Miguel Cabrera was signed as an international amateur free agent by the Marlins way back in 1999. He received a $1.8 million signing bonus that would have been a record had Wily Mo Pena not signed a $2.4 million deal that same signing period. He kicked around the minors for a few years before making his way to the majors in 2003 as a 20-year-old. The then-left fielder/third baseman was solidly average at the plate in his first taste of the majors. After that, he turned into a young superstar. He made the All-Star team in each of his next four full seasons with the Marlins and put up a .947 in that time.
In classic Marlins fashion, it was at this point they dealt their 24-year-old stud in a blockbuster with Detroit. The Tigers received Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis — another young superstar at that point — for an impressive package of prospects that included Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin. Most of the players in that deal didn’t pan out as expected, but Cabrera made the leap from superstar to legend. Since getting to Detroit, he’s won two MVPs (how much he deserved them is a conversation for another day) and took the mantle of Best Hitter In Baseball from Albert Pujols. Heading into last season, he was a consistent juggernaut in any lineup, hitting .321/.399/.562 and averaging about 150 games per season.
What Went Right in 2016
As he’s done for his entire career, Cabrera put together one of the best all-around seasons of any hitter in baseball. Despite people continually expecting him to fall off as he entered his 30’s, the first baseman contributed in four of the five categories last year. Always a strong producer in AVG, he put up a .316 mark in 2016. It’s a testament of how great of a hitter he is, as his .336 BABIP that’s actually worse than his career average isn’t due to his foot speed. His 29 percent line drive rate was the 32nd best rate among the 203 batters with 400 plate appearances.
On top of the AVG, Cabrera got back to his home run hitting ways of the past. He had actually taken something of a step back in this area over the previous two seasons. Between 2014 and 2015 he combined for 43 home runs and averaging just 26 per 162 games. Obviously, that’s not bad for a normal hitter, but it’s not what we’d grown accustomed to with Cabrera. Last year, he jumped back up to 38 home runs, his highest total since 2013 and the fifth time he’s topped the 35 dinger mark. He was helped by a 22 percent HR:FB ratio, his highest rate since 2013. This was no fluke, either, with his average fly-ball distance ranking 26th among the 252 players who qualified for the .
Perhaps most important, Cabrera stayed healthy and productive all season. As a 33-year-old who isn’t exactly small and missed 43 games in 2015, that was a question mark for him heading into the year. He quelled those fears by appearing in all but four of the Tigers’ games and staying consistent throughout the year. In fact, his best month was September when he posted a 1.109 OPS. That’s a great sign for his near-term future.
What Went Wrong in 2016
Honestly, it’s hard to find much that went wrong for Cabrera last season, so you have to pick some nits to get there. One area in which the stud did fall off a bit was in his ability to get on base. Although his .316 AVG was still outstanding, it was a little off from where he’s been on the past. That, combined with a drop in walk-rate of four percentage points from 2015 led to just his third sub-.400 OBP in the last seven years. This was part of the issue that led to him failing to score at least 100 runs for the first time in a full season since 2009. Of course, he still finished the year with a .393 OBP and 92 runs, so it’s not much to complain about.
What To Expect in 2017
The short answer is that we can expect more of the same from Cabrera next season. He’s been the same stellar hitter for too long to expect anything out. It may be fair to think he’ll fall closer to 30 home runs than 40, since we don’t really know how the league is going to trend after its absurd home runs spike last year. It’s also fair to expect him to contribute slightly less in the RBI and runs scored categories, since the Tigers could be looking at a rebuild that’d include trades of Ian Kinsler and/or J.D. Martinez. Still, he’s not going to forget how to hit the ball, and he’s been a legendary hitter for 14 years now. I’m not going to bet against Miguel Cabrera until he gives me a reason to do so.