Where Miguel Cabrera had the most hits, and who was most successful against him

Detroit Free Press

Where were you on June 20, 2003?

We know where Miguel Cabrera was — at Pro Player Stadium in Miami. There, after nearly 16 hours of travel and baseball, Cabrera sent everyone home with an 11th-inning home run to beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Nearly 20 years later, the Marlins were in Miami (though no longer at Pro Player Stadium), Tampa Bay’s MLB franchise had dropped the “Devil” from its name and Cabrera delivered hit No. 3,000 of his career. The milestone base knock came in the first inning at Comerica Park on Saturday off Colorado Rockies starter Antonio Senzatela, who was about seven months from turning 9 when Cabrera picked up hit No. 1.

And if that doesn’t make us all feel old, the sheer enormity of 3,000 hits — a mark which only 32 major leaguers reached before Cabrera — should. It’s a LOT of hits, accumulated by Cabrera in nearly every situation possible: day games, night games, as a Marlin, as a Tiger, vs. lefties, vs. righties, 996 different pitchers, 40 different ballparks … well, you get the idea.

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But hey, 3,000 hits only comes around once in a while — 10 times since the start of the 2000 season, but who’s counting? — so we thought we’d break down Cabrera’s path to 3,000 with a deep dive into the totals. (Numbers as of hit No. 3000; Cabrera picked up two additional hits on Saturday.)

The uniforms

Cabrera has played for two franchises in his MLB career. He picked up 842 hits over 3,072 plate appearances (2,694 at-bats) in 720 games with the then-Florida Marlins. (The franchise switched to the “Miami Marlins” upon moving into their baseball-only stadium for the 2012 season.) That’s 28.1% of his hits in only 27.7% of his career 11,039 plate appearances.

A bit of back-of-the-envelope math tells us 71.9% of his hits have come as a Tiger, with his Detroit debut coming in 2008. Those 2,158 hits for Cabrera, in his 1,880th game with the franchise, are eighth-most in Tigers history; he has an outside shot at catching Nos. 6 and 7 on the list, Alan Trammell. Cabrera, who has said he plans to retire at the end of his contract, which expires after the 2023 season, needs another 208 hits to pass Tram (2.365), and four more after that to pass Lou Whitaker (2,369). Sam Crawford is probably out of reach, though, at 2,466 hits. (And let’s not talk about No. 1, Ty Cobb at 3,900.)

The opposing uniforms

Cabrera has at least five hits against every MLB franchise, including the two he has played for — doubly impressive since their division placement in the NL East and AL Central haven’t allowed for frequent meetings in the way, say, Jim Leyland finds his allegiances tested for the four games between the Tigers and Pirates in interleague play every season.

Miggy has five career hits off the Tigers (his fewest against any franchise), all from the Marlins’ Jun 11-13, 2004, series at Comerica Park — four singles and a homer in 13 plate appearances, off four of the six pitchers he faced. The only two Tigers to not allow a hit? Lefty Nate Robertson (Gum Time!) and righty Al Levine (who allowed Cabrera’s first career hit, go figure). The Marlins were coming off a World Series title in 2004 while the Tigers were coming off a 119-loss season, so maybe those hits should come with an asterisk.

The Marlins are the team Cabrera has his second fewest hits against, with 15 in 38 plate appearances from four series — one in 2013, two in 2016, and another in 2019. Of those 15 hits, 13 were singles and two were home runs (both in late June 2016). Good job by the Marlins of keeping Cabrera off second base.

As for the rest of the majors, Cabrera has (naturally) pounded the AL Central, with his hits against the Cleveland not-yet-Guardians (266), Kansas City Royals (257), Minnesota Twins (252) and Chicago White Sox (234) accounting for 1,009 hits — 33.6% of his total. You might expect the NL East teams to come next, but nope: it’s the Texas Rangers, against whom Cabrera has 137 hits — 4.6% – in 94 games (with a .380/.443/.604 career slash line). No. 6 on the list is the Expos/Nationals franchise, which moved from Montreal to Washington for the 2005 season. But before they did, Cabrera popped the Expos for 31 hits in 126 plate appearances. He added another 93 hits in 274 plate appearances against the Nats after their move, with all but 15 coming from 2005-07, before his trade to the AL.

The parks

We’re not through with the poor ’Spos/Nats yet, though; thanks to that franchise’s desperation to play anywhere but Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Cabrera has hits off that franchise in an impressive SEVEN different stadiums. In addition to his seven hits in Quebec, Cabrera tagged the ’Spos/Nats with 49 hits in Pro Player Stadium, 40 in RFK Stadium (the franchise’s first home in D.C.), 11 in Estadio Hiram Bithorn (during the Expos’ attempt to escape to San Juan, Puerto Rico), 10 in Comerica Park, five at Nationals Park (the Nats’ home since 2008) and, finally, two at U.S. Cellular Field (now Guaranteed Rate Field) in Chicago during a series pushed out of South Florida by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004.

In (mostly) drier climes, Comerica Park has hosted 1,108 of Cabrera’s hits, good for 36.9%. Overall, 50.5% (1,514) of Cabrera’s hits have come at home. That includes most of the hits at Pro Player Stadium, which hosted 409 (13.6%), just slightly fewer than the combined AL Central quartet of Cleveland’s Progressive Field (139), Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium (135), Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field (113) and Minneapolis’ Target Field (106) — which together have seen 16.4% of Cabrera’s hits.

