters bunt to break up a no-hitter, they sure as hell will bunt with the aim of winning a game by exploiting an obvious weakness.

Magical Girl
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Magical Girl
2 years 10 months ago

Cabrera has been playing so close to home, it’s like every A’s hitter is bunting.

Richie
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Richie
2 years 10 months ago

Also, bunting’s just not that easy, guys.

Alex D
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Alex D
2 years 10 months ago

“But what would Cabrera’s WAR be now? That is, if Cabrera played a full season like this, how would his numbers turn out?” I kept thinking this article would answer this question….. I know its hard to project from such a small sample but if anyone can answer it for me its the fine writers of FanGraphs. How about a follow up piece?

wally
Guest
wally
2 years 10 months ago

His wOBA has dropped from the high 400s to .329 in September. His defense was already very bad, but he’s probably now -20 or worse. His baserunning has also always been bad, but he’s probably lost a win there too. If he played a full season like this, I’d be surprised if he was worth 2 wins. Right now he looks like he has an average bat with zero or negative fielding value and negative base running value. 2 WAR tops.

But like Jeff says, he’s only playing one game tonight. Average hitters can go yard in one game. I’m sure Cabrera could still hank a mistake a mile to left with his lower have encased in cement. So as an A’s fan, I hope they still pitch to him like he’s the Cabrera we knew from April-August.

JayT
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JayT
2 years 10 months ago

This site’s war calculator does a pretty decent job of giving you a ballpark number:
http://wahoosonfirst.com/war-calculator/the-calculators/version-2-1/

Using this, and putting him as bad as it will let you on defense and baserunning (-15 runs and -5 respectively, probably not low enough for where Cabrera is at right now), it says he would have 0.2 war over 600 PAs using his September stats.

Alex D
Guest
Alex D
2 years 10 months ago

Thanks!

Jim Price
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Jim Price
2 years 10 months ago

It appears Miggy is still worth 1 WAR.

Leyland...argh
Guest
Leyland...argh
2 years 10 months ago

I’m so sick of the bad managing of Leyland. Yes, the results are good, but they have occurred in spite of his poor lineup construction, misuse of players, and also for being stubborn and not sitting Cabrera when the Tigers had a 99.9% or whatever chance of making the playoffs a month ago. Give a very loaded team to an incompetent manager and they can still win. There are a lot of incompetent people occupying high positions of authority. And no, just because he is an MLB manager doesn’t mean that he is competent.

The clubhouse camaraderie or whatever that he may bring to the table plays a role, yes, but if it is so important why is Frenchy finally out of the MLB? Hit a wRC+ of 42 with poor defense in the outfield and all the good luck charms and smiles you provide to the clubhouse won’t overcome the outs you produce on the field. End rant. :(

A few more years, hopefully, until he is gone.

Gyre
Guest
Gyre
2 years 10 months ago

I’m so sick of no-nothing fans shooting off on the web. Apparently, Mr Rage here missed the press asking the same question some time ago, with the reply that Cabrera had a choice to be on the field every day, Leyland checked with him about it daily. I guess Mr Rage would be been off about how Leyland sat MC too much had the triple-crown winner not hit a shot after sitting out the last week.

Helladecimal
Guest
Helladecimal
2 years 10 months ago

So emo

I'm sick of you
Guest
I'm sick of you
2 years 10 months ago

I’m sick of people calling other fans “no-nothing.” Most likely, I am smarter based on where I went to college and the doctoral program (medicine) I am in. You may be an engineer or have an MD/PhD under your belt, but I like my odds.

I’m sick of people that focus on one game results (one bat results, really) instead of the process. The fact that Cabrera has been a shell of himself and near replacement level for the last 120 at bats or so doesn’t matter. It is all about that fact that his one big hit occurred now. It doesn’t matter that he was a non factor for the first four games and even a liability.

asdfasdf
Guest
asdfasdf
2 years 10 months ago

I don’t think there’s anyway to come off as a bigger douchebag than you just did.

The Royal We?
Guest
The Royal We?
2 years 10 months ago

asd below me is right, but i stil like the comment i’m sick made. i’m so tired of retards assuming people in authority are always right and those who dare to question them are know-nothings who sit in their basement, etc. i think being a douche to that kind of douche is warranted.

Longball
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Longball
2 years 10 months ago

If you don’t like people focusing on one at-bat, you shouldn’t focus on only 120 at-bats.

Both are pretty much worthless statistically.

dave k
Guest
dave k
2 years 10 months ago

Most doctors (based on several studies) don’t understand basic statistics and false positives. Be careful throwing around the word “smart.” It’s relative.

yes, it was a douchey comment
Guest
yes, it was a douchey comment
2 years 10 months ago

@Gyre

FYI, I have been following the circumstances regarding Cabrera’s injury. You assumed that I did not. Also, just because somebody says that they are “ok” to play doesn’t mean that they are well. If I see a basketball player that usually has mad hops and has a game revolving around slashing to the basket suddenly lose all his explosiveness and starts to suck when they have many years of all-star play, should I question that…hmmmm.

Who cares if somebody is acting like a douche. It just matters if they are right or not.

Sonny Gray FTW
Guest
Sonny Gray FTW
2 years 10 months ago

If you look at Cabrera’s SEPT/OCT split in the FG stats section, it showes 0.1 WAR. Multiply that by 6 and you get 0.6 WAR for a 6 month season. I know that’s quick and dirty, but there you have it.

0.6 WAR, by the way, is what Billy Hamilton produced in 22 PAs.

Sonny Gray FTW
Guest
Sonny Gray FTW
2 years 10 months ago

Whoops, that’s supposed to be reply to Alex D.

