By: Will Burchfield
We’ve reached that point in the season, as we have each of the past few years, where Miguel Cabrera is slumping and people wonder why.
He’s not what he once was.
In the eyes of Carlos Pena, a former big-league slugger and current analyst for MLB Network, Cabrera’s latest swoon is due to injury.
“Yesterday I was watching him really closely and I’m like, there’s something off about him. I know that a lot of people have been saying the same thing, and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s everybody just talking, every single time he doesn’t hit there’s something wrong with him.’ But yesterday I was watching him and it didn’t look as fluid, it really didn’t look like he was in rhythm. It was like he was favoring something,” Pena told 97.1 The Ticket.
Through 51 games this season, Cabrera is hitting .277 with five home runs, 29 RBI and an .803 OPS. He hasn’t gone deep since May 20, a span of almost 100 plate appearances. The 34-year-old injured his back in the World Baseball Classic in March, strained his groin in April and dealt with a sore oblique in May.
He has missed 13 games this season.
“It’s very hard because a player will never admit or make an excuse because of physical injury or anything like that. He’s like, ‘Well if I can get on the field, I’m gonna get on the field,’ and (Cabrera’s) played hurt many times in his career. But I think clearly, just by watching him, something is bothering him,” said Pena.
Cabrera is on pace to finish with about 14 homers and 85 RBI. The only time he’s posted fewer than 25 home runs and 100 RBI since his rookie season was in 2015, when he played in just 119 games. He’s also striking out in 20.5 percent of his plate appearances, his highest rate since 2004.
“Of course we see the numbers, they’re not where they’re supposed to be. I don’t expect Miguel Cabrera to keep on being just a machine for years and years to come, I know that he’s gonna start a slight decline. But what’s happening now, this is not him. There’s something wrong with his body. Something is hurting and he’s just being a tough man, getting out there because he wants to play because he’s a gamer,” said Pena.
Cabrera has a penchant for playing through pain. But Brad Ausmus said earlier this month he doesn’t suspect the Tigers’ first baseman is hiding an injury.
“Not that I know of. A lot of times, especially with a guy like Miggy who can play through anything, we don’t even know and we only find out later,” said Ausmus.
Of course, a hobbled Cabrera is still pretty productive.
“Miggy at 60 percent is better than most at 100. But then the question is, how long is he gonna be at 60? Is he gonna be at 60 percent for the next two months, or if we rest him for 10 days will he be at 85 percent for the next two months? Wish I knew the answer to it,” Ausmus said. “Right now I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Miggy.”
That was on June 2. Since then, Cabrera’s hitting .333 with six doubles, seven RBI and an .872 OPS over 11 games. This kind of outbreak was coming, and more is probably on the way. Miggy ranks first in the majors in line-drive rate on balls in play (32.6 percent) and sixth in hard-contact rate (46.5 percent). To say he’s been cold is not to say his bat’s been hollow.
“Every year we’ve had this discussion about Miguel Cabrera with the media: Is Miggy finally getting older, is he struggling?” Ausmus said on Wednesday. “I’ll tell you like I’ve told you the last two years, and I think the last two years kind of speak for themselves…I am not worried about Miguel Cabrera. At all.”
Through the first month of last season, Cabrera was hitting .270 with four homers, 12 RBI and an .809 OPS. By season’s end: .316, 38 HR, 108 RBI, .956 OPS.
Through the first month of 2014, he was hitting .277 with two homers, 15 RBI and a .735 OPS. By season’s end: .313, 25 HR, 109 RBI, .985 OPS.
“There’s a reason he’s one of the greatest hitters that ever walked the planet, but even the greatest hitters that have walked the planet struggle at times — and he’s struggled at times. Even when he was young he struggled at times. I think his first year here in ’08 he struggled for about a month, a month and a half I believe,” said Ausmus.
Indeed, through the first two months of 2008, a total of 54 games, Cabrera was hitting .276 with eight homers, 31 RBI and an .819 OPS. By season’s end: .292, 37 HR (most in the A.L.), 127 RBI, .887 OPS.
“It’s a little bit more surprising when a guy like Miggy struggles for a long period of time but it’s certainly not unheard of,” said Ausmus. “I wish I struggled to hit .270.”