Miguel Cabrera’s Power Dips Again

Miguel Cabrera hasn’t just been one of baseball’s best hitters over the last ten years, he has also remained amazingly consistent. As fantasy owners, we’re used to our top picks disappointing us, but Cabrera has never posted a wOBA below .374 in a full season. And yet, this was a season of firsts for Cabrera, which despite an above his career average .413 wOBA, resulted in a loss for all those who paid top dollar for his services on draft day.

Before diving into the performance, let’s get the spate of injuries out of the way first. In October of last year, he underwent ankle surgery and a procedure on his right foot. Cabrera stated that during the second half of 2014, he had to alter his swing mechanics to compensate for the pain. While presumably the surgery would resolve the issue and allow him to return to his normal mechanics, we cannot be sure he was 100% healthy and that his performance wasn’t affected this year.

In addition to the surgery, Cabrera also missed nearly a month and a half of the 2015 season due to a strained left calf. We don’t typically worry about calf injuries having a major effect on performance, but check out his pre- and post-injury splits:

Pre-injury 333 19.2% 0.227 0.434
Post-injury 178 8.3% 0.138 0.376

Hmmmm, while correlation doesn’t equal causation, perhaps the calf nagged him over the remainder of the season and he just couldn’t fully tap into his power. But let’s assume for the sake of analysis that injury wasn’t a factor, or at least the overwhelming factor. We have a 32-year-old who just set a new career low in ISO, representing the first time the metric dipped below .200. Isn’t that amazing? Every single season in Cabrera’s career since 2003, his ISO has topped .200. Incredible. But after we admire his greatness, do we now worry about his age?

He also failed to hit 20 homers for the first time since his 2003 debut, but that year he recorded just 314 at-bats. Of course, injury robbed him of playing time this year, but he barely rebounded from last season’s AB/HR mark that hit a new low in any of his full seasons. His batted ball distance dropped four feet from last season, but still sat at 300 feet, ranking 29th in baseball. Surely that’s not enough of a decline to sound the alarm bells.

Part of his ISO drop could be blamed on fewer fly balls. His 32.7% fly ball rate was the lowest mark he has posted since his 2003 debut. Rather than hit fly balls that are often caught for an out, he hit line drives at a career best mark. So the increased liner rate helped boost his BABIP to a new career best, but hurt his power output. Furthermore, he went the opposite way more often than ever before, as his Oppo% was also a career high. He used all fields the best he ever had, which explains that inflated BABIP…and his power decline.

For the first time in many seasons, Cabrera may not be a consensus top 10 draft pick. He will likely come cheaper than he ever has. Since his underwhelming performance could possibly be blamed on injury and very definitely a simple change in batting approach, which may or may not stick, I believe that Cabrera will continue to fend off the effects of aging for now. At least, he hasn’t shown any signs of its eventual grasp. So for the first time in my life, I may actually end up owning him as he’ll come with some profit potential for a change.

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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kind of a surprising little statistic i discovered while hopping around the career leaderboards…

james loney has more rbi, 635, than joey votto, 633…