2015 Year in Review
|119||511||4.3||165||.338||.384||.347||.440||.534||15.1%||16%||1 / 1||4||-9.2|
Cabrera has been known as a player that could play through injury, whether it be his groin or his ankle, Cabrera battled through the pain to stay on the field. It signified how tough he was and dedicated to the cause of chasing a World Series championship. But on Fourth of July weekend, Cabrera pulled up lame, immediately signaled something was wrong, and hit the disabled list for the first time in his career. Among an injury-riddled season for the Tigers, it was likely the final nail in a coffin waiting to be closed, as the team couldn’t be the same without him.
And that’s because when he was still out there, he was still an elite hitter. His 165 wRC+ was 4th in MLB last year, behind Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Joey Votto. He walked nearly as much as he struck out, won the MLB batting title with his .338 average, hit for plenty of power, and was even good for 4 defensive runs saved (though his defensive value still checked in negative). Suffice it to say, in the 3/4 of the year that he played, Cabrera was still among the best in baseball.
Cabrera’s .338 average was driven by a .384 average on balls in play, which is high, though not significantly higher than his career average on balls in play. And all of his rate stats, including his walk and strikeout, were within the range of his career norms. The only indicator whatsoever of aging when he was healthy was for the first time in his career, his isolated slugging fell below 0.2, but just barely at 0.196. It’s barely a drop from 2014 at .21, but well below his MVP seasons before that, providing data that while Cabrera is still elite, he’s also still human, and subject to the power decline that most hitters see as they get north of 30. And Cabrera, who will turn 33 in April, is right around that time.
2016 Player Projections
Cabrera’s recent injury history plus his climbing age results in a similar projection that forecasts a dropoff in overall value from Cabrera, coming in as a still very good, but not quite elite, four-win player. Offensively, they project him to still be very good, with an ISO in the .20 range, though a reduced average, expecting that his walk/strikeout rates to drive down his average with a return to normal on his average on balls in play. ZiPS is slightly more negative on each of his stats, resulting in a wOBA more than 15 points lower.
But the key metric to look at here are his plate appearances. Prior to 2015, Cabrera had been a virtual lock for roughly 650 plate appearances over the course of a year. Last year with the calf injury, he fell to 511. Despite his consistency prior to 2015, both expect him to fall well below 650 again, with ZiPS nearly 100 plate appearances below. Steamer isn’t as pessimistic, but at 594 plate appearances, you’re still looking at Cabrera missing 25-30 games for the season.
The TigsTown Take
Despite his age, Cabrera remains one of the top hitters in the game. The power decline forecasted isn’t surprising, and has already been a trend each of the last two seasons, as he’s fallen from 44 home runs in 2012-13 to 25 in 2014, and just 18 in his shortened season last year. The hand-eye coordination that makes him such a deadly hitter is still there, and while his average was forecasted to decline based on the combo of his high BAbip and slightly increased strikeout rate, here’s betting Cabrera’s average is closer to the .330 he’s been at many times, as opposed to the .300 they’ve got him closer to.
So then it comes to his health. The calf injury sidelined him for almost a quarter of the season, and it’s very typical to see injury issues increase with age. Given his consistency in fighting through pain the past few years, one might be inclined to believe Cabrera can do it again. But pain at 33 can be different than pain at 30, and Cabrera has experienced a significant injury each of the last three seasons, that would have sidelined most players, and if the Tigers weren’t in contention for a World Series, probably would have put him on the disabled list.
Cabrera is still a dangerous hitter, and the Tigers will get very good productivity out him when he’s out there, among the best in baseball still. But, one is a dot, two is a line, and three is a trend. And Cabrera’s trend has been to suffer a significant injury that should take him out for roughly 30-40 games each year. The Tigers and fans should plan accordingly.
2016 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.