2012 Prediction Series: Miguel Cabrera

photo courtesy of Erin Saelzler

It seems a little bit like the Tigers’ biggest star has taken a backseat to some of the bigger headlines of the buildup to the season (be it MVP awards or free agent signings), but make no mistake, there may be a new Prince in town, but Miguel Cabrera is still the King of Comerica Park.

How good is he? Last year was considered kind of a “typical” season for him. A “typical” season which included winning the batting title. You can add that to his home run title from 2008 and his RBI title from 2010. He’s won all three Triple Crown categories, just in different years, one of only three active players to do so.

Cabrera is one of those players who is just fun to watch, and for so many reasons. Granted, first and foremost is because he’s THAT good, but there’s some quality that goes beyond that that I can’t really explain. I’ve heard someone describe it to me by saying “Cabrera’s one of those players that if you’re walking past a TV or flipping channels and he’s up to bat, you just have to stop and watch” (And seriously, if you ever have the opportunity to watch him take batting practice, do it. I speak from experience. It is a sight to behold). But in addition to his skill, he’s a likeable person and almost always looks like he’s having fun.

I could go on with the superlatives, but you pretty much know them already. So what can we expect from Cabrera in 2012?

What he needs to work on

Enough stalling, it’s time to tackle the 3000 pound elephant in the room. The only real big test for Cabrera this season is the transition to third base. Now, most stats (be they traditional or sabremetric) portray Cabrera as a sub-par defender no matter which position he’s playing. I believe he was a much better first baseman than the numbers would suggest, certainly a better first baseman than Prince Fielder, at least.

He hasn’t played third base since very early 2008 (during which he was actually battling hamstring and hip injuries a fair amount of the time), but his 2007 performance at third left a lot to be desired. However, if it doesn’t work out this time, it won’t be due to a lack of effort. It’s clear that Cabrera is working very hard at third base. He’s visibly slimmer (and I was not one of the people concerned about his weight the past couple years, although it was a weight more suited for a first baseman than a third baseman), and from what I’ve read, he’s been taking ground balls and working on infield drills every chance he can get, even volunteering to play in B games to get more work in (though I don’t think this ever actually happened).

When the Tigers first acquired Cabrera, I got the sense from some people that he sometimes had a tendency to not give a full effort. For whatever reason, that’s no longer true or it was never true in the first place, perhaps his outlook has changed (maybe it was Leyland’s influence or maybe he’s simply matured as he’s gotten older).

The fact that he’s putting in a huge effort to get better should lead to improvement (ground balls to the face notwithstanding,). He’s never going to be Brandon Inge (wait, what?), but I’m willing to give him a chance before I decide one way or the other.

What he needs to improve

When you’re an MVP candidate every single year, there’s really not much to improve on. I already discussed defense, and as far as offense is concerned, I have to get kind of picky to find a flaw.

The only thing I can think of is that sometimes, he’ll get so tired of being pitched around, that he’ll deliberately swing at bad pitches to get himself in an 0-2 or 1-2 count in the hopes that the pitcher won’t walk him. At least, that’s the sense I get.

The problem with that is that like everyone else, he doesn’t do as well in two-strike counts. Career-wise, his average is .221 in an 0-2 count and .216 in a 1-2 count. The presence of Victor Martinez helped him avoid falling into this issue last year, and the presence of Prince Fielder this year should do the same (although if I’m an opposing pitcher, I’d still rather face Fielder than Cabrera simply because Cabrera’s the better player).

What he will do

I hate making predictions (because I hate being wrong), but with someone like Cabrera, there’s no mystery to tease out. He’s likely going to do what he does every year, which is be amazing and put up huge numbers.

Walkoff Woodward Bubblegum Card Predictions:

PA

R

B2

B3

HR

RBI

575

97

46

1

36

119

BB

SB

AVG

OBP

SLG

BABIP

102

4

.324

.421

.550

.330

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