2015 Player Previews: 1B Miguel Cabrera

After two straight MVP seasons, injuries finally caught up and slowed down Miguel Cabrera, with the 2013 injury recovery slowing him out of the gate for 2014, and yet another injury sapping his power in dog days of summer. Can Cabrera put the injury aside aside and stay healthy return to to superstar productivity, or have the past two years been a sign of things to come for Cabrera’s future?

2014 In Review

2014 Miguel Cabrera Stats
Detroit 159 685 5.4 147 .313 .346 .346 .371 .524 9% 17% 1/1 -1 -9.2

When the 2014 season started, there was some apprehension about the effectiveness of Cabrera, giving he was coming off of off-season core muscle repair surgery. Those concerns received some validation as Cabrera got off to a slow start, with a .735 OPS in April. But by May, Cabrera had turned it on, with an OPS over 1.100 in May, and eased any concerns that might have existed.

Unfortunately the injury issues returned, with a bad ankle slowing Cabrera this time around. Things bottomed out in August, when Cabrera posted just a .691 OPS with only seven extra base hits. Cabrera has shown the ability the past two season to play through pain, but it’s clear taking a toll on his effectiveness. He had a stellar September, but the lingering effects of off-season surgery coupled with the injuries during the year resulted in a wOBA of .384, his lowest since 2008, his first year with the Tigers.

The move to first base did reduce his defensive liability as he’s always been a better first baseman than third baseman. However, he was still viewed as below average no matter the metric you used, and the position shift from third obviously didn’t help him health-wise, as his body still took a beating.

Once the year was over, Cabrera again underwent off-season surgery, this time on his bum ankle. They had to remove bone spurs and repair a stress fracture that he had been playing through – the sorts of injuries that would usually result in a player heading to the disabled list. Cabrera played through it, but the injury has without question impacted his off-season workout program and could still prevent him from being ready for the start of the year.

2015 Player Projections

2015 Miguel Cabrera Projections
Service PA WAR BA BAbip OBP SLG wOBA D-Val
ZiPS 657 4.8 .310 .330 .382 .542 .386 2
Steamer 654 5.6 .317 .339 .394 .557 .408 -14

For a player near the peak of his career, it’s not a surprise that the offensive projections remain close between Steamer and ZiPS. Steamer is slightly more optimistic about Cabrera’s offensive output, expecting a better power output. If you believe the injuries sapped his power and he’ll be able to stay healthy in 2015, a .24 ISO would appear to be very realistic, given he posted better than that in every year with the Tigers but one.

The two systems are relatively close on their offensive forecast, but have very different perspectives when it comes to defense. Steamer is more negative, expecting Cabrera to continue to see an erosion of his defensive abilities, even with the move to first base.

No matter the projection, they both still believe that Cabrera will again be a roughly five win player, still among the best in baseball, but no longer simply the best (or second best, depending on your affinity for Mike Trout).

The TigsTown Take

The real question is going to come down to the health of Cabrera. If he’s healthy, there’s every reason to believe that he can still be a dominant offensive threat, sitting at age 31 on Opening Day. There’s also reason to believe that he can be at least an average defensive first baseman – it’s not a physically taxing position and scouts believed he had made significant strides as to the finer points of the spot up until the Tigers signed Prince Fielder and stunted that development.

So the question becomes almost a philosophical one – do you believe Cabrera’s body is showing the beginning signs of breaking down on him, or have the injuries just been poor timing, and the reality that over a long career, injuries will happen. Cabrera has never in his career missed significant playing time due to injury, so he doesn’t have a track record to indicate this was coming. But, 160 games a year for over a decade, plus a half dozen post seasons, will take its toll.

If Cabrera is healthy, there’s plenty of reason to believe he can exceed the projections and fans’ expectations, and return to being a six or seven win player as he was from 2010 to 2013. That sort of surge will quickly change the outlook for the 2015 Tigers, in the way that only a superstar player can do. There’s no guarantee, but it’s not unreasonable to think it’s going to happen.

2015 Projections come from two different sources; ZiPS, and Steamer, both publicly available via FanGraphs.com and presented for information purposes only. ZiPS projections come from Dan Szymborski, and Steamer from Steamer Projections, a trio of independent academic researchers.

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