Is Hot-Hitting Miguel Cabrera Finally Back to Being Himself?

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Is Hot-Hitting Miguel Cabrera Finally Back to Being Himself?
USA Today

For a while there, Miguel Cabrera wasn't hitting like Miguel Cabrera. For a while since, he has been hitting like Miguel Cabrera. Ergo, Miggy must be Miggy again.

Either that, or the old Miggy has given way to a new Miggy who's found a way to imitate the old Miggy.

Yeah, it's sort of complicated.

But before we get on with simplifying things, behold some necessary context on how it's been a tale of two seasons for the Detroit Tigers slugger in 2014:

A Tale of Two Miguel Cabrera Seasons
Date G PA K% BB% AVG OBP SLG OPS
Through 4/21 16 69 21.7 8.7 .206 .275 .333 .609
Since 4/22 20 88 14.8 3.4 .361 .386 .614 1.001

Baseball-Reference.com

I, for one, would prefer it if Miggy were mixing in some more walks with his recent hot hitting. But since he probably wasn't going to walk his way out of his slump, I'll take it. Presumably, the Tigers will too.

Better yet is that it's not just the results that are reminiscent of the Miggy who's won two straight American League MVPs. Also reminiscent of the dominant Miggy we know and love is how he's been...

 

No Longer Overmatched by Hard Stuff

According to Brooks Baseball, Cabrera hit .343 with a .607 slugging percentage against four-seamers, sinkers and cutters from 2007 to 2013. Said data likely isn't 100 percent complete, mind you, but it'll do for highlighting how we're talking about a dude who's accustomed to hitting the heat.

It also serves as a solid segue into another point: After uncharacteristically not being able to hit hard stuff early in 2014, Cabrera is doing his usual thing once again.

Here's more data from Brooks Baseball:

Miguel Cabrera vs. Hard Stuff in 2014
Span Pitches AB K AVG SLG HR
Through 4/21 190 46 15 .174 .283 1
Since 4/22 187 54 8 .296 .482 2

Brooks Baseball

This becomes an even more welcome sight if we introduce some context into the mix.

We can do that by recalling how Cabrera's struggles against hard stuff really began when he was dealing with injuries to his core last fall. By the time the Tigers got to October, the secret was out—especially, as Marc Normandin of Over the Monster noted, in the ALCS against the Boston Red Sox.

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

After Cabrera had offseason surgery, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs noted in late April that pitchers were still going to the well by challenging him with fastballs. It worked for a while, but it was apparent even at the time of Sullivan's writing that Cabrera was beginning to adjust.

Now here we are at the time of this writing, and the adjustment is pretty well in the books.

So that's good. Just as good is how Cabrera has been...

 

Making Better Contact and Spreading His Hits Around

By virtue of his decreased strikeout rate, one thing we know is Cabrera has been making contact more consistently during his hot streak.

But he's also making better contact. We can tell that by considering this data from FanGraphs:

Miguel Cabrera's Contact in 2014
Split LD% GB% FB% HR/FB
Through 4/21 20.8 47.9 31.1 6.7
Since 4/22 22.5 42.3 35.2 20.0

FanGraphs

Earlier in April, Cabrera was hitting a lot of ground balls (GB%). Which is bad, because it's hard enough to make ground balls go for hits even with good speed—which, of course, Cabrera does not possess.

But in the last few weeks, Cabrera has cashed in some ground balls for line drives (LD%) and fly balls (FB%). That's more like it, as line drives often go for hits and fly balls often go for extra-base hits. The latter certainly go for home runs a lot, and Cabrera has indeed been enjoying more of those (HR/FB).

But where a hitter hits the ball can count just as much as how he hits the ball, and this is another area where Cabrera has improved.

Courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com, here's Cabrera's spray chart through April 21:

Image courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com.

Earlier this year, Cabrera was using only left field (his pull side) effectively. He was trying to go to right field, but he ran into more outs than hits in doing so.

"My swing wants to pull the ball right now," Cabrera admitted to Chris Iott of MLive.com in early April.

But like with the hard stuff, the adjustment that was needed is an adjustment that has happened.

Here's Cabrera's spray chart since April 22:

Image courtesy of TexasLeaguers.com.

That's a hitter using the whole field and doing so effectively. Huzzah.

But it's not just the whole field Cabrera has been covering. He's also been...

 

Covering All Corners of the Plate

Anyone who's watched enough of Cabrera over the years will know that one of the things that has made him such a lethal hitter is his ridiculous plate coverage.

