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Anchoring Miguel

Last week, Matthew examined the idea of anchoring, or how our perception of a player’s performance on the whole can largely be influenced by very good or very poor production in the first month of the season. No matter what happens from that point forward, unless the player in question belongs to “our” team, we are going to instinctively jump back to the April performance to gauge how he is doing. It is with this in mind that I bring up Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers, the offensively-talented youngster that is usually thought of as a force to be reckoned with when he steps up to the plate.

From 2005-2007, Cabrera posted OPS counts ranging from .947-.998, exhibiting the kind of patience and power that makes any fan of an opposing team feel uneasy. After an off-season trade from the Marlins to the Tigers, some speculated that the change of scenery, or the change in leagues that is, may effect his numbers, much like those of Carlos Beltran and Adrian Beltre. Now, Beltran and Beltre had poor inaugural seasons with their new teams but bounced back quite nicely after that. The Tigers got off to an incredibly disappointing start, and Cabrera’s numbers in April were not necessarily indicative of his proven track record.

He was hitting .270/.359/.470, an .829 OPS, with 5 doubles and 5 home runs. His relatively slow start, coupled with the poor performance of the team, led many to believe this speculation was coming true, and that Cabrera would have a down season. Since May 1st, Cabrera has hit .293/.350/.543, an .893 OPS, with 27 doubles and 28 home runs. On the whole, that brings his seasonal line to .289/.351/.530, an .882 OPS, with 32 doubles and 33 home runs, numbers very similar to those he posted in 2004, his first full year in the majors. In fact, his current OPS+ of 130 is the same as it was back in 2004.

His line has definitely improved since April, but it does not appear that anyone has realized. Not many know he’s got 33 jimmy-jacks this year, or that his ISO of .241 is the second-highest of his career. They just know that he had a slower-than-usual April, and are basing assessments off of that. Granted, his season is well off the Marcel projection of .328/.408/.558, a .966 OPS, but there are some interesting reasons why. First, his BB % is the lowest it has been in a full season in his career, meaning quite simply that he isn’t walking as much. That is one reason his OBP is much lower—the SLG is actually quite similar to year’s past, but the OBP is off. Additionally, his BABIP has ranged from .330-.382 in his career, even being projected at .371 this year. As of right now, it is .312, still technically above average but much lower than what he has established himself capable of. Because of this, not as many hits are falling in, which affects all three components of the slash line.

Cabrera is on a new team, at a new fielding position, in the league with superior talent. All three of those factors could play a big part in his performance this year, or they could have nothing to do with them. If the BABIP is any indication, it seems like an outlier. He could very well “bounce back” next season and post numbers similar to those in Florida, as his true talent level would suggest, but he will need to be a bit more patient at the plate, swinging at less pitches out of the zone, as his percentage is higher this year. A team could do much worse than employ a first baseman with an OPS right around .900, but Cabrera has shown himself capable of so much more than that. His early season performance may still be affecting his current seasonal reputation, but he is still having a very good year, one extremely similar to his 2004 campaign.