Lack of Protection?

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Mario Impemba

Recently, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera raised some eyebrows when he blamed his lack of power this season on a less-than-fierce array of bats behind him in the club’s offensively challenged lineup.  This can be viewed as the aging future Hall of Famer throwing his teammates under the bus, but there is some truth to the assertion based on previous history.  There is also the fact that Father Time is gaining rapidly on Cabrera through a series of dogging injuries.  After all, history teaches us that Father Time is undefeated.

All of the above is probably true.  Miggy was simply stating fact when he said that he has little protection in the lineup.  Niko Goodrum is a solid big league player, but hardly strikes fear into opposing pitchers the way some of Cabrera’s former wingmen did.

Miguel Cabrera’s recent comments drew attention. (Mike Mulholland, MLive)

This season, it took Cabrera 25 games before he hit his first long ball, the longest stretch to start a season without a homer in his career.

Over the last seven years, teams have gradually pitched Cabrera differently.  In 2012, when Miggy won the Triple Crown, he saw a little over 59% fastballs. This year, that number is down to 52%.  Moreover, in 2012 he saw sliders just 15% of the time.  That number has jumped to 25% so far this year.  Teams were challenging him more back in his hey day.  He got more fastballs to hit.  Why?  Because Prince Fielder was sitting behind him in the lineup with 30 homers, 130 RBI and a .940 OPS in his back pocket.

That’s all fine and dandy, but some would submit that even with protectors like Fielder and eventually Victor Martinez in the lineup behind him, other teams still viewed Cabrera as the best hitter in the game at that time and would still rather pitch to the guy behind him.  The numbers are hard to dispute though.  They show that he was challenged more back then as opposed to now.

There is no doubt that many factors have contributed to Cabrera’s decline when it comes to the power category.  I buy the fact that teams see little need to pitch to him with the current roster construct.  I also believe that his body is getting older and more injury prone.  The last three years alone have produced IL stints for various reasons.  Herniated discs in his back, hamstring issues and last season’s torn bicep tendon have forced Cabrera to the sidelines at different times.  Entering 2019, Cabrera has averaged about 111 games a season over the previous four years.  A far cry from the guy that Jim Leyland had to drag out of the lineup for the very occasional day off.

It’s no secret that a player’s skills begin to diminish in their mid-30’s.   2019 is Cabrera’s age-36 season. He is due $124 million after this year.  The Tigers knew there would be diminishing returns on its investment when they signed him to an eight-year extension in 2014.  They are likely seeing the beginning of his skills eroding.  In 2015, Fangraphs published  a piece on the Aging Curve.  The numbers indicate that Cabrera is definitely on the backside of a Hall of Fame career.  It’s only natural that his numbers will taper off in the coming years.

The question remains, should Cabrera have indicted his teammates for his lack of power this season.  As someone who has been in a locker room or two in his day, I have seen the toll constant questioning can take on an athlete.  Cabrera is well aware that his best days are gone.  What is left can still be very good, and likely will be.  But, for someone who was once considered one of the best hitters of his generation, answering questions about shortcomings can be tedious.

I don’t think Cabrera meant any serious disrespect by his comments.  It was just bad form.

 

 

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