However, plate coverage was a problem for Cabrera earlier in 2014. Here's a telling graphic from Brooks Baseball:

Image courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net (h/t Baseball Prospectus)

What you're looking at are Cabrera's batting averages in various spots in and around the strike zone. He collected only five hits on pitches outside the zone, and none across the top portion of it.

That's not good plate coverage. Certainly not Miguel Cabrera plate coverage.

Which makes what he's done since April 22 another welcome sight:

Image courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net (h/t Baseball Prospectus)

What you're seeing here are five hits across the top of the strike zone and 11 hits on pitches outside the strike zone. That's 16 hits where before there were only five. In sum: What was poor plate coverage has turned back into good plate coverage.

Between Cabrera hitting hard stuff again, hitting the ball well, using the whole field again and covering the whole plate again, two obvious conclusions come to mind:

  1. He's as locked in as he usually is.
  2. He's swinging the bat like he usually is.

I say yes to the first one. Emphatically so.

But the second one...

Well, let's talk about the second one.

 

Has Cabrera Changed His Swing for Good?

It's probably not much of a secret at this point that Cabrera had to change his swing late in 2013 to compensate for his wounds, which he accomplished by going from his usual one-handed follow-through to a two-handed follow-through.

Because words can only paint so much of the picture, what we used to see is this:

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

And what we started seeing was this:

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

The difference in the two follow-throughs is hard to miss, but here's a helpful image anyway:

Images courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

The appeal of that two-handed follow-through was hard to miss. By placing more pressure on his upper body, Cabrera was taking pressure off his wounded lower body.

Doing so might have been what kept him on the field last fall. It's too bad the new swing didn't do much besides that.

While his one-handed swing did make occasional cameos, it was mainly with his two-handed swing that Cabrera hit just .278 with a .333 slugging percentage in September and .262 with a .405 slugging percentage in October.

Now, after watching Cabrera struggle his way through the fall, it was easy to figure that he would have his surgery and get back to swinging like his old self in 2014. Of course he would, right?

Jon Paul Morosi of FoxSports.com (and others) noticed that Cabrera was still using a two-handed swing out of the gate this year. Cabrera suggested that had to do with him not yet feeling at "full strength" after his surgery. A solid explanation, indeed.

Even still, this time it was even easier to figure that Cabrera would soon find his old one-handed swing again. One day, we'd look up and see him crushing baseballs like his old self and all would be good.

Which brings us to the weird part: This hasn't been the case during Cabrera's recent hot streak.

Consider the home runs Cabrera has hit (distances from ESPN Stats & Information via HitTrackerOnline.com):

Miguel Cabrera's Home Runs Since April 22
Date Pitcher Hit Direction Distance Follow-Through
4/22/2014 Charles Leesman Right field 369 One-handed
5/6/2014 Brett Oberholtzer Left center 419 Two-handed
5/7/2014 Brad Peacock Right center 369 Two-handed
5/10/2014 Kyle Gibson Right center 375 Two-handed
5/13/2014 Tommy Hunter Left center 401 Two-handed

MLB.com and ESPN Stats & Information

The home run that Cabrera hit on April 22 off Charles Leesman had the potential to be a turning point, as it happened with him using his old one-handed swing. But nope. It's been two-handed swings on each of the four home runs he's hit since.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

And it's not just the home runs either. A stroll through his hitting highlights since April 22 reveals:

Miguel Cabrera's Other Highlights Since April 22
Date Highlight Swing
4/22/2014 RBI Double Two-handed
4/24/2014 RBI Single One-handed
4/24/2014 RBI Single Two-handed
4/25/2014 RBI Single One-handed
4/26/2014 RBI Double Two-handed
5/2/2014 RBI Double Two-handed
5/3/2014 RBI Single Two-handed
5/4/2014 RBI Double Two-handed
5/5/2014 Four Hits Two-handed
5/12/2014 RBI Single One-handed
5/14/2014 RBI Single One-handed

MLB.com

There's a couple one-handed swings in there, but it's mainly been two-handed swings. Combine these with the two-handed home runs, and Cabrera's two-handed swing has surprisingly accounted for the bulk of his recent damage.

Let's jump to a conclusion: Shoot, maybe he's simply gotten more comfortable using that two-handed swing. Maybe having time to grow into it—something he didn't have when he first started using it in 2013—has made a difference.

If things go perfectly from here, Cabrera will be able to transition back to using his one-handed follow-through on a full-time basis. It is the swing that's made him one of the greatest hitters ever, after all.

What he's done in recent weeks, however, is prove that he can still be one of the game's most dangerous hitters even if he has to keep using his two-handed swing. Where it was once little more than a crutch, it's now a weapon.

Meet the new Miggy. Same as the old Miggy, basically.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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