Miguel Cabrera makes first base his throne

Frederlin Castro | @ fr3djcd

A devastating machine has been Miguel Cabrera in recent months. He hasn’t stopped hitting, but the Detroit Tigers must be cautious to avoid any possible injury to their future 38-year-old Hall of Famer.

At first base, Cabrera has logged 359 innings, or about 35 percent of his playing time in 2021. While that may not sound like much, it represents his most extensive workload as first baseman since 2017.

Cabrera has long maintained that he is better on the field and pushed to play more at first base. Well, maybe he was right.

Small sample sizes should be interpreted with caution, but the difference in Cabrera’s numbers as first baseman and his numbers as designated hitter is staggering.

In 312 plate appearances this year as DH, Cabrera is hitting .228 with a .612 OPS. He walks 6.4 percent of the time and strikes out 26.2 percent.

At first base, Cabrera is hitting .301 with an .865 OPS in 178 games. He walks 11.2 percent of the time and strikes out 17.4 percent.

Cabrera has said that he’s more engaged when playing the field, and it’s easier to let go of bad hits. As a designated hitter (BD), you have too much time to think.

His career numbers generally support that claim, although the differences are not so stark. Also, Cabrera did not start playing BD regularly until the end of his career. “I think he’s very committed at first base,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “But I think it’s kind of hard to say he’s suddenly going to hit a certain way because he’s playing first base.”

And Hinch pointed out that it’s kind of a moot point. Even if it could be conclusively proven that Cabrera hits better because he is playing first base, the Tigers would not change their overall strategy, which is designed to ensure Cabrera remains healthy throughout the year.

“The goal is to get as many games out of him as we can,” Hinch said. “So, in a way, it doesn’t matter if first base is the answer for that, because it still becomes a general health issue.” Overall, it has worked.

With the exception of a two-week stint on the disabled list in April, Cabrera has him in the lineup on a daily basis. He has hit 500 home runs and will finish 2021 just under 3,000 hits. (It currently has 2,979). On Monday night he scored the 1,800th run of his career.

“I think we are seeing an incredible player who clearly continues to contribute,” Hinch said. “It’s almost unfathomable when you really look at the huge numbers that he’s racking up.”