Even though he has been slowed down lately by a bad hip, Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera is still causing all sorts of problems for opposing pitchers on his quest for a second consecutive Triple Crown.
Through Tuesday's games, Cabrera ranks first in batting average (.361) and second in home runs (32) and RBI (100). It is clear he hasn't been right since the All-Star break, though he is still hitting a tremendous .280/.400/.520 in 25 at-bats.
With the Tigers' win over Cleveland on Tuesday, they have now played 111 games on the season. That means Cabrera has 51 games left to keep his pace in batting average and catch Baltimore's Chris Davis in homers and RBI (40, 103 for Davis) to become the second player after Ted Williams in 1947 to win two Triple Crowns in a career and first to do it in consecutive seasons.
Since numbers are everything in baseball as well as a vital part of what Cabrera is doing, we wanted to take a look at how Cabrera stacks up heading into these last 51 games, what his current pace is relative to the players around him and how the schedule/strength of opponent will play a role in his quest.
The Law of Averages
Since the easiest stat to break down is batting average, we might as well start with that. As mentioned before, Cabrera leads the world in this category with a .361 mark. He holds a 30-point lead over Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout (.331).
(Just for the record, Cabrera is also 23 points ahead of National League leader Chris Johnson of the Atlanta Braves.)
While you never can classify a race as being over before it is official, Trout can write his concession speech to Cabrera and deliver it whenever he wants because there is no catching the 2012 AL MVP in this category.
Cabrera's lead in batting average is so large that if we were to do some fast math you could see that he isn't giving up that crown.
Through the first 103 games he has played this season, Cabrera has had 391 at-bats, or roughly 3.8 per game. If we take that number and multiply it by 51 (the number of games the Tigers have left), we see that he is on pace for another 194 at-bats. (If you want to take away 10 at-bats to account for days off, I wouldn't stop you.)
Of those 194 at-bats, Cabrera needs just 51 hits for a .263 average the rest of the season. That would put his season total at 192 hits in 585 at-bats, which is good for a .328 average, roughly in line with where Trout is right now.
But the odds of Cabrera hitting just .263 the rest of the way are very small. His worst individual month this season was July (.288). The other four months, including the very small sample of August, have seen him hit .363, .379, .378 and .400.
If there was ever a trophy for winning the batting average title, the company that makes it should just start engraving Cabrera's name on the plaque because that championship isn't going anywhere.
Can You Feel the Power?
Thanks to Davis, Cabrera's quest for a Triple Crown will rest on how much of a home run tear he can go on in the next 51 games. If Davis were to go homerless the rest of the season, and using our formula that gives Cabrera 194 more at-bats, the Tigers slugger would have to hit one home run every 21.6 at-bats to win the home run crown outright.
However, considering the power Davis has shown this season, the odds of him not hitting another homer are slim. I would go out on a limb to say that won't happen.
Given his current pace, Davis is on track to hit 57 home runs. If he hits that pace, Cabrera has no shot because he isn't hitting 25 more home runs this season. As great as he is, that's one every two games, or one every 7.8 at-bats.
There are some reasons to be optimistic, most notably the way Davis has slowed down since the All-Star break. He has always been prone to strikeouts but was able to mask that in the first half by hitting 37 home runs.
Since the Midsummer Classic, though, Davis' problems making contact have reared their ugly head. He has punched out 25 times in 64 at-bats with just three home runs.
With those numbers, it is hard to see Davis hitting the 57 homer mark. Perhaps we can find some middle ground by saying he will get to 45 home runs, meaning Cabrera would need to hit 13 to tie and 14 to win the home run title outright.
Once again, using the formula we created, Cabrera would have to hit one home run every 13.9 at-bats. That number is reachable, though still not a given. He has hit one homer every 17.1 at-bats in his career, but one every 12.2 at-bats this season.
If that number holds true the rest of the year, Cabrera would need 561 at-bats to hit 46 home runs. (If we use his career average, Cabrera would need 787 at-bats to hit 46 home runs, which is an impossible number for him to hit.)
