Greatness in decline: An examination of Miguel Cabrera’s ice-cold start

Detroit News

Boston — It was just eight days ago. In Chicago. First inning. The big right-handed hitter turned on a 95-mph heater from Lucas Giolito, middle-in. The ball left his bat with an exit velocity of 110 mph and traveled 445 feet soaring into the left-field seats at Guaranteed Rate Field.

It looked like a swing from 2016.

He hasn’t had one like it since.

It’s hard to watch greatness in decline.

Miguel Cabrera has won a Triple Crown, he’s a two-time MVP and a four-time batting champ. He’s a lock for the Hall of Fame and chasing some almost hallowed milestones (500 home runs and 3,000 hits) in the game. But he is 38 and he’s struggling at the plate like he’s never struggled in his life.

Tuesday night in Boston had to feel like rock bottom, walking dejectedly back to the dugout, hearing “Cabrera, you suck!” from the Fenway faithful, after an 0-for-5 night when he hit into two double plays and stranded seven runners.

“I just tell him how good he is,” teammate Robbie Grossman said. “He’s still Miguel Cabrera in my eyes and to all the players he plays against. Look up his numbers. He’s one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time.”

Is? Was?

Right now, entering play Wednesday, Cabrera was hitting .105. He was hitless in 23 straight at-bats, striking out 13 times in that span. He’s having a hard time catching up to fastballs, which leaves him vulnerable to breaking balls and off-speed pitches because he’s so conscious of getting to the heaters.

He’s seeing fastballs 54.6% of the time, according to Statcast, and he’s 4-for-31 with 11 strikeouts. Just last season, Cabrera had a run value of plus-6 against fastballs. This year, he’s a minus-1.

According to Baseball Reference, he’s 1-for-13 against power pitchers and 2-for-19 against finesse pitchers.

He’s getting curveballs and sliders 34% of the time and he’s 1-for-19 with seven strikeouts and a 45% whiff rate. He’s seeing change-ups 11% of the time and he’s 1-for-7. Overall, he’s chasing 29% of the time and swinging-and-missing 25.6% of the time.

Late on fastballs and off balance and front-foot flailing on breaking balls and off-speed.

Twenty-one of the 36 balls he’s put in play have been on the ground. He’s hit five line drives.

Cabrera has a career slash-line of .317/.427/.550 with a .977 OPS against left-handed pitching. This year, he’s 0-for-11 against lefties. He has a career slash-line of .330/.427/.546 with a .973 OPS with runners in scoring position. This year, he’s 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

“Obviously he’s not in a good place production-wise,” manager AJ Hinch said after the loss Tuesday. “He had some long hard battles but he’s coming up on the bad end of the competition with the pitcher right now. It’s tough.”

He saw 31 pitches from three different pitchers Tuesday, but the plan of attack was similar — firm fastballs up and in, spin and off-speed away. He saw 16 four-seamers, seven sliders, six change-ups and one cutter and curve in his five at-bats.

First inning: Robbie Grossman on second, one out. Right-hander Nick Pivetta set him up with a 95-mph fastball and then got him to roll a ground ball to third with a slider on the third pitch of the at-bat.

Third inning: Leading off, he was tardy on three fastballs, 93, 94 and 95, fouling them off. He battled, worked an eight-pitch at-bat but took a borderline 95-mph fastball on the inside black and home plate umpire Ryan Blakney rung him up.

Fifth inning: Runners at first and second, no outs. Another eight-pitch at-bat, six of the first seven pitches were away from Cabrera. He fell into a 1-2 hole, then fouled off a fastball (tardy), took a fastball, fouled off another fastball and a slider. He was reaching for all of those pitches. Pivetta then busted him in with a 95-mph four-seamer, which Cabrera rolled into a 5-4-3 double play.

Sixth inning: Tigers scored four runs, cut the deficit to 9-7. Grossman was on third with two outs. Facing right-hander Matt Andriese, who features a lower-velocity fastball (91-92) but an elite change-up. In a 10-pitch at-bat, Cabrera saw six change-ups, five after he got two strikes on him. He fouled off three of them, and a fastball. Seven of the 10 pitches were located away from him. The 10th pitch, a 3-2 change-up, was located up and on the outside corner and Cabrera took it for called third strike.

Eighth inning: Bases loaded, one out, facing power right-hander Matt Barnes. Cabrera took a 96-mph heater down and away for strike one then got jammed on a 96-mph heater in. Another ground ball, another double-play ball.

“He’s swinging the bat well in batting practice, he’s putting his work in, he’s in the at-bats, but it’s not going in his favor,” Hinch said. “We’re all pulling for him. We’re a better team when he comes out of it.”

When? If?

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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