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First Base Profile: Michael Goat-herder? (Miguel Cabrera)

Miguel Cabrera (translating literally to Michael Goat-herder, or so I'm told) has been the best hitter on the planet for most of the past five years, but last year was a down year. Will he re-claim his crown in 2015 or continue the fall?

Miguel "goat-herder" Cabrera had a poor (for him) season in 2014. What about this year?
Miguel "goat-herder" Cabrera had a poor (for him) season in 2014. What about this year?
Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Miguel Cabrera was a monster hitter. No, he didn't hit physical monsters (although Miguel Cabrera: Vampire Hunter has a nice ring to it), I mean he was a prolific hitter of baseballs. He battled with Mike Trout for the title of the best player in all of fantasy baseball. Sadly, last year we saw the demise of Senor Cabrera. The Miguel Cabrera we all knew and loved and picked first overall in drafts is dead. Instead, we have Michael Goat-herder. Although I know little about the Spanish language, I was told once by the Internet that Miguel Cabrera translates literally to "Michael Goat-herder," so I am using that name to distinguish the new version of the Tigers first baseman from the old version.

Let's start by looking at his stats for each season since 2010. See if you can spot the differences between 2014 and the previous years.

2010 0.328 0.42 0.622 111 126 38 3 150 14.7%
2011 0.344 0.448 0.586 111 105 30 2 161 12.9%
2012 0.33 0.393 606 109 139 44 4 161 14.1%
2013 0.348 0.442 0.636 103 137 44 3 148 14.4%
2014 0.313 0.371 0.524 101 109 25 1 159 17.1%

Here's where each 2014 stat ranks in this entire five-year stretch: AVG: last, OBP: last, SLG: last, Runs: last, RBI: 2nd to last, HR: last, SB: last, Strikeout rate: last. That is not good. He will be 32-years old this season, which is by no means an old man, but in baseball-years that is definitely in the decline phase. Power has been shown to peak around 27, so those 40+ homer seasons are behind him for good and his strikeout rate has been increasing for four years. His down 2014 is one big reason why I put Cabrera at #4 (!) on my first base rankings this year.

As an aside, guess where Miggy ranked in wOBA (a measure of overall offensive production) for first basemen in 2014? That's right, number four.

I know it is unfathomable to put him any lower than #1, but I just had to. If 2014 was the only reason I ranked him so low, you would have reason to doubt me and send me nasty comments and I would agree. One down season does not prove that he is suddenly in a steep decline. Plus, even his down year was still good for #1 among third basemen on Razzball's player rater (he still qualified at third last year).

So, why am I worried about him and why did I rank him fourth? One word: health. Check out this table of his injury transactions (thanks Pro Sports!) since 2010.

Date Team Acquired Relinquished Notes
2010-07-02 Tigers Miguel Cabrera back injury (DTD)
2010-07-03 Tigers Miguel Cabrera returned to lineup
2010-09-03 Tigers Miguel Cabrera biceps injury (DTD)
2010-09-04 Tigers Miguel Cabrera returned to lineup
2010-09-08 Tigers Miguel Cabrera left shoulder injury (DTD)
2010-09-10 Tigers Miguel Cabrera returned to lineup
2010-09-28 Tigers Miguel Cabrera right ankle injury (out for season)
2013-07-04 Tigers Miguel Cabrera back injury (DTD)
2013-07-05 Tigers Miguel Cabrera returned to lineup
2013-07-23 Tigers Miguel Cabrera left hip flexor injury (DTD)
2013-07-27 Tigers Miguel Cabrera returned to lineup
2013-07-31 Tigers Miguel Cabrera abdominal injury (DTD)
2013-08-04 Tigers Miguel Cabrera returned to lineup
2013-08-31 Tigers Miguel Cabrera abdominal injury (DTD)
2013-09-03 Tigers Miguel Cabrera returned to lineup
2013-09-22 Tigers Miguel Cabrera groin injury (DTD)
2013-09-23 Tigers Miguel Cabrera returned to lineup
2014-08-24 Tigers Miguel Cabrera ankle injury (DTD)
2014-08-26 Tigers Miguel Cabrera returned to lineup
2014-08-31 Tigers Miguel Cabrera sore right ankle (DTD)
2014-09-01 Tigers Miguel Cabrera returned to lineup

That is a long history of nagging injuries. He didn't miss many games (as seen in the first table), but he was extremely limited for most of September in 2013 and 2014 and at several other times. This sapped his strength and what little speed he had left. Anyone who watched him during those periods would agree it was cringe-worthy seeing him try to leg out a double. He hit many doubles that ended up singles because of his pain.

Now, plenty of players have injury histories. Paul Goldschmidt, my top first baseman missed a lot of time last year. Jose Abreu missed time, as did Chris Davis, Prince Fielder, and many other first basemen. The difference is Cabrera is older than all of those guys and there is one more thing I haven't mentioned that is the biggest reason I reduced his Steamer projection for 2015.

Wait for it...

He's still hurt! Today, right now, he is still injured! Here are some quotes related to his most recent injuries.

Miguel Cabrera had surgery on a bone spur he knew of and fractured bone in his foot he didn’t know of.

Cabrera will be re-evaluated in three months — or a few weeks before Spring Training. He’s expected to avoid weight-bearing activities on the foot until then, which greatly limits his off-season workouts.

"He’ll probably be pretty much inactive," Dombrowski said.

Dombrowski avoided any prognostications about Cabrera’s potential readiness for Spring Training, preferring to wait for the follow-up exam in January.

Cabrera’s big test comes in February when he consults Robert Anderson, a Charlotte, N.C., orthopedic surgeon who also repaired the broken ankle of retired Yankees star Derek Jeter.

"His rehab has gone well," Rand said. "He’s in a partial weight-bearing stage, six weeks in a boot, which began just before Christmas. He’ll got back and see Dr. Anderson next month and hope the CT scan will show that everything’s well and that he can move into a full weight-bearing program."

The Tigers, though, acknowledge Cabrera will have work to do even if he gets a thumbs-up at next month’s exam. They cannot say with assurance their spotlight hitter will be 100 percent on Opening Day.

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski said Saturday that if Cabrera (ankle) isn't ready for Opening Day, "it's going to be very, very close," reports. (1/24/2015)

Those quotes don't exactly inspire confidence for me. I think he will be back in late April or even May, but that's just my guess. His ankle must be pretty messed up to still be sore and recovering months after surgery. This is the primary source of my 2015 concerns for him. If you believe that he will be healthy all year, then he could still be the top first baseman, no doubt. But, if you think like I do that he will miss a month or more at some point this season, you will let someone else take that chance and pick a younger, healthier option like Jose Abreu, Anthony Rizzo, or Paul Goldschmidt, even though two of them missed some time last year. At least none of them will be entering the season injured.

Here is Steamer's projection for Goat-herder and my own. Tschus!

Steamer 180 567 32 96 106 2 0.317
Me 152 480 25 83 90 1 0.317