Baseball never lacks for intriguing story lines. There is always a player breaking out and there is always a player declining. There are Cinderella teams and disappointing collapses. In this sport, you can always find something new and exciting to watch. But this post isn’t about those expectation defying feats. On the contrary, this post is about the predictable and reliable greatness of a guy named Miguel Cabrera and the absurdity dwelling beneath it.
Prior to the start of the season, our Depth Chart projections spit out a 2016 projected slash line of .310/.393/.524 for Cabrera, which amounted to a .387 wOBA. After a disappointing 0-for-5 game yesterday, Cabrera currently sits at .301/.379/.538 with a .383 wOBA. It’s not a perfect match for his projected line, but it’s damn close. His overall production is down from when he was a Triple Crown and MVP winner, but that’s to be expected for a 33-year-old. He’s still a stellar hitter putting up impressive numbers that are well in-line with what we expect to see from the future Hall of Famer. But underneath his cumulative numbers are a couple of jarring splits.
First, Cabrera entered play on Thursday with the largest platoon split among qualified hitters in baseball.
|Hitter||wOBA vs. LHP||wOBA vs. RHP||Difference|
But look closely and you’ll notice there’s something particularly absurd about Cabrera’s platoon split. All five of the hitters listed on that leaderboard are right-handed hitters and they are all demonstrating the expected split of hitting lefties better… all of them except for Cabrera, that is. Miggy not only has the largest platoon split in baseball at the moment, but it’s a reverse platoon split. So far this season, he is crushing same-side pitchers but has been utterly worthless against left-handed ones. One of my favorite things about Miguel Cabrera’s career is that he’s provided remarkably similar value at the plate over his career regardless of the handedness of the pitcher as evidenced by his career splits: 155 wRC+ vs. LHP, 152 wRC+ vs. RHP. But this year, well, take a look for yourself.
Platoon splits take a notoriously long time to stabilize. In fact, it wasn’t until this season that Cabrera’s career platoon splits hit the stabilization threshold for right-handed hitters — 2,000+ plate appearances against lefties and righties. As a result, the fact that Miguel Cabrera has struggled mightily in 83 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers this season — while striking and notable — isn’t necessarily all that meaningful.
But this isn’t the only atypical split for Cabrera right now. In addition to sporting the largest platoon split, he also has one of the biggest home/road splits.
|Name||Road wOBA||Home wOBA||wOBA difference|
Although hitting better at home than on the road isn’t quite as absurd as an extreme reverse platoon split, it’s still well beyond the norm for Cabrera. Throughout his career, he’s been a consistent hitter across all situations but, as you can see in the chart below, that hasn’t been the case this season:
If you’re like me, the first thing you might be thinking is that these two bizarre splits are related. Perhaps the majority of Cabrera’s at-bats against lefties have come on the road and this is just a different way of visualizing the same aberration in his current statistical profile. That sure sounds like an excellent theory, but it’s not what’s happening here. As it turns out, 36.5% of his plate appearances at home have come against left-handed pitchers compared to just 18.6% on the road.
Cabrera has been consistently awful against lefties whether at home or on the road. Against righties, he’s been out of this world incredible at home and merely average on the road. So what we’re seeing here is two distinct splits in which Cabrera is underperforming. Are there any conclusions to draw from this or is it just a statistical oddity?
An easy and appropriate answer to that question is “It’s just a statistical oddity.” But that doesn’t mean there aren’t trends present here which merit some attention going forward. For starters, as his difficulties against left-handed pitching might lead you to believe, Cabrera has struggled mightily against one of lefties’ primary weapons against right-handed hitters: the changeup.
By our Pitch Type Linear Weights, there is no pitch against which Cabrera has done more damage over his career than the changeup. His 2.30 wCH/C indicates that he has produced 2.3 runs above average per 100 changeups he’s seen. This year, however, he’s put up a dismal -3.29 wCH/C. According to Brooks Baseball, his 2016 results against the changeup have been worse than they have against any other pitch. This is a triviality at this point in the season, but it still raises an eyebrow. As a hitter ages, there will come a time when his pitch recognition will slip. Is this the first hint of that occurring for Cabrera? Or will he soon return to crushing changeups and make this bizarre platoon split vanish?
As for the home/road split, I have no compelling explanation. I looked to see whether or not he’s played the majority of his road games in pitcher-friendly parks, but found no compelling evidence beyond one note that the only road stadium in which he’s played two series so far this season is the Royals’ spacious Kauffman Stadium. I have no reason at this time not to expect this split to stabilize as the season wears on.
Miguel Cabrera is among the top-10 hitters in the American League by wRC+, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. But where there has typically existed through-and-through consistency, there are little hints of flaws appearing for Cabrera if you look too closely. Maybe they’ll fade away or maybe they’re early signs of the deterioration brought on by aging that will inevitably come for Cabrera as it comes for each and everyone of us. As long as he’s still producing overall, however, there’s little to actually worry about here. Reverse platoon splits aren’t a sustainable oddity and Cabrera’s stat lines are all but certain to even out sooner or later. Of course, the hope is that this evening out will occur by his production against lefties and on the road rising to meet his production against righties and at home, not vice versa.
Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and MLB.com's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.