What In The Sam Hill Is Going On With Miguel Cabrera

I should just stop there. On the one hand everyone will rightly scream sample size horrors as I attempt to type any further and on the other hand I have the lifelong goal of using “What in the Sam Hill” in a post title accomplished. The bucket list needs updating.

But set aside the sample for a moment, and just gaze in wonder at Miguel Cabrera’s line to start the season in 2014: .236/.295/.403. Cabrera has 17 hits over almost 80 plate appearances. More than half of them are singles, only two have left the park, and he has ten runs batted in. At this point in 2013, Cabrera was hitting .370/.438/.511 with five doubles, a triple, two home runs and 23 RBI. And as ridiculous as that looks, he really only got better from there.

And of course, it’s highly likely that Cabrera will get better from here too. So this is probably just an exercise in post writing which gets referenced two months from now and ridiculed, but so be it. The undeniable truth about Cabrera is he has been one of the best, if not the single best, hitters since 2004. He’s never had a season with a wRC+ below 129 and last year it was 192. For all of the ever living greatness of Albert Pujols during the aughts, from 2004 to 2013, Cabrera was just behind him in wRC+ with 155 to Pujols’ 160. So for him to come out in 2014 after what probably was his best season ever and lay a pathetic stinking egg in April is more than just surprising. It’s notable. Even if it’s not sustainable.

How notable? Here’s March/April since Cabrera was a regular in 2004.

2004 8.90% 19.80% 0.45 0.292 0.356 0.629 0.986 0.337 0.274 19.1 6.6 0.407 151
2005 6.50% 17.40% 0.38 0.345 0.380 0.571 0.952 0.226 0.379 16.9 5.9 0.403 149
2006 17.70% 17.70% 1.00 0.321 0.448 0.590 1.038 0.269 0.368 20.2 8.1 0.431 163
2007 10.10% 15.20% 0.67 0.360 0.429 0.663 1.091 0.302 0.369 22.3 10.1 0.453 174
2008 12.00% 15.40% 0.78 0.270 0.359 0.470 0.829 0.200 0.278 17 2.9 0.359 117
2009 11.40% 14.80% 0.77 0.377 0.455 0.558 1.013 0.182 0.417 18.6 8.1 0.44 168
2010 11.80% 10.90% 1.08 0.344 0.427 0.615 1.042 0.271 0.354 23.3 10.6 0.442 178
2011 17.60% 10.90% 1.62 0.333 0.454 0.635 1.089 0.302 0.325 26.1 12.8 0.452 187
2012 10.50% 13.70% 0.77 0.298 0.368 0.571 0.940 0.274 0.277 16.6 5.7 0.39 147
2013 11.10% 12.00% 0.93 0.363 0.436 0.559 0.995 0.196 0.388 23.4 10.5 0.429 174
2014 7.70% 20.50% 0.38 0.236 0.295 0.403 0.698 0.167 0.278 8.0 -0.5 0.304 89

In over 1100 plate appearances to start the season, Miguel Cabrera isn’t at all used to being anything but pretty friggin great. Yes, his BABIP isn’t pretty this year, but it has been at that level three other times in April where he still managed to rake. So far, Cabrera has been striking out at a career high rate, walking well below his career rate, hitting for almost no power, and overall his wRC+ is hanging out with Steve Lombardozzi. Do you think Miguel Cabrera has ever been linked to Steve Lombardozzi before?

And as we’re wont to do around here when dealing with April statistics, you can take this start to 2014 and marry it up with the end to 2013 and paint a rather bleak picture, even if it’s not fair. Because you know what your parents told you about fairness. Yes, yes, I know he was hurt and no, no, I’m not drawing conclusions here — but if you want a little bigger sample size to draw from, Cabrera’s September 2013 and his April 2014 add up to 39 games, 163 plate appearances in which he slashed .244/.344/.333. with three home runs. Of course, there’s the other billion plate appearances that he’s had where he can take a ball that almost hits him in the belt and launch it in the opposite field bleachers. So what the hell?

Well, what the hell is probably just a wacky statistical anomaly — which is what your brain would tell you in this instance. A cursory glance at his batted ball data shows there’s nothing particularly out of whack when it comes to what he’s swinging at and contact rates:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
2014 31.20% 64.40% 48.20% 65.10% 92.60% 83.90% 51.40%
Career 32.90% 69.10% 49.70% 67.70% 88.00% 80.80% 46.40%

And what’s more, his swinging strike rate is currently the lowest of his career at just 7.6%.

Heading over to Brooks Baseball, it’s somewhat illustrative to see that the approach to Cabrera hasn’t particularly changes this season — kind of a steady diet of down and away (the gif is 2013 vs. 2014):


And what he’s offering at hasn’t changed much from this year to last year either. He likes the ball over the plate and in, although if there’s anything a little strange it’s that he’s laying off middle-away a little more, but that’s probably just noise. In general, this is pretty consistent:


Here’s what I find interesting about 2014. Below are his whiffs per swing from this year compared to last. Yeah, the N is super small, so this is by no means anything close to a statistically significant thing, but look at those whiff rates from 2014. He’s really not missing anything in the zone, or at least very little:


If this were the opposite, that is, his whiffs per swing looked elevated then maybe there would be enough to have a cigar-and-scotch kind of casual conversation about it. But at this point, Cabrera isn’t just not seeing the ball at all as if he’s the leadoff hitter for the Seattle Mariners or something. It’s merely a good old fashioned hitting them where they ain’t thing, it seems. Or rather, where the are.

So to distill this down to fantasy information, well — there might not have been a better time since 2003 to try and acquire Miguel Cabrera. And if you own Miguel Cabrera, ignore all the owners trying to help you out by taking him off your hands. I have a feeling May is going to be big.

Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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Mike Ilitch
10 years ago

Too soon?