Explaining Miguel Cabrera’s Home Run Decline

Yesterday, I dove into the three xHR/FB rate components to explain what fueled Todd Frazier’s home run surge. Today, I’ll dissect Miguel Cabrera, who set a new career low HR/FB rate, as it dipped from a career high of 25.4% in 2013 to just 14.0% in 2014.

The first and most obvious place to begin is Cabrera’s distance. He has remained near the top of the leaderboard for years, so you figure with a large decline in HR/FB rate, surely he has simply been hitting his flies a shorter distance, right? Wrong. Check out distance trend since 2008:

Miguel Cabrera Distance Trend

Cabrera has remained consistently in the 300 to 310 foot range, with a small dip into the 295 to 300 range in 2011 and 2012. His distance this year sat below his peak, but was right in range of historical marks. It may be surprising given the big drop in power, but it wasn’t due to a lack of distance that led to it. Since his distance remained strong, it provides optimism for a full rebound, though it would be silly to figure that rebound would be all the way up to his 2012 and 2013 peak HR/FB rate levels.

So since distance wasn’t the issue, let’s see what his average absolute angle was. Was he hitting it down the lines less?

Miguel Cabrera Angle Trend

Bingo. This explains one piece of the puzzle. Between 2010 and 2013, Cabrera’s angle sat between 20.4 and 21.1, a very narrow range, which was above the league average. But in 2014, he suddenly stopped hitting it toward the lines as frequently, as his angle dropped to its lowest mark since 2009. The good news is that since angle has a relatively low year-to-year correlation, this is probably just a one year blip.

But it’s unlikely that the drop in angle was all that plagued Cabrera’s home run prowess in 2014. So let’s take a gander at our last metric, the standard deviation of distance (SDD).

Miguel Cabrera SDD Trend

And there’s the double whammy. So although he’s hitting the baseball on average generally the same distance as always, his big blasts have been less frequent. And as you could tell by the SDD leaders and laggards, there is an obvious correlation with power. So to see Cabrera suddenly hanging out on the same level as Alberto Callaspo and Yunel Escobar is just odd. Since there still remains little research into these new metrics, I still wonder if such a decline in SDD is a real ominous sign. It does correlate decently from year-to-year, almost as well as distance, so this isn’t something to ignore.

The fact that Cabrera maintained a 300+ distance is a good sign, and that his angle dropped isn’t really a big deal. But the falloff in his SDD is worrisome and could prove that maybe his power truly is on its way down. That threat, plus news that he may not be ready for opening day as he recovers from surgery on his foot and ankle makes him a bit less safe than he had been. Since he’s not going to come at any sort of discount, there’s essentially a 0% chance he ends up on any of my teams.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Mike D
9 years ago

Maybe he just played while injured most of last year.