Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is making his critics eat their words. After playing through a slew of injuries last year and batting a career-worst .249, the two-time MVP is batting .329 with a pair of home runs and 16 RBI in 2018. In the first game of a doubleheader against the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday, Cabrera notched four hits, three of which were doubles, and upped his batting average to .329 on the year.
The Tigers may be in the midst of a rebuild, but Cabrera is not. If anything, he's out to prove he can still get better as a player, even at age 35.
A 2017 season to forget
Cabrera's 2017 season was underwhelming and forgettable, and not just because of his batting average. He only hit 16 home runs with 60 RBI and played through hip, back, groin, and oblique injuries. His strikeout rate (K%) went up 3.7 points to 20.8% and his walk rate (BB%) dropped ever so slightly to 10.2% from 11%. His isolated power (ISO), which measures a batter's raw power and ability to get extra base hits, dipped to .149 from a highly impressive .247 in 2016.
Cabrera's WRC and WRC+ were a subaverage 61 and 91, but that's not even the number that defines how bad his 2017 was.
With a mark of -0.2, 2017 was the first season in which Cabrera posted a negative WAR.
The resurrection of 2018
Needless to say, the Cabrera of Old is back. His performance last night has him on a modest four-game hitting streak. He has 16 RBI in 21 games. To give a better idea, Cabrera didn't get his 16th RBI until May 20 last year. The man his playing with a chip on his shoulder, which is just what the rebuilding Tigers need.
And Cabrera's metrics show marked improvement too. His ISO is at a decent .184. His BB% has increased to 13.5% and his K% decreased to 16.9%. His WRC is at 16, and his WRC+ is at an eye-popping 151.
The crazy part about Cabrera's early success this year is his line drive rate (LD%) has actually decreased to 22.6% from 27.3% last year, but this year's mark is closer to his career average of 22.4% so it isn't that dramatic a drop. There is, however, a dramatic increase in his ground ball rate (GB%), which is at a ridiculous 58.1% compared to 39.8% in 2017. Cabrera is also hitting less fly balls, posting a fly ball rate (FB%) of 19.4% that is down from last year's FB% of 32.9.
This all suggests that the four-time batting champion's .383 BABIP and subsequent hot start is the result of excellent luck, which it very well could be. Either way, regardless of WHY Cabrera is posting such strong numbers, the Tigers have to be thrilled he is playing at his usual level and continuing to give pitchers fits after a down 2017.
Make no mistake. Miggy is back with a vengeance, and MLB should officially be on notice.