Alex D
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Alex D
2 years 10 months ago

Thanks!

Gyre
Guest
Gyre
2 years 10 months ago

I guess your beloved stats have No Predictive Value

Jason B
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Jason B
2 years 10 months ago

You nailed it! A guy hit a home run in one game, thereby rendering all stats worthless forevermore!!

Also some guy won the lottery once so obviously that is a good investment, I’m liquidating my entire retirement account for scratch-offs and pull-tabs!

And a guy died in a car one time, so driving is for suckers with a death wish. Nothing but walking for me from now on!

The Royal We?
Guest
The Royal We?
2 years 10 months ago

slow clap. god i wish stupidity were extremely painful and deadly (and not in just a darwin awards sense)

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 10 months ago

Without a productive Cabrera the Tigers have no hope of going anywhere even if they won the ALDS. Might as well take the longer vacation. Lose with the guys that got you there.

Maybe they hope if they shoot him up with Toradol he can go yard. Or at least Cabrera in the lineup may get the hitter in front of him a better pitch.

phoenix2042
Guest
phoenix2042
2 years 10 months ago

And then he homers to break up the dueling no-hitters…

Anon21
Member
Anon21
2 years 10 months ago

Hunter singled ahead of him to break up the no-hitter.

Dave
Guest
Dave
2 years 10 months ago

Welp.

Rob
Guest
Rob
2 years 10 months ago

The shell wins.

Nivra
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Nivra
2 years 10 months ago

There is no shell.

Ruki Motomiya
Guest
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 10 months ago

Of course, then he homers, probably just because he read this article and it made him upset.

phoenix2042
Guest
phoenix2042
2 years 10 months ago

I feel like this is what always happen: Fangraphs writer astutely points out why something is extremely improbable, follow by (causing it?) happening.

defense
Guest
defense
2 years 10 months ago

gambler’s fallacy

quincy0191
Guest
quincy0191
2 years 10 months ago

Gambler’s fallacy is the idea that consecutive independent events are related; “The roulette wheel stopped on red the last four times in a row, so this time it has to be black!”.

This is superstition and coincidence, pure and simple.

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 10 months ago

SSS highs or lows, observation of the high or low, followed by regression kicking in.

The observation is correct, but the root cause of the high or low is unknown most of the time, and even when it is known, batters/pitchers make adjustments or get healthy/injured, and sometimes, perhaps tonight, luck can make even the best of predictions look bad.

Good managers don’t react to SSS data in the case of superstars whose true talent is well known, while lesser players who are unproven, like Iglesias, get benched.

Iglesias probably saves Verlanders no hitter on that GB Peralta could not reach, but who knows what happens after.

SH
Guest
SH
2 years 10 months ago

What if every player stayed healthy all season long? It’s a fun exercise, but the adage is that no player is completely healthy by the end of the season. What if he didn’t face pitchers who weren’t also hurt and didn’t have hurt defenders out there when he was batting? The “how good could he have been” wasn’t the main conclusion, but still.

Cool Lester Smooth
Guest
Cool Lester Smooth
2 years 10 months ago

I think the A’s are wishing they had faced someone other than the shell of Miguel Cabrera right now.

Gyre
Guest
Gyre
2 years 10 months ago

“For all I and the A’s know, Cabrera’s doing better than he’s looked, and tonight he’ll go yard and win a ballgame.”

hope you got a lotto ticket too!

Jason
Guest
Jason
2 years 10 months ago

The snapping turtle comes out of his shell!

Granted, that pitch was an absolute cookie – an awful mistake by Gray. But Miggy still hit it.

The Party Bird
Guest
The Party Bird
2 years 10 months ago

I wouldn’t call that a cookie. It took some bat speed to be able to get around on that with the velocity and the up-and-in location. Give that same pitch to the average hitter and they will usually swing and miss or get jammed.

Kirk Gibson
Guest
Kirk Gibson
2 years 10 months ago

Hey guys!

Helladecimal
Guest
Helladecimal
2 years 10 months ago

That Tony Paul article might be the single worst piece of “professional” baseball writing I’ve read this year.

Give Cabrera the MVP because he’s playing hurt? LOL

Miguel Cabrera
Guest
Miguel Cabrera
2 years 10 months ago

Yo Jeff, you’re my favorite Fangraph’s writer. Keep it real.

Chad Wojciechowski
Guest
2 years 10 months ago

The shell of Cabrera makes all the fangraphs writers sad. MVP

Cybo
Guest
Cybo
2 years 10 months ago

The shell of Miggy put a no doubter into the wind coming in from left. Miggy is awesome.

Todd Criner
Guest
Todd Criner
2 years 10 months ago

Awful, awful pitch by Gray on that blast tonight. When hitter as good as Cabrera is all upper body, that’s the absolute last place you want to put it. Either Gray badly missed his spot, or it was a foolish/unnecessary gamble by the A’s. Pretty sure Boston won’t make the same mistake.

Cybo
Guest
Cybo
2 years 10 months ago

“”Pretty sure Boston won’t make the same mistake.””

Totally. That’s a very A’s thing to do. Boston’s arms are much too awesome to allow such a thing to happen.

Purple Jesus
Guest
Purple Jesus
2 years 10 months ago

well it sure looks like the shell of Miggy got it done. Smh.

Todd Criner
Guest
Todd Criner
2 years 10 months ago

Congrats, you’re the 100th person to say that now!

Just because he’s a “shell” of Miguel Cabrera doesn’t mean it’s impossible for him to hit home runs. He’s still the best hitter on the planet, and he’s more than capable of hammering mistake pitches…

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