Regular readers of Getting Blanked’s “My Approach” series are acutely aware of an unsurprising trend: nearly all big league hitters think Miguel Cabrera has the best approach in baseball. He’s the baseball version of Kobe Bryant: your favorite player’s favorite player.
As the accolades rolled in, it became abundantly clear the My Approach series required a Miguel Cabrera instalment. Not that he doesn’t deserve an entry without the praise of his peers, but the overwhelming reaction demanded contact with Cabrera.
His resume speaks for itself: Miguel Cabrera is a fast-tracking Hall of Fame hitter who earned a World Series ring at 20, has four Silver Sluggers to his name and claimed the first Triple Crown in 45 years.
He’s in the middle of one of the best offensive peaks in baseball, with his age 27-30 seasons ranking among the greatest of all time.
Everyone knows how good a hitter Miguel Cabrera has become. He hit a very high level as a 21-year old playing every day and has not looked back.
Getting Blanked discussed his preparation, his ability to make contact and using all fields in a very special edition of My Approach.
Getting Blanked – The first thing I ask about is video work, do you watch a lot of video?
Miguel Cabrera – I watch this video right here [points to MLB Network highlight show playing on clubhouse TV]
GB – Just in-game stuff, to pick up on how the pitchers work guys?
MC – I watch more when he’s got runners in scoring position, I see how he pitches from the stretch. So when I go out there, I have a better idea of what he does.
Like most good hitters, Cabrera has great numbers with runners in scoring position because he is a great hitter. For his career, his numbers with runners on base and runners in scoring position all but mirror his overall numbers, putting up a .336/.431/.566 career RISP line compared to .321/.398/.567 on the whole. The difference is slight but every bit helps, situationally, when the goal is “winning baseball games.”
GB – Do you ever watch yourself, if you’re not feeling right?
MC – No, I have my hitting coach. He tells me when I do something. I think that’s the best way to figure out something, I don’t really like to watch myself.
GB – When it comes time to make an adjustment, you mostly do it in the cage?
MC – Yeah, I keep consistent in the cage. I do my routine, try to do everything right and work hard to get the best approach in the game.
GB – You work with the pitching machine mostly or soft toss?
MC – Just soft toss.
GB – As a veteran guy, what kind of adjustments have you made as you mature and learn more and more about the league?
MC – I’ve learned to make adjustments after every pitch. Every at bat, see how they pitch you and adjust. Every pitch, every at bat.
Here is a terrific feature from the Detroit Free Press on Miguel Cabrera’s willingness and ability to make adjustments. The key takeway: he refuses to “take a pitch off”, to lose focus and allow himself to be beaten because he wasn’t ready for the situation.
It also highlights a new, more “joyful” approach to the game, also highlighted in this National Post article. After straightening out his personal life, Cabrera appears to be having a great deal of fun playing baseball. Being the best at something is a great way to do that.
GB – I read you don’t exactly guess but you sometimes…anticipate what a guy might throw?
MC – You never want to guess but, sometimes, I see a pitcher on video in the situation like runners on base and I notice he likes to throw a first pitch strike or a first pitch breaking ball, I always remember that. I have a better idea of what he likes to do. I don’t know if you want to call it a guess but I have an idea because of what I saw on video.
GB – More like eliminating options, depending on the situation.
MC – Exactly.
GB – What about two strikes?
MC – I like to spread out, spread my legs and get short (to the ball). I want to make contact. I don’t like to strikeout [smiles] this year I strike out a lot [laughs] but it’s part of the game!
Cabrera’s strikeout rate is higher than usual in 2013 but only when compared to his recent work. It remains unbelievably low for a slugger of Cabrera’s pedigree. With a 203 wRC+ (where 100 is a league average hitter), a strikeout rate just over 15% and an ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average, an excellent shorthand for raw power ), Cabrera’s 2013 season puts him into some very, very exclusive company. Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Bonds, Musial. That’s good.
