Since the all-star break, Miguel Cabrera made a change that may have saved his future with the Detroit Tigers
It is has been tough to watch Miguel Cabrera age. Once upon a time, we watched other big-bodied unicorns like David Ortiz age gracefully into their late-30’s; continuing to provide production for a competitive club. The hope was that Miguel Cabrera could do the same for the Detroit Tigers for a team that would presumably get competitive again toward the end of his immovable contract.
Cabrera has essentially been a replacement-level player since his 5.1 bWAR effort in 2016; a .264/.336/.401 slash from 2017 to 2021 and a -0.8 bWAR over that time. Now that the Detroit Tigers have become competitive again, my mind could not help but wonder if there would come a day when Miguel Cabrera would get the Albert Pujols treatment: a thank you and a send-off to a different organization.
It doesn’t help that Cabrera can no longer play first base every day. Designated hitters who cannot hit typically do not have a long stay on a big-league roster and their marketability is diminished considering the National League was forced back to making their hurlers hit.
I remember fondly the days of Jim Leyland and then-hitting-coach Lloyd McClendon joking that they have nothing to teach Miguel Cabrera about hitting. They had a point, as Cabrera was putting up MVP-level numbers consistently from 2010-2016. The cliche, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was a mantra that worked with two healthy knees.
Weathering has caused erosion, though, and Miguel Cabrera is no longer the triple-crown tyrant he once was over AL pitching. Cabrera has limped, figuratively and literally, toward 500 home runs and 3,000 hits–an accomplishment still within striking distance with 53 games to go.
It could be that Cabrera is inching closer to each feat and has some extra motivation to remove his milestone counters from the left-center-field railing at Comerica Park. More likely, though, is a change in his set-up at the plate that might be the lynchpin to his milestones in 2021 and his Detroit Tigers career beyond this season.
In watching Tuesday night, I just noticed that Cabrera’s stance was much more open than I recall. Correlation doesn’t always equal causation, so I became curious about just how long Cabrera had made this change, how consistent he was with it, and how he was performing since the change was made.
Interestingly, the change happened right at the all-star break. It’ll be a bit difficult to explain what I mean regarding his open set-up without talking through it in real-time over a video with some Madden-Esque penmanship, but I’ll do my best.
To avoid the bias of success, I’ll use two examples that are both home runs.
First, we’ll start with a swing from Cabrera on June 28th against the Indians. Notice how Cabrera’s front and back feet are essentially in line with each other (I realize it’s a little difficult to tell with the camera angle):
In the first half leading up to the all-star break, Miguel Cabrera slashed .241/.300/.348 with 7 home runs across 253 AB and 74 strikeouts in his 68 games.
Since the all-star break, Cabrera has opened his stance considerably, with his front foot placed outside of his back foot. Here is his home run swing from Tuesday night:
The primary benefit of an open stance is a better look at the pitcher. With a closed or even squared stance, it takes a full turn of the neck to really get a good look at the pitch out of the hand. When open, Cabrera can face the pitcher more direct and not have to strain as much to get a good look, giving him better discernment and more comfort in the box.
From the all-star break to August 1st, Cabrera has hit .294/.344/.529 with his re-vamped stance and has now hit 4 home runs across 55 ABs with just 7 strikeouts and 6 walks across his 15 games.
We have been pretty critical of Cabrera site-wide, with Jon’s piece detailing his demise and Christopher’s opinion that it was time to step away altogether. In reality, Cabrera’s sparkly numbers could be more about getting his legs fresh, although one would then wonder why he wasn’t scalding the ball toward the beginning of the year off of a shortened season.
Nevertheless, his more recent triumph, although limited, might be attributed to a subtle yet imperative change in his mechanics. Miguel Cabrera needs 2 home runs and 56 hits for 2021; the Detroit Tigers need bundles of both beyond this season. It is early and the sample is small, but Cabrera’s refined open stance is something to watch through the end of the season.