Thursday, October 2, 2014

Inconsistent Cabrera

Though his numbers were excellent, Cabrera had an uneven season (FantasySmackTalk)
I was looking at Miguel Cabrera's game log today, trying to figure out how his great season went so unnoticed, and I think I figured it out. The two-time defending AL MVP got off  to a slow start (.728 OPS through May 2nd), which always makes it easier to forget about a player because his numbers are depressed for a good chunk of the season (see: Matt Holliday). But his numbers weren't depressed very long, as he went bananas in May to quickly get his stats back up to his career norms.

Then, over the next three months, he basically became Alex Gordon, minus the exceptional defense and baserunning. In 81 games--that's half a season--he managed just seven home runs and a very unCabrera-esque .278/.355/.431 slash line. His prolonged slump cause his batting line to steadily decline throughout the summer, falling from its peak of .332/.377/.569 at the dawn of June to .299/.363/.486 by the end of August. With "only" 17 home runs and 91 RBI, Cabrera was having an Adrian Gonzalez type of season. Good numbers, to be sure, but also not what we've come to expect from Cabrera after his past few seasons.

So by that point, he'd had four average to below average months and one monster month. No wonder nobody was saying much about him. September turned out be like May, as Cabrera batted .379/.409/.709 (right in line with May's .380/.423/.704) and slugged eight home runs (same as May). That finishing kick enabled Cabrera to hike his OPS 45 points in the season's final month, raising it from .850 to .895 in four weeks.

I suspect Cabrera wasn't appreciated this year because he was mediocre for such a long stretch there, reminiscent of Alex Rodriguez's roller-coaster 2006 campaign, which followed the same pattern of bookending three tough summer months with a huge May and September. Like Rodriguez that year, Cabrera provided the bulk of his production in two months, one of which was May (not exactly the most exciting time in baseball). In those two amazing months combined he mashed 21 doubles, 16 homers, knocked in 52 runs and batted roughly .380/.415/.706. For a third of the season, he was otherworldly. But for the other two-thirds he was merely pedestrian.

An old baseball idiom is that sluggers typically do 50 percent of their damage in a quarter of the season. That was absolutely the case with Cabrera this year. It's funny he was so streaky this year because he's made a reputation out of being machine-like for more than a decade. But that's just what happens as players age--their slumps last longer and their hot streaks become less frequent.

And at 31 with a dozen big league seasons under his belt, Cabrera ain't getting any younger.

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