Miguel Cabrera: Creating a Personal Drafting Plan

The projection systems love Miguel Cabrera. To them, he’s a hitter who performed decent in the first half and struggled in the second half. The projections don’t know that he has two herniated discs in his back. Because of the injury, his wOBA dropped from .339 in the first half to .274 in the 2nd half. Using projections, he’s the 54th highest ranked player but owners have pushed his ADP closer to 100th. It’s time to determine why the disconnect.

It was definitely a tale of two halves for Cabrera.

Miguel Cabrera’s 2017 1st & 2nd Halves
Monthly AVG OBP SLG BABIP BB% K%
1st Half .264 .357 .440 .307 12.1% 20.4%
2nd Half .230 .288 .342 .272 7.4% 21.4%

His OBP dropped under .300 and his SLG under .400. He hit like most catchers. Pitchers even noticed the difference with his intentional walks dropping from five in the first half to just one in the second half. He wasn’t a feared hitter. The production dropped can also be seen by his exit velocity (EV) numbers dropping.

Miguel Cabrera’s Exit Velocity
Time Avg EV
2015 92.0
2016 87.8
April 2017 91.2
May 2017 91.1
June 2017 86.2
July 2017 82.8
Aug 2017 82.0
Sep 2017 85.3

His production started degrading in June when his herniated discs began acting up.

Usually, I don’t discount hitters who are injury prone. But there is one exception, those with chronic injuries like David Wright’s back and Prince Fielder’s neck. Chronic injuries aren’t going away and end up destroying a hitter’s value.

I asked our own Mike Sonne about the implications of herniated discs. Here are some notes from the conversation:

“I looked at just guys who had a “disc injury”, after 30, and before 30. There were 27 players who had it after 30, 18 before 30. No one who had it before 30 had a recurrence, 4 of the guys after 30 had a recurrence (about 15% of them).”

So some chance of a reoccurrence

“The guys who had disc injuries after 34 (Cabrera’s age), it looks like it kind of signaled the end. Adrian Gonzalez, Placido Polanco, Kevin Youkilis, Juan Gonzalez, Todd Helton, Travis Hafner, Scott Rolen. Not that it caused the end, but there wasn’t much left after that.”

Not a good list here and one I may latch onto.

Using my injury database, I compared hitters before and after herniated back injuries. Their on-base and power skills stayed constant from season to season. It’s not just the back, it’s like the back, age, and all the other injuries the player’s occurred over his career cause their downfall.

And finally, how the injury would affect his production.

“In general, biomech/ergo talk, the torsion of a baseball swing can create a lot of pressure on a disc. Definitely can cause it to become hurt. In Cabrera’s case, if there is pain from a disc injury, there could be inflammation/inhibition that is going to cause him to rotate a lot slower than pre-injury. So, expectations are – possibly slower bat speed, less consistent mechanics – and having to play 1st is going to exacerbate it.”

All this information confirms his statistics, mainly he would have a slower bat speed which can be seen in his exit velocity.

I broke out some before and after video of Cabrera’s swing and couldn’t tell a major difference in bat speed. While I usually can find some swing differences his swing is so short and sweet, I had to bring in the big gun. I asked our own Eric Longenhagen to compare his first and second half swings to see if the injury could be visible to a well-trained scouts eye. Here’s his thoughts:

“[I] just don’t think he’s rotating as explosively. His hands are still incredible, timing is there, just don’t think he’s rotating as well and that his footwork is sometimes compromised by his discomfort.”

I still couldn’t see the difference but for reference, here are two of his swings at fastballs down the middle from before and after the injury started affecting him for reference.

Before

After

After putting it all the preceding pieces of information together, I’m going to use the following rules with him this offseason.

  1. I’m not going to rely on him for production until I know he’s healthy. In shallow leagues, I would draft him late and if he struggles to hit, pick up another bat. With his ADP hovering around 100, I don’t see myself owning him except in the league I already drafted him.
  2. Once spring training starts, listen for anything on his status like “starting him off slow”, “sitting today out”, or “not running yet”. These are huge red flags and let someone else buy him.
  3. I’m mainly interested in first-hand scouting reports. Does his swing look normal or is he still not rotating? If healthy, he could be productive using my “One-Month Rule”* and be a 1st to 3rd round talent. I may move him up and try to get him near or just before his ADP.

In all, I’m out with Cabrera and will let him be another owner’s problem. But if reports are extremely positive from spring training on his swing, I’ll going to monitor his costs and buy in if the cost is right.

 

 

* I’ve been using the “One-Month Rule” personally for a couple of years but after searching past articles, I’ve never written about it. The Rule applies to older, often injured hitters. I look for the best month the previous season to see if he can put together 30 days of decent production?

If a good stretch exists, I may gamble on him. If healthy, this guy can be productive hitters, like Ryan Zimmerman in 2017, until he does break down. There is a chance the cards could lineup and a full productive season happens (e.g. Victor Martinez in 2014 and 2016).

If they were never healthy enough to be productive for a month, I’ll try to stay away.

For reference, here are the hitters over 33 and their best 2017 month (min 75 PA).