To control the full strike zone as Cabrera does, hitting balls to the opposite field with such authority, it is the mark of a truly great hitter. But the ability to do so with power is what makes him historic. This shot off Wade Davis stands out as one of the longest opposite field home runs you’ll ever see.
This home run came off a fastball but, as you might imagine, Cabrera crushes soft stuff, too. He’s the best hitter in baseball, there aren’t many situations (when standing in the batters box) that Cabrera put up crazy numbers.
GB- When we spoke with Carlos Gonzalez he said you offer the same piece of advice time and time again: “hands, hands, hands” – are hands the most important part of your swing?
MC – I think that if you try to use your body too much, you get into trouble. That’s when you open your shoulders and your eyes are moving around too much. But when you’re nice and balanced, everything comes through – your body, your legs, the combination for the perfect swing. Your hands control every part of your body.
GB – You use your hands to use the opposite field?
MC – Going the other way is all about your hands.
Everything Miguel Cabera does is about his hands. This super slow-motion replay from a recent Fox Sports broadcast puts in plain sight.
This swing produced a majestic 430 foot bomb to left field at Progressive Field, and it highlights the work his hands do. Cabrera pulls his hands in to “stay inside” this fastball on the inner half, sending it 20 rows deep into the left field bleachers.
Cabrear’s power is easiest to showcase but it is only a part of what makes him great. Over the past three seasons, Miguel Cabrera has the most opposite field hits in baseball among right-handed hitters. He ranks fourth in singles, second in doubles and third in home runs.
All the while ranking among league leaders in walks and posting a historically low strikeout rate for a power hitter. Ho hum.
GB – Okay, so if I was to ask you who do YOU think has the best approach in the game, what would you say?
MC - Hmmmm [deep exhalation] Man, I see a lot of guys…
At the risk of editorializing, Miguel Cabrera seemed, in this moment, like a man confident/self-aware enough to know the only real answer is “myself” yet unwilling to actual say so out loud. So things, instead, got weird. There was a brief English/Spanish call-and-response interlude with Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder and more deep sighs and much laughter.
The reigning American League Most Valuable Player then asked Ramon Santiago a question in Spanish. It sounded like Cabrera asked Santiago who he thought had the best approach in the game. Santiago joked with Cabrera briefly then pointed to the Triple Crown winner before responding to yours truly in English
Ramon Santiago – It’s not even close. I’ve watched him the last five years and it’s like he gets better and better ever year. I mean, I’ve seen him and you’ve seen it. I don’t need to tell you, you know it – he’s the best.
MC – You’re the man, Santiago [not an exact translation.]
GB – What about a guy you’d pay to watch? Maybe somebody you look forward to seeing them in BP at the All Star Game.
MC – BP? I want to see the guy from Florida…
GB – Giancarlo Stanton?
MC – Yeah!
GB – [heart explodes]
MC - I heard he has unbelievable power. I was excited last year because we were going to see (Mark) Trumbo, this guy (Stanton) but then he got hurt the last week before the game. I was excited to see these guys hit a home run like 500-something feet. I love to see guys like this when they hit.
Yes, Miguel. That would be something to see. Whatever would stupid, crazy, other-worldly power like that look like?
It’s totally normal for pitchers to throw off-speed stuff when they’re behind in the count only to see it hit 460 feet-plus. Totally normal.
GB – I’ve done a bunch of these and every single guy, except one, said they think you have the best approach in the big leagues.
MC - who said no?
GB – Pablo Sandoval said Buster but I think everybody else said you. The Giants tend to stick together, I think.
MC - [to Don Kelly, sitting nearby] Kelly, you agree with that (that Cabrera has the best approach)?
Don Kelly [after some good natured ribbing] – Best approach in the game? No doubt, Miggy man. It’s ridiculous..
MC – See, that’s my teammate right there! [Laughs]
Hat tip to Fangraphs and ESPN Stats & Info for a helping hand.