Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Miguel Cabrera. How to negate his bat

It would be interesting to sift back through the records and stats to determine just how many games Miguel Cabrera has won for the Detroit Tigers not only this year, but in the last several.

It would also be tedious and time consuming and yours truly is too lazy to do it. So let's just say Miggy has made the difference in lots of games for the Tigers over the years. It seems like almost every day we hear of him stroking a two-run double or clouting another home run, solo or with men or base. The man can flat-out hit, both for average and power.

Further, Cabrera doesn't have any weaknesses while at bat. He can hit blazing fastballs, curves/sliders, and change-ups equally well. Down the middle, high/low, inside/outside doesn't seem to make much of a difference either.

So what's an opposing pitcher or his manager to do when Cabrera steps into the batter's box? How do you pitch him?

If I'm the other guys, I don't. I intentionally walk him the vast majority of the time. Take the bat out of his hands and deal with whoever's next in the Tiger line-up. Sure, if my team is ahead by 4-5 runs and Cabrera comes up to bat with nobody on base, then I pitch to him. But in most situations I don't. If one swing of Cabrera's bat can hurt me, I'll take my chances with the next guy.

A scenario. The Tigers have runners on first and second and nobody out. The game is close and here comes Cabrera up to the plate. I still walk him and load the bases. If I don't, Miggy might hit a three-run blast that makes the difference in the game. Anybody that can flick his wrists at a low and outside pitch and still hit it out of the park to the "opposite" field is somebody I'll let trot down to first with a walk.

With a little luck, maybe I get out of the inning with only minimal damage. Strike outs and pop-ups are always preferable and a double play comes in mighty handy once in a while. Sure, such a strategy could backfire. The next couple Tiger batters could get hits and break the game wide open. And yes, Cabrera himself might have struck out or bounced into a double play originally. But with apologies to Tom Clancy, Miguel has long proven himself to be a clear and present danger every time he steps into the batter's box. He can ruin you all by himself with one swing, so why continue to mess with him?

No doubt, this would be an unpopular strategy amongst many fans, especially Tiger supporters. They came to the ballpark and crowded around their TVs wanting to see Miggy get his cuts. It could almost be seen as an act of cowardice NOT to pitch to him.

Hey, there have been hitters intentionally walked with the bases already loaded. Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, Nap Lajoie, and most recently Barry Bonds back in 1998, to name a few. So it's not without precedent.

When Joe DiMaggio was deep into his 56 game hitting streak back in 1941, an opposing pitcher once said if he could get the Yankee Clipper out his first time at bat, he would walk him every other time he came up to hit -- just to break his streak. The original Joe D (sorry Dumars) got a hit his first time up.

Would any modern day pitcher dare to use this strategy against Miguel Cabrera? Probably not for a couple reasons. It would be hugely unpopular, particularly at the Tigers home of Comerica Park, and the talking sports heads on various cable stations would make such a pitcher (and his manager) infamous for backing down from a challenge. The ensuing mockery would be brutal.

And after all, even though Cabrera typically sports a .330-.340 batting average, that means two out of three times he makes an out. The odds are still with the pitchers. It's that third one that can hurt you, though.

And it has, to a lot of pitchers and their teams over the years.

Again, if I'm the other manager, my job is to win games any way I can. And if that means walking Miguel Cabrera time after time, I just might do it anyway. I'm taking away his homers/RBIs and putting him on first. I don't have to worry about him stealing a base either to eliminate the double-play possibility. He's too slow.

But that will probably never happen. Pitchers have their pride too. They love nothing more than striking out Miguel Cabrera in a clutch situation. Sometimes they do. But if he clouts one 450 feet for a 3-run dinger that changes a win into a loss, I'm guessing given a do-over, they would have walked him.

The singer Meatloaf once recorded a hit song titled Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad. That rings true for a lot of different things in life. But certainly not all.

Consider parachutes opening. Major surgery being successful. Shooting down incoming nukes. Two out of three isn't good enough. That other one will result in a very bad outcome.

And so might pitching to Miguel Cabrera......

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