The final word on Miguel Cabrera’s amazing year

 

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Neil Weinberg is the Founder of New English D and a writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44.

There’s a lot of disagreement among fans and analysts regarding which American League star deserves the 2013 MVP award. Mike Trout followed his off the charts rookie campaign with another 10 WAR season and Josh Donaldson led the A’s to another surprising AL West crown. Chris Davis even mashed 53 HR just to make things difficult. But those three are likely to fall short of the top honor thanks to the year Miguel Cabrera had in Detroit. He wasn’t the best all-around player in 2013, but it’s nearly impossible to argue he wasn’t the best hitter.

On the surface, the numbers are outrageous. He led baseball in batting average (.348), on base percentage (.442), slugging percentage (.636), weighted on base average (.455), and weighted runs created plus (192). We can set aside rate stats if you’re concerned about the time he missed down the stretch, but he still led the league in FanGraphs’ Batting Runs (67.9), which is simply the conversion of these rate numbers into a counting stat.

One could make the case that Trout’s baserunning closes the gap with Cabrera on offense and that Trout’s defense certainly makes up for whatever distance is leftover, but if we want only to speak about what happens in the batter’s box, Miguel Cabrera is in a league of his own.

That 192 wRC+, which controls for park and league average so that we can compare players across eras, ranks Cabrera’s 2013 as the 54th best offensive season in MLB history. That sounds great, but not unfathomable. However, prior to his injury a few weeks ago, Cabrera was sitting between 205-210 wRC+ which would have put him somewhere among the top 25 seasons since 1901.

Certainly we can’t wipe away his injury and pretend it didn’t happen, but it’s worth pointing out that he didn’t slow his pace until his body started to fail him. He had just two extra base hits in September and slugged a measly .333 in the month (105 wRC+). Before that, he was having the kind of season that puts you in the company of Ruth, Williams, Bonds, and Hornsby.

Cabrera excelled in just about every way and turned in one of the better seasons of all time and easily the best mark of any player this year despite hitting like a league average player for an entire month.

The 2013 campaign will be the jewel in Cabrera’s Hall of Fame case, which is already looking like a lock. In his down years, he’s hit 30% better than league average and has only been below 140 wRC+ twice since his first full season in 2004. His last four seasons have been 171, 177, 166, and 192. Right now, he stands as the 26th best hitter in baseball history by wRC+ and there are very few names above him on that list that aren’t inner circle Hall of Famers.

What he did in 2013 is so impressive because he was an equal opportunity slugger. It didn’t matter what hand the pitcher used, what pitch he threw, or where he threw it. He had the highest wOBA and Well-Hit Average against lefties:

Best wOBA vs LHP in 2013
PA AVG OBP SLUG OPS wOBA WHAV
Miguel Cabrera (DET) 164 .368 .488 .722 1.210 .497 .406
Andrew McCutchen (PIT) 121 .388 .479 .650 1.130 .477 .291
Jayson Werth (WSH) 124 .350 .452 .641 1.092 .455 .308
Starling Marte (PIT) 103 .402 .466 .587 1.053 .455 .236
Josh Donaldson (OAK) 204 .335 .412 .631 1.042 .436 .335

And the fourth highest wOBA and second highest WHAV against righties (first among RHH):

Best wOBA vs RHP in 2013
PA AVG OBP SLUG OPS wOBA WHAV
Chris Davis (BAL) 434 .316 .415 .728 1.142 .461 .324
David Ortiz (BOS) 384 .339 .440 .652 1.092 .442 .410
Shin-Soo Choo (CIN) 491 .317 .457 .554 1.011 .436 .253
Miguel Cabrera (DET) 488 .341 .426 .609 1.035 .433 .382
Mike Trout (LAA) 523 .327 .428 .572 1.000 .423 .274

He also led the league in wOBA and WHAV against all variations of fastballs:

Best wOBA vs “Hard” Pitches in 2013
PA AVG OBP SLUG OPS wOBA WHAV
Miguel Cabrera (DET) 373 .383 .475 .696 1.171 .493 .438
Shin-Soo Choo (CIN) 471 .346 .498 .587 1.085 .468 .281
Mike Trout (LAA) 447 .345 .477 .601 1.077 .461 .278
Jayson Werth (WSH) 332 .357 .449 .625 1.074 .456 .307
Joey Votto (CIN) 474 .337 .456 .568 1.024 .441 .332

Cabrera also turned in far and away the best WHAV against pitches out of the strike zone:

Best WHAV on Pitches Out of the Zone in 2013
PA AVG OBP SLUG OPS wOBA WHAV SB%
Miguel Cabrera (DET) 259 .262 .517 .446 .964 .425 .219 -
Victor Martinez (DET) 259 .240 .390 .324 .713 .324 .184 -
Carlos Santana (CLE) 250 .181 .476 .275 .751 .376 .169 -
Jose Bautista (TOR) 167 .250 .551 .380 .931 .448 .160 -
Robinson Cano (NYY) 267 .191 .404 .263 .667 .310 .153 -

He covered the entire plate and did so with power. Just look at his slugging percentage on pitches in on his hands and then out over the rest of the plate.

Miguel Cabrera's slugging percentage in 2013

Miguel Cabrera’s slugging percentage in 2013

Just the simple illustration that he can hit a homer on a pitch this far inside and then this far outside should really say it all.

Cabrera homers of Phil Hughes in August.

Cabrera homers of Phil Hughes in August.

Cabrera homers off Aaron Harang in April

Cabrera homers off Aaron Harang in April

Cabrera has deficiencies in his game. He’s not the fleetest of foot and his range at third base is among the worst in the league, but at the plate he is currently without peers. It’s not just that Cabrera had a better season than the one in which he won the Triple Crown, it’s that he had a season that dwarfed it.

The Triple Crown is a cool bit of trivia, but not wholly reflective of how well a player performed. That said, there haven’t been any Triple Crown seasons that weren’t excellent. Batting average isn’t as important as on base percentage and RBI are dependent on a player’s teammates, but leading in all three normally constitutes a great year. In 2013, Miguel Cabrera made his Triple Crown season look like a joke.

He reached base nearly 5% more often and slugged 30 points higher. Despite 45 fewer plate appearances, worse defense, and worse base running, he still set a career high in Wins Above Replacement at 7.6.

The Tigers are hoping the Miguel Cabrera who embarrassed American League pitchers from April to August will be back in time for the postseason and his first at bat against Bartolo Colon. Even if he’s only some approximation of himself at the plate, he’s still going to be tough to beat. Few have had the kind of season he just finished when fully healthy and even fewer had matched his pre-injury pace.

Even if Cabrera is less deserving that Trout for the MVP award, he’s a near lock to win on the merits of what he did at the plate and the team for which he played. Regardless of where you fall in the particular debate, there’s certainly time to marvel at what he was able to do in the box this year and what he might yet do over the next few weeks.