A Quiet Miguel Cabrera

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The 2011 season started all too loudly for Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers, when Cabrera, the Tigers best player and perennial MVP candidate, got in trouble for a D.U.I. before the start of the season. While that certainly isn’t how you want to begin a season, Cabrera has done a good job pushing ahead and still producing massively as the Tigers cleanup hitter.

The amazing thing is, because of his teammates having such wonderful seasons, Cabrera is doing it relatively quietly.

Alex Avila, Jhonny Peralta, and Justin Verlander have helped take the attention away from Cabrera by having huge seasons, but that doesn’t mean Cabrera isn’t the engine that still drives the Tigers.

Cabrera has quietly once again sat himself amongst the best hitters in the American League, currently sitting 2nd in batting average at .333, trailing only the Boston Red Sox’ Adrian Gonzalez. While batting average has lost a little of its luster as a statistic, it is still impressive given that Cabrera is a slugger. Looking at a more advanced metric, wOBA, Cabrera is 2nd in the American League there as well, sitting at .422. Cabrera is also 2nd in the A.L in OPS at a .997 clip. The Tigers’ slugger’s home runs and RBI are down a little bit at “just” 26 home runs and 97 RBI this season, but it’s his presence in the lineup that has the ability to affect everyone else.

Cabrera is one of the more feared hitters in the American League, if not the most feared. He currently sits 2nd to Jose Bautista in the A.L. with 20 intentional walks, providing more opportunities for Victor Martinez, Avila, and Peralta. No offense to the likes of Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion, but they aren’t exactly VMart in the batters box, making it a little easier to walk Bautista.  Cabrera has been on base more than any other player in the American League this year, 278, and this would be the 2nd year in a row he finished 1st in that statistic if he does so. All the getting on base has led to Cabrera being 5th in runs scored in the league with 105.

You want clutch? You want Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera turns on the focus even more with runners on base. With runners in scoring position this year, he hits .397 and has a whopping OPS of 1.186. Cabrera also does more damage when there are 2 outs in an inning, his 1.023 OPS is his highest with only one out to spare. Cabrera’s batting average and power also shows up best in high leverage situations as well. Cabrera hits .360 in those situations and slugs .604, giving the Tigers a batter nobody wants to face in late innings.

The fear that Cabrera can instill in opposing pitchers not only improves opportunities for the batters behind him, it can have an effect on the batters in front of him. While Magglio Ordonez has struggled in the third spot in the order, that has less to do with the pitches Magglio gets, and more to do with his slowing bat speed. The younger Brennan Boesch, however, took full advantage of receiving premium pitches in front of Miguel Cabrera. Out of the two spots in the order Boesch spent most of his time, 2nd and 3rd, it isn’t even close as to which spot Boesch excelled. Boesch hit well over 100 points better (.339 to .211) in the spot directly in front of Cabrera in the order. His OPS was .955 out of the third spot, a far cry better than the .615 he produced in the 2nd spot. At least with Brennan Boesch, there is a pretty clear indication that Cabrera can have an effect on the quality of pitches the guy in front of him can see.

I certainly don’t want to take away from the seasons that any of the Tigers hitters are having. No disrespect is meant to any of them, especially considering that Victor Martinez has been really clutch as well. Cabrera is still what makes this offense go, however, even if he is sharing the wealth with several guys. That’s a good thing for the Tigers, because all along, Cabrera wasn’t going to put this team in the playoffs on his own, regardless of his monstrous ability.

Cabrera continues to be one of the biggest offensive forces in the game, it’s just being done a lot more quietly than it has in years past. Given the start to the 2011 season, I think the Tigers management is plenty satisfied with that. I know I am.

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