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October 17, 2013

Playoff Prospectus

ALCS Game Four Recap: Tigers 7, Red Sox 3

by Sam Miller

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Eight days ago, Josh Donaldson hit a swinging bunt down the third base line. Miguel Cabrera charged and fielded it on a chop, wiggled into a throwing position, and missed getting Donaldson out by the smallest margin.

For minutes afterward, the camera focused on him pacing, wincing, scowling, as he had obviously aggravated one of his injuries. At the time, Cabrera was 3-for-13 in the series, without a walk or an extra-base hit. His value at the time was limited to the murky territory that exists between the tangible and intangible. Max Scherzer, for instance, credited him with inspiring him to get out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth inning. "When you see Miggy going out there with his injuries—battling as hard as he can—it makes you want to do anything for the team. If they would have asked me to keep going, I would have," Scherzer said. Bob Melvin, for instance, credited Cabrera with being an intimidating presence in the lineup, whether he’s hitting or not. That’s pretty weak sauce. Cabrera wasn’t contributing for squat, and that Josh Donaldson swinging bunt seemed like it just might end the effort. I didn’t expect to see Cabrera play more than another inning in the postseason.

Since then, he’s hitting .273/.333/.545, in 24 plate appearances. That’s not Miguel Cabrera, Triple Crown Threat, but remember that he’s doing this against postseason pitchers. If he’d been doing this all along, we wouldn’t have written him off, or maybe even worried about him at all. In Game 4, a 7-3 Tigers win to even the series, he stole a base, up by seven runs. It wasn’t a big test—he got a huge walking lead and jogged in without a throw or a slide—but it at least demonstrated that he was willing to run more than the minimum required. That’s data.

So now Miguel Cabrera is practically hot. I can say he’s practically hot based on 20 plate appearances because hotness is, itself, usually illusory; therefore, if we’re talking about a thing that is probably just imaginary, there’s can be no right or wrong amount of cherry-picked data to support it. I’m immune to your sample-size concerns, for I am selling you sugar water!

In the fifth, Dustin Pedroia hit a swinging bunt down the third base line. Cabrera charged and fielded it on a chop, wiggled into a throwing position, and threw Pedroia out by the smallest margin.

There was no wincing, pacing, scowling. Clearly, Miguel Cabrera didn’t get all the way healthy overnight. Opposing pitchers continue to treat him like he’s a broken hitter, pounding him with fastballs away, unafraid that he’ll drive them out. (He almost did Wednesday.) (Also, contrary to a hypothesis I introduced on Effectively Wild, Cabrera isn’t doing his damage on the outside pitches. He’s doing virtually all of his damage on pitches middle-in.) We’ll watch him nervously, aware that any movement might be his last, and aware even that he might show up limping again at the park tomorrow. But he seems to have crossed the line that separates bad players from very good ones, if not the line that separates very good ones from MVPs.

  • Relevant way of looking at this game:
  • Over the past three seasons, Doug Fister has baseball’s sixth-best ERA+. He had a better FIP this year than Yu Darvish. You could make the case that he would be Boston’s best pitcher by plenty. He’s now made seven postseason starts, and he has a 2.06 ERA.

  • Also a relevant way of looking at this game:

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Boston Red Sox,  ALCS,  Detroit Tigers,  Miguel Cabrera

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