When Prince Fielder was signed by the Detroit Tigers in January and the team announced Miguel Cabrera would move to third base, many worried about his ability to play defense, not offense.
Now 30-games into the season could his defensive switch be hurting his ability to hit and do what he is really paid to do in Detroit?
Cabrera has made some fantastic plays at third base this year and only has three errors so far, which is far and away some of the best defense the team has ever seen him play. He gets to more balls than people expect him to, he is able to make throws from third to first and has shown a surprising amount of agility.
Those are the good parts of Cabrera’s move to third though, the bad is well, concerning. He has struggled at the plate for a majority of the season. He is batting only .263, does have seven homers and is seventh in the AL in RBIs, but is only getting on base at a .323 clip. His strikeouts are up, 18, and his slugging is down about 100 points from where it is usually at, .475.
Perhaps worst of all, the All-Star’s average has actually gotten worse as the season has gone on. He hit .298 in April and so far in May, he is hitting an anemic .176 with only two RBIs, no home runs and no walks with five strikeouts. This start to the year is his lowest since 2008, when he started the year off batting .274 in April and .283 in May.
It is tough to really distrust that Cabrera will turn it around, after all he has the resume and past experience to justify the belief he will. It isn’t a typical year for him though, as when he crushed the pitching in the AL before he was a first baseman, a much less physically demanding position. Third requires more agility, speed and overall effort to play defense at the level he is playing.
The increased physical demand is why there aren’t many third basemen in the American League who crush the ball.
The only real sluggers in the American League who play third are the much younger and much smaller Evan Longeria, Texas’ eternally young Adrian Beltre and Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees. Of those named, only Longoria and Beltre are batting over .300, with Mike Moustakas joining them. Not exactly a ringing endorsement for people who just think Cabrera needs to get on a roll.
There is always the possibility Cabrera will start to turn it around and that this whole team is just in the midst of one of the worst slumps they have experienced. Truth be told though, a lot of this team’s offensive woes come from Cabrera. Many thought the addition of Fielder behind him would give him more pitches to hit, but as of right now he is striking out more.
How many times have we seen the Tigers get either their first, or both, batters on base to leadoff an inning, only for Cabrera, Fielder and Delmon Young to go down in order to end the threat?
Sure, there are instances where they have come through, but at the end of the day, two on and one out with a double-play chance for Fielder is a big accomplishment for a pitcher than a two on, or two in one on, nobody out situation with Fielder at the plate. If Cabrera can start to turn it around and hit in the big spots like we are used to, don’t be surprised if the rest of the offense begins to click into place behind him.
Hovering around the precipice of absolute mediocrity and panic-time, Cabrera needs to start kicking it into high gear now. With a series against the Oakland A’s, Cabrera has a prime opportunity to show that his time at third base is not preventing him from touching third base as he trots around the bags. It should be no surprise to anyone that the Tigers offense exploded on the same night Cabrera did. With that in mind, if he is unable to sustain the stroke he had last night though, it may be time for Jim Leyland to rethink his “no DH” policy for Fielder or Cabrera.