New Miguel Cabrera: Old Miguel Cabrera?

Miguel Cabrera was the third-best first baseman this year by our end-of-year evaluations, but his owners paid first-best fantasy player prices. Take a look at his isolated power — the main missing component this year — over his career, and last year actually looks familiar. Has Cabrera returned to being the player he was earlier in his career?

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Isolated slugging is a bit of a cudgel, though. There are plenty of ways that your ISO can suffer: your legs can slow down, you can hit fewer fly balls, you can pull the ball less, and so on. If we knew more about *why* his power declined last year, we might be able to better decide if he’ll have the same issue next year.

Let’s first take a look at his batted ball distance. You could say that his batted ball distance on homers and flies declined four feet last year, but you’d be missing the larger context. Miguel Cabrera has been top-40 in batted ball distance since 2007. He’s been remarkably consistent in a stat that often fluctuates wildly and generally just declines.

CabreraDistance

In fact, if you look at a table of Cabrera’s batted ball stats, it’s hard to see much of a difference over the last seven years.

  HR+FB Distance FB angle GB angle HR xHR
2007 294.0 0.89 -9.29 34 35
2008 301.8 7.12 -8.39 36 39
2009 309.3 2.57 -8.82 34 40
2010 312.3 2.18 -5.91 41 50
2011 296.6 5.71 -8.17 31 32
2012 300.8 4.83 -5.88 45 45
2013 309.4 5.58 -10.54 45 46
2014 304.9 5.97 -6.66 27 28

Generally, Cabrera goes oppo/center with his fly balls and pulls his ground balls, which is pretty much what everyone does. But he’s middle of the pack in both, as the extreme angles cluster around 20 and he ranks around 90th out of 170 right-handers in both angles. He’s had a few more extreme years in both angles, but he’s settled in around +6 and -6 and has a generally good up the middle approach.

But then there’s the matter of the HR/xHR columns. If his angle didn’t change much, and his batted ball distance didn’t change much, why was his expected homer total so low? I asked Jeff Zimmerman that, and his response was: “For xHR I look at each hit. He could have a higher variety of results. Last year all his homers could have been 400 feet long, this year half could be 300 and the other half 500.”

Here’s a graph of Miguel Cabrera’s batted ball distances on homers and flies over the last two years. You can see that the distribution is different. In 2014, there is an emptier area near the max distance at the top.

cabreradistance

Here’s another way of looking at it. Look at his spray chart for 2013 on the left, and 2014 on the right. See that opposite field power that he used to have? It’s been sapped a bit.

chart (34)chart (35)

Four feet may not be a big deal, but if it’s the wrong four feet in the wrong spot, it can rob you of many home runs. With Miguel Cabrera considering ankle surgery for bone spurs that may have been bothering him all year, it’s fair to wonder if it’s just a blip during a Hall of Fame career. With so many of his statistics in line with his career averages, and his approach fundamentally unchanged, that’s the direction I lean as well. Steamer projects the first baseman for 32 homers and I could see him outproducing that number with a healthy ankle and a different distribution of his fly ball distances.





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Shane
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Shane

I have to chalk this up to not being healthy all year. I know you SHOULDN’T look at one month as y’all have determined that ISO doesn’t become reliable until we have at least 550PA. However, this being a guy who just came back from core muscle surgery plus an ankle ailment, don’t you think the .330 ISO he posted in Sept/Oct is a much larger indicator of his talent when he’s actually healthy, even if it’s a bit high? I look at that as a huge positive going forward and signs of a guy who wasn’t running at 100% until the final stretch.

Costanza
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Costanza

I’d expect a bounce back from this year due to health, but I also believe some of the decline this year was aging. Which will continue next year.

So if last 2 years were 100% skill, 100% health; this year was 95% peak skill, 80% peak health. next year will likely be something like 90% peak skill, 90% health (health isn’t going to be better as he ages, after all, even w/o accounting for body type).

For his overall line, I’d expect an improvement, but probably midway between this year and last year’s numbers. Adding in the fact he lost 3b this year (i think…?), and i’m choosing abreu and goldschmidt before Miguel in the 1B realm.