But we also have to factor in how limited Cabrera is thanks to that hip. He has shown some pop recently by hitting a ball off the wall in center field against Cleveland on Tuesday. It is also clear that, for a player who has never been known for his running ability, moving is a problem.
If there is a player in baseball who is going to hit even with a hip issue, Cabrera would be right at the top of the list. He has a long way to go before catching Davis.
The Proverbial RBI Machine
The most difficult category to predict in baseball is the RBI because so much of it is dependent on the players who hit in front of you. If they aren't getting on base, you don't have as many opportunities to drive in a run.
Cabrera hits right in the middle of a very good lineup. The Tigers rank second in baseball with 566 runs scored and a .345 on-base percentage. The two players who hit ahead of Cabrera are Austin Jackson (.330 OBP) and Torii Hunter (.345 OBP), so there will still be plenty of chances for him to drive in runs.
He is currently on pace to drive in 146 runs, two fewer than Davis. But Davis, in addition to being in a slump at this particular moment, also has to contend with a lineup that isn't as good/deep as Detroit's.
Baltimore has scored a lot of runs this season (531, fourth in the league) but ranks 16th in on-base percentage (.314). Davis also has to deal with hitting lower in his lineup (alternating between fourth and fifth) than Cabrera, giving him fewer opportunities to drive in runs.
Nick Markakis and Adam Jones have spent time hitting in front of Davis. Jones has 23 home runs and 28 doubles on his own. Markakis isn't hitting for power the way he once did, but has found a way to put up respectable averages and on-base percentage totals that give Jones and Davis extra opportunities to drive in runs.
But as far as the players ahead of Davis in the lineup, Nate McLouth has a .348 OBP, Manny Machado has a .325, Markakis is at .337 and Jones is at .326. McLouth is getting on base for players like Machado, Markakis and Jones to drive him in.
Given the depth of their respective lineups, as well as the types of hitters they are, Cabrera has a great chance to catch and surpass Davis in this category.
Strength of Schedule/Park Effects
The final piece of the Cabrera-Triple Crown puzzle has nothing to do with him, per se, and everything to do with the schedule he will face and parks he will play in.
Here is a breakdown of the final 51 games for Cabrera, with his career stats in each stadium he will play in.
Cabrera will end the season playing in a lot of big parks, or at least some that have been unfavorable for home run hitters this season that figure to cause him some problems on his quest.
One thing that does work to his advantage is 25 games at Comerica Park, which is a big stadium, but Cabrera has figured out how to succeed there.
As far as the strength of schedule goes, the Tigers play three teams that rank in the top 10 of ERA (Kansas City, Oakland, Miami) and four that rank in the top 10 in strikeouts (Boston, Cleveland, Seattle, Chicago).
One thing to note that we can't factor in right now is roster expansion in September, when teams out of contention start bringing up pitchers from the minors to see what they can do. As far as teams the Tigers play who figure to throw starts at inferior pitchers, Miami, Minnesota, Chicago and Seattle all figure into the equation.
That can help artificially inflate some of Cabrera's numbers, even when he goes into parks that don't play well for hitters.
And the survey says...
It is going to take a Herculean effort from Cabrera over the last two months of the season to win the Triple Crown. That isn't to say it is impossible because we have seen what the slugger is capable of when you back him into a corner.
But trying to catch someone who has eight more home runs than you do and is a more prodigious power hitter makes it very difficult to imagine Cabrera winning a second consecutive Triple Crown.
The batting average title is Cabrera's, of that I have no doubt. Regardless of how hot Mike Trout gets over the last two months, it would take a prolonged slump by Cabrera (which doesn't seem to happen, ever) for him to lose the stranglehold on that category.
I would even go so far as to say that Cabrera will finish ahead of Davis in RBI because he is a better all-around hitter and bats slightly higher in a good lineup that will allow him to drive in more runs. But that category can be so unpredictable that I wouldn't be surprised if Davis went on a run with 15-20 RBI in 12 games.
It will be a close, exciting race to the finish with Cabrera coming up just short in his quest for another Triple Crown.
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