By: Holly Horning
Let’s face it – there are a lot of things going on with the Tigers this year that we simply don’t understand. Many readers in the social media threads are calling the Tigers a “Jekyll and Hyde” team. I tend to refer to them as Forrest Gump would. The Tigers remind me “of a box of chocolates because you never know what you’re gonna get.”
And no one is a better poster child for this team than Miguel Cabrera. He has been consistently inconsistent in 2016 which is troubling considering that almost everyone still believes he’s the best hitter in baseball.
Miggy’s stats still look decent for a top hitter – a .296 BA and .897 OPS. But if you divide up his stats by series, week or month, they represent a roller coaster of performance. During the last homestand (through Saturday), he’s hitting .174 with only 4 hits and a 25% strikeout rate. Out of 7 games, he went hitless in 3 of them. Two games saw 1 hit in each while only in 1 game did he have 2 hits.
And if we look at the bigger picture, Miggy’s BA and OPS have been in decline this year. More troubling is the jump in strikeouts. They are way up and if he continues this current pace, he’ll set his own career record. In June, his strikeouts were almost equal to the number of hits he got.
But to add to this mystery, Cabrera’s HR rate is up.
So what’s going on? Is there cause for concern or are we, as fans, simply spoiled by expecting him to be great all the time?
I think we can rule out injury as we have yet to see Miggy appear to be bothered in his running and movement. His track record at first base shows excellence and agility with a perfect fielding percentage.
Where we do see the problems is at the plate. More often than not, Miggy appears distracted during his at-bats. He simply doesn’t appear to be present at the plate and the end result is swinging at bad pitches, swinging late and sometimes half-heartedly.
What could be causing this?
The easy answer is vision changes. Last year, Miggy experimented with a number of different outdoor glasses that enhanced clarity depending upon the weather conditions. We haven’t seen him wear them this year.
And while a vision check would appear to be an easy solution, there have been stories about ballplayers who are loath to get them.
However, if it is a vision issue, it still doesn’t explain the increasing signs of disinterest or the lack of focus.
Maybe Miggy is bored. Or maybe he no longer has the support system around him that keeps him focused on the game. Jim Leyland is gone. So is Torii. And VMart has his hands full trying to keep this team playing as a unit. And Anibal Sanchez, Miggy’s best friend on the team, has his own worries which are keeping him busy.
Add to this, Miggy’s increasing schmoozing with opponents, fans and anyone else who is within range. Now, to give him some credit, this interaction is part of the cultural protocol in Venezuelan baseball, but Miggy has taken it to extremes. And with last week’s embarrassing blowing of kisses from the third base line to his teammate trying to score, he’s crossed a line.
Miggy is the extreme example of a team that, more often than not, loses its focus on a regular basis. Too many games where it appears the team has mailed it in. And that falls on the players, coaches, manager and GM – a lack of leadership and systems that other teams have to maintain discipline and focus.
Maybe the Tigers don’t have a system because they don’t recognize the intangibles. Maybe they think the only factors that matter are the ones that appear on stat sheets.
As we’ve seen throughout baseball history, there were many players, like Babe Ruth, with great talent but in need of a structure to keep them focused. It’s been said that one reason why Ted Williams was one of baseball’s greatest hitters was due to his disciplined nature and extreme ability to focus.
Just because a player has an immense amount of talent doesn’t mean he knows how to harness it effectively or perform to his maximum ability.
Are Miggy’s issues this year due solely to his need for a structured system? Or, is he just the most vulnerable and visible example of a team that is lacking in vision and leadership and allowing the players to figure out their own direction?