Most Productive Months of 2017 For Mature Hitters
Name PA wRC+
Ryan Zimmerman 105 241
Justin Turner 112 221
Nelson Cruz 104 206
Curtis Granderson 101 196
Joey Votto 133 196
Brett Gardner 128 180
Jose Bautista 117 177
Robinson Chirinos 81 176
Edwin Encarnacion 114 171
Robinson Cano 108 167
Joe Mauer 121 161
Howie Kendrick 91 160
Adrian Beltre 120 160
Denard Span 107 160
Chase Utley 82 156
Matt Joyce 91 153
Jed Lowrie 111 152
Chris Iannetta 76 152
Victor Martinez 78 149
Yulieski Gurriel 106 148
Matt Kemp 93 147
Ryan Braun 104 144
Jacoby Ellsbury 91 143
Chase Headley 106 142
Kendrys Morales 90 142
Matt Holliday 88 141
Jose Reyes 91 141
Jarrod Dyson 86 139
Dustin Pedroia 107 138
Melky Cabrera 119 137
Brandon Moss 77 136
Yadier Molina 101 136
Brandon Phillips 114 135
Mark Reynolds 97 132
Yunel Escobar 91 131
David Freese 100 130
Miguel Cabrera 88 127
Danny Valencia 107 126
Ian Kinsler 110 125
Mike Napoli 103 123
Hanley Ramirez 97 123
Shin-Soo Choo 118 123
Ben Zobrist 94 121
Hunter Pence 104 121
Albert Pujols 115 120
Brian McCann 86 118
Nick Markakis 119 116
Jayson Werth 82 115
Steve Pearce 107 112
Carlos Beltran 89 111
Russell Martin 89 110
Alex Gordon 77 107
John Jaso 77 106
Nori Aoki 116 106
Seth Smith 80 100
Troy Tulowitzki 81 89
Gregor Blanco 79 87
Erick Aybar 94 82
Adam Lind 78 80
Adrian Gonzalez 96 79
J.J. Hardy 81 68
Adam Rosales 91 40
Rajai Davis 94 31

Two names stick out to stay away from, Adrian Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. Neither could get much going last year and they’ll be a year older. As for a deep sleeper, Jose Bautista put together an incredible May (.317/.412/.644) with nine home runs. I’ll take a chance in deep leagues to see if he can bounce back as a team’s DH.

While just a rule of thumb, I may test it against real numbers later.



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Jeff writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Miggy Pop
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Miggy Pop

I appreciate the attempt to figure out Cabrera’s value, as he’s really hard to peg going into 2018. A couple of points though: 1.) His 2016 average exit velocity in that chart is way off – Baseball Savant shows him 4th overall in 2016 at 93.6. 2.) Cabrera’s back problems in 2017 date back to his performance in the World Baseball Classic in March. He was already somewhat compromised during those first two months of the season when he was performing moderately well (though still very far off his recent career numbers), though the EV numbers show a clear decline & probably further injury as you’ve noted in late May/early June.

He’s definitely a wait-and-see for spring training for me. My eye-test for him during the last few months of 2017 — as a Tigers fan & a longtime Miguel fantasy owner – was that the back injury was preventing him from turning on the ball with power. His spray charts for 2016 v. 2017 back that up – a huge reduction in homers to left & left-center. I believe that’s the key to a bounce-back for him – will his back be healthy enough for him to pull with power?

http://www.fangraphs.com/spraycharts.aspx?playerid=1744&position=1B/3B&type=battedball&pid2=1744&ss1=2016&se1=2016&ss2=2017&se2=2017&cht1=battedball&cht2=battedball&vs1=ALL&vs2=ALL

Larry Bernandez
Member
Larry Bernandez

I’m also curious about the source of the EV data in this post. Statcast reports that Miggy had an average exit velocity in September 2017 of 91.0. MPH while this post reports 85.3 MPH.

Even the corrected EV data from this post last year shows Miggy with a 91.3MPH EV in 2016:

https://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/corrected-exit-velocity-data-leaderboards/

I agree with the general premise of the post – Miggy is a giant question mark – but I want to understand the data better.

Larry Bernandez
Member
Larry Bernandez

Just for reference, these are the monthly average exit velocity numbers for Miggy in 2017, pulled from Statcast search. The number of batted balls in each average are in parenthesis:

April: 94.9 (42)
May: 91.8 (68)
June: 91.8 (76)
July: 87.7 (74)
August: 91.2 (58)
September: 91.0 (44)

Since there are some questions surrounding the exit velocity numbers in Comerica, here is the same data for away games only:

April: 92.1 (25)
May: 93.6 (51)
June: 87.4 (30)
July: 82.3 (27)
August: 91.8 (32)
September: 89.7 (12)

Total average home EV: 92.2 (185)
Total average away EV: 90.0 (177)

Disclaimer: it’s entirely possible I’m using the Statcast Search incorrectly. Just trying to better understand where this data is coming from.

Larry Bernandez
Member
Larry Bernandez

One final note: Cabrera’s home exit velocity was more than two ticks higher than his road exit velocity in 2017. That could be due to something up with Comerica, or it could be that he just hit better at home. To wit:

Home (2017): .288/.340/.493 .318 BABIP 116wRC+
Away (2017): .213/.319/.308 .268 BABIP 69wRC+