Miguel Cabrera Has Been Better Than His Numbers Suggest

Cabrera's season looks like it's his worst ever, but the underlying stats show a turnaround is close.

Miguel Cabrera has had a rough 2017, by his lofty standards.

There are simple reasons to explain why it has been that way, as well. He is 34 years old and suffered from back and groin injuries in late April.

In this scenario, it may look, at first, like we're dealing with an aging star who is seeing Father Time finally catch up with him and that his regression is just inevitable.

However, that is most likely not the case with Cabrera. The peripheral statistics say that Miggy should be just fine.

A Relatively Poor Start

By Miguel Cabrera standards, his 2017 has been one of his worst seasons to date.

It is especially jarring when you look at his last two seasons in comparison to this one.

Year Average OBP Slugging wRC+
2015 .338 .440 .534 165
2016 .316 .393 .563 152
2017 .260 .372 .411 111

Miggy has been a way-above-average contributor (evidenced by his wRC+ sitting above 100) at the heart of the Detroit Tigers' offense since his arrival, and before that when he was in a Marlins uniform. Still, some of his best seasons have come in his 30's.

His 2015 wRC+ of 165 is good for the fifth-highest mark in his career. The following year, he posted his seventh-highest wRC+, at 33 years old.

Of course, 2015 was injury-shortened, and injuries are one of the biggest concerns with him going forward. Excluding an 87-game rookie season, Cabrera had played at least 148 games in each season from 2004 to 2014.

The first time he was placed on the disabled list in his entire career was in 2015, when he hurt his calf (he did play through serious injury in 2014, though).

The injuries have not hurt his performance yet, as one of the five best seasons of his career came when he missed around a month in 2015, but the fact that all of his injuries have happened once he hit 30 years of age is something to monitor.

All this aside, 2017 is the second-worst season for Miggy so far in his career, the worst being his rookie season, where he slashed .268/.325/.468, with a 106 wRC+ in 87 games at 20 years old.

And yes, he's not living up to his name, but his 111 wRC+ shows that he is still 11% better than the league average hitter and is sniffing around the average first baseman's numbers: a .258/.342/.471 slash with a 116 wRC+.

Even at his worst, he's a replacement-level option.

While it is not unheard of for players to have huge drop offs as their careers flicker away, this looks like a completely different circumstance for Cabrera in 2017.

Underlying Promise

Cabrera has not been his usual self, but his underlying numbers show that a turnaround may be around the corner.

The table below compares his walk, strikeout, and hard hit rates, as well as his BABIP and ISO, to his career numbers.

Year Walk Rate Strikeout Rate BABIP ISO Hard Hit Rate
2017 14% 20.9% .314 .151 48.2%
Career 11.3% 16.9% .347 .240 39.4%

While his strikeout rate is up a significant amount, he has offset it by walking more than normal. The eye-popping numbers come with his BABIP and his hard hit rate.

His BABIP is still good and is higher than the league average .295 number, but it is a far cry from his extraordinarily high career .347 BABIP.

He is also hitting the ball harder than he has over his career by nearly 10 percentage points, and the 48.2% hard hit rate would be the highest of his career if his season ended today.

A lower BABIP with a higher hard hit rate can be explained if Miggy is simply making less contact, but that has not been the case:

Year O-Contact% Z-Contact% SwStr%
2017 62.3% 86.1% 11.1%
Career 64% 86.8% 10%

His contact rate on balls outside the strike zone (O-contact%), contact rate on balls inside the strike zone (Z-contact%), and swinging strike rate (SwStr%) are all extremely close to his career numbers.

Not only his he making the same contact he has always has, but his exit velocity is elite. Per Statcast, his average exit velocity sits at 93.0 miles per hour, ranking fifth among 207 hitters with at least 100 batted balls this season. Plus, 58.2% of his batted balls travel at least 95 miles per hour, highest in this entire subset.

This likely means that his uncharacteristically low BABIP is more bad luck than anything else -- and once more of his unlucky outs turn into hits, his season numbers will rise along with it. Compounding this, according to, Cabrera has an expected wOBA of .433, well off the actual mark he has of .339. The results will come.

A Different Type of Hitter

For the first 14 years of Cabrera's career, he was a certain type of hitter. He hit a lot of ground balls and a lot of fly balls.

However, he has been a different kind of hitter this season, when you compare his fly-ball, line-drive, ground-ball, pull, center, and opposite field rates to his career numbers.

Year Fly-Ball Line-Drive Ground-Ball Pull Center Opposite Field
2017 32.7% 30.9% 36.4% 30.0% 40.0% 30.0%
Career 36.4% 22.3% 41.3% 39.2% 32.5% 28.3%

His line-drive rate in 2017 has gone through the roof (which gels very well with the excellent exit velocity and the rise in hard hit percentage), and he has sacrificed some fly balls and ground balls to do so -- giving up the ground balls is good, but in modern baseball, fly balls are what the hitter wants.

While his percentage of balls hit to the opposite field is nearly identical, his center and pull rates switched, which hurts his power output the most.'s Mike Petriello highlighted how Comerica Park's huge expanse in center field hurts power output from Tigers hitters. When Cabrera was mainly a pull hitter, that did not really affect him much, but now that he is hitting the ball to mostly center field, it shows.

It is not like he was an extreme pull hitter, as evidenced by the spray chart below, by Brooks Baseball:

This spray chart exemplifies his fly ball, pull-focused approach.

He grounded out to the left side of the diamond a lot during his long career. With his hitting fewer balls on the ground, it is no wonder his pull rate has decreased.

He hits his fly balls everywhere, and his ISO will likely rise if he keeps hitting the ball in the air based on his batted ball profile.

All in all, Cabrera is one of the best hitters of our generation and is destined to wear a Tigers' cap in Cooperstown one day. While Father Time may be creeping up on him in terms of injuries, he is likely to keep padding his Hall of Fame résumé with the way he is still getting his bat on the ball.