That’s especially impressive considering the Twins played at the Metrodome, rather than Target Field, for Cabrera’s first two seasons in the AL; he had 17 hits there, which ranks well down the overall list, but No. 3 among defunct stadiums, behind Arlington, Texas’ Globe Life Park (63) — not to be confused with nearly new Globe Life Field (3) — and Atlanta’s Turner Field (59). His totals at other parks not currently hosting MLB teams (aside from Olympic Stadium, RFK, Pro Player, Hiram Bithorn and the Metrodome): 36 at Shea Stadium, 12 at the previous Busch Stadium, nine at Veterans Stadium, nine at the previous Yankee Stadium and one — a single against the Royals on June 13, 2019 — at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Stadium, annual home of the College World Series. Add ALL those together and we got … 673 hits, or 22.4% of Cabrera’s hits at parks no longer in use.

And yet: There remains one MLB park Cabrera does not have a hit in yet — Atlanta’s Truist Park, which opened in 2017. The Tigers’ most recent visit to Atlanta came in 2019, while Cabrera was on the injured list. They may visit there next season, as a new balanced MLB schedule will feature every team playing every other team, though not necessarily home and away.

The bases

Cabrera’s next extra-base hit will tie him with fellow 3,000-hit club member George Brett, at 19th in MLB history, with 1,118. His breakdown by base: 1,882 singles (62.7%), 599 doubles (20%), 17 triples (0.6%) and 502 homers (16.7%).

Day or night?

You could call Cabrera a night owl when it comes to hits, with 67.6% (2,027) in night games. But he’s also a bit of an early bird special, with 545 of his hits (18.2%) in the first inning; despite a .303 batting average in the first frame, that’s more hits than any other inning, though his totals for innings 3-8 range from 299-370. And if we break down his innings into three-inning segments (to slightly adjust for the difference in hitting third, fourth or fifth), we get 1,095 hits in innings 1-3, 1,051 in innings 4-6 and 816 in innings 7-9, for a 36.5%/35%/27.2% split.

That leaves 1.3% of his hits for extra innings — Cabrera has 38 hits in 169 career plate appearances after the ninth inning. With 23 extra-inning walks, that still leaves him with a .262 batting average. Among those 38 extra-inning knocks, three ended the game: No. 1, mentioned above; No. 681, a double to center in the 11th inning off Phillies righty Francisco Del Rosario to break a 4-4 tie on April 28, 2007; and No. 1,736, a homer launched to left on a 3-1 pitch from Cleveland’s Chris Perez with two outs in the 10th inning to give the Tigers a 10-8 win on Aug. 5, 2012.

Count ‘em down

Speaking of working early, Cabrera — as we noted last season while looking at his first 500 homers — doesn’t wait around for the perfect pitch. The majority of his hits have come within the first three pitches, at 60.9%. That includes 575 hits on the first pitch of the at-bat, 688 hits on the second (the most of any count) and 565 on the third (counting No. 3,000 on Saturday).

Cabrera actually has more hits while behind in the count (902, 30.1%) than he does while ahead (869, 29%), though it’s pretty close, and 41% of his hits have come with the count even.

The fields

As you might expect from a hitter soon to join the club of three sluggers with 500 homers, 600 doubles and 3,000 hits, a good majority of Cabrera’s hits have been to the outfield — 2,174 (72.5%). That’s not to say Cabrera has been a pull hitter, though; While left field (on the field and in the stands) has been his most popular target, with 587 hits (19.6%), right field is No. 2, at 523 (17.4%). Cabrera has preferred the left-center gap to right-center, though: 11.4% to 9.1%.

The runners

More than half of Cabrera’s hits (1,525, 50.8%) have come with the bases empty, one of the hazards of hitting third in the order for many years. Likewise, another 1,006 (33.5%) have come with one runner on, regardless of base. That’s 84.3% with zero or one runner on.

The pitchers

And so, having circled the outfield and the basepaths, we arrive at the pitcher’s mound. Let’s start with the arms: Although more than three-fourths (2,311; 77%) of Cabrera’s hits have come off right-handers, that’s roughly on par with the percentage of his plate appearances against righties (76.1%).

But who has suffered the most at the bat of Cabrera over his first 3.000 hits? He has hits off of 997 hurlers, including 41 who’ve allowed more than 10 and three who’ve allowed 20 or more. Those three: Phil Hughes, with 20; Corey Kluber, with 25; James Shields, with 27. That includes 13 singles, 10 doubles and four home runs, for a .380/.430/.690 slash line by Cabrera against Shields.

Who has been the most successful at preventing hits from Cabrera? 504 pitchers have faced Cabrera without a blemish. Of those, five have faced Cabrera at least 10 times without allowing a hit: David Weathers, Marcus Stroman and Drew Smyly (did he pick up tips in his formative years as Cabrera’s teammate in Detroit?) in 10 plate appearances, Grant Balfour in 12 and Chad Billingsley (who spent eight seasons in L.A. before wrapping it up in Philly in 2015) in 13.

So what’s the recipe for success for Billingsley, who as a young Dodger was reportedly a trade target of the Marlins when they first sought to trade Cabrera in late 2007?

“”Luck,” Billingsley said with a laugh in 2010, according to ESPN.com. “His numbers speak for themselves. He is a tough out.”

You don’t have to tell that to the many victims of Cabrera’s 3,000 hits, starting back in 2003.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.  

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