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Entries in Miguel Cabrera (27)


Porcello, Fister Should Fear Detroit's Infield D

The Detroit Tigers' decision to put $214 million man Prince Fielder at first base instead of DH and move Miguel Cabrera, who last played third base regularly five years and fifty pounds ago, to the hot corner has some wondering whether Detroit's quest for maximum offense might produce the worst defensive infield seen in years.

Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer probably aren't too worried, considering both are high-strikeout hurlers who induce fly balls when hitters do make contact. But Rick Porcello and Doug Fister, who put the ball in play and on the ground much more often, might be sweating the prospect of pairing the plus-sized corner infielders with shortstop Jhonny Peralta and a combination of Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago at the keystone.

Porcello's punchout rate (13.3% of batters faced) ranked in the 18th percentile among starting pitchers (meaning he was worse than 82 percent of starters). Fister (16.7 K%) fared better, but he still placed in the bottom half (45th percentile). With few Ks, Porcello and Fister both ranked in the top 20 among American League starters in the percentage of pitches swung at put in play:

PitcherIn Play Pct.
Joel Pineiro 53.6%
Brad Penny 51.2%
Jeff Francis 50.4%
Nick Blackburn 50.1%
Phil Coke 49.7%
Trevor Cahill 49.0%
Mark Buehrle 48.9%
Freddy Garcia 48.4%
Carl Pavano 48.3%
Rick Porcello 48.0%
Ivan Nova 48.0%
Blake Beavan 47.9%
Tyler Chatwood 47.5%
Zach Britton 47.3%
Josh Tomlin 47.2%
Tim Wakefield 46.5%
Bartolo Colon 46.5%
Jeremy Guthrie 45.9%
Brett Anderson 45.7%
Doug Fister 45.6%


And when batters put the ball in play against these two, it's often on the grass. Both had ground ball rates above the league average, with Porcello burning worms 54% of the time and Fister doing so 47%. Lots of balls in play, and lots of grounders: not a good combination for a club with four infielders whose best position is "hitter."

Porcello bore the brunt of sloppy infield D in 2011, as he had a .283 batting average on grounders put in play. That was 44 points above the league average for starters and was fourth-highest among AL starters (teammate Scherzer was third, though he had far fewer grounders put in play). Fister, by contrast, enjoyed a .196 BABIP on grounders while spending most of the season in Seattle. Suffice it to say, that's not likely to happen in 2012.

Miggy, Prince, Peralta and Raburn make for a formidable infield offensively, and their defensive foibles might not get that much notice on days when Verlander and Scherzer (second and 17th, respectively, among AL starters in K rate) are on the bump. But when pitch-to-contact, ground ball-centric pitchers like Porcello and Fister take their turns, look for lots of singles.


Cy Verlander MVP, Too

Justin Verlander added the 2011 AL Most Valuable Player Award to his rapidly expanding trophy case on Monday, becoming the first pitcher to win both MVP and Cy Young since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and the first starter since Roger Clemens in 1986. Verlander posted a 250/57 K/BB ratio in 251 innings, taking the pitcher triple crown by also getting 24 wins and compiling a 2.40 ERA.

Verlander's MVP selection is sure to stir controversy. Going by Baseball-Reference's Wins Above Replacement (which judges pitchers based on actual runs allowed), Verlander's 8.6 WAR puts him neck-and-neck with Jose Bautista (8.5) and ahead of other bandied-about candidates like Jacoby Ellsbury (7.2), Miguel Cabrera (7.1) and Curtis Granderson (5.2). But Fangraphs' WAR, which evaluates a pitcher by his fielding-independent stats, has Verlander with 7 WAR (he got a big boost from a .236 batting average on balls in play, over 50 points below his career average). That's below the likes of Ellsbury (9.4), Bautista (8.3), Cabrera (7.3) and even with Granderson. By results, Verlander was arguably the best. By process, perhaps not (though "luck" arguments can be made for hitters, too).

In any event, Verlander was truly awesome in 2011. Here are 13 tidbits on his MVP-Cy Young season -- one for each first-place MVP vote that he received.

- Verlander led all starters with an average fastball velocity of 95.1 mph. But he had a wide range in velocity, maxing out at 101 mph and going as low as 91-92 mph. Verlander pulled back a little bit early in the count (he averaged 94 mph on the first pitch) and dialed it up when he smelled a strikeout, sitting at 96.3 mph with two strikes.

- That fastball turned collectively turned hitters into Brandon Wood circa 2011. Opponents batted just .215/.290/.358 against Verlander's heat, compared to the .274/.345/.430 average versus starting pitchers.

- Verlander was all about the high heat: about 41 percent of his fastballs were thrown above the belt. David Price and Clayton Kershaw were the only starters to challenge hitters with more high fastballs.

- Lest you think he's fastball-obsessed, Verlander threw his heater a career-low 54 percent of the time. That's down from 59 percent in 2010, and a career-high 67 percent in 2009.

- There's a reason Verlander went to the fastball less often -- he's got three other filthy pitches in his mid-to-high 80s changeup, high-70s-low-80s curveball (each thrown 18-19 percent of the time) and his mid-80s slider (about 8 percent). Check out his opponent slugging percentages with those offerings:

Changeup: .345 SLG%, .385 average for SP

Curveball: .200 SLG%, .339 average for SP

Slider: .276 SLG%, .357 average for SP

- Largely because of the changeup and curve, Verlander had a big reverse platoon split in 2011. He dominated right-handed hitters (.617 on-base-plus slugging percentage), but he torched lefties to the tune of a .504 OPS. That was by far the best for a righty starter against lefty hitters (Matt Cain was second at .523, and Josh Beckett ranked third at a distant .562).

- Verlander threw just one out of every three changeups in the strike zone. You might think that's indicative of below-average control and command, but it was by design. Verlander spotted the change just off the outside corner:

Verlander's changeup location, 2011

Despite his low zone percentage with the pitch, about 80 percent of Verlander's changeups were classified as "competitive" pitches, meaning they were within 18 inches of the middle of the plate.

- With those changeups so close to the plate, hitters chased lots of them -- 42 percent, compared to the 36 percent average for starters.

- Overall, no starter threw more "competitive" pitches in 2011. After all, why nibble when you've got the best stuff on the planet?

- Verlander just about never hung a curveball high in the zone in 2011. Just three percent of his benders were thrown high, compared to 53 percent that were located at hitters' knees. That's a good way to allow just eight extra-base hits on the pitch all season long.

- The curveball was Verlander's main strikeout pitch, ringing up 95 hitters. Those Ks were split just about evenly between the swinging (48) and called (47) variety. That's in contrast to most starters, who get 3.5 swinging Ks with the curve for every called third strike. Verlander couldn't have been better in terms of location on the curveballs that fanned hitters. Talk about right on the black:

Location of Verlander's Ks with the curveball, 2011

- Speaking of painting the black, Verlander threw 47 curveballs right on the corners. Only curveball specialist Wandy Rodriguez did it more often.

- Verlander started fiddling with a slider in 2009 and it has gradually become a bigger part of his repertoire. He tossed it less than three percent of the time in '09, about seven percent in 2010 and 8-9 percent in 2011. The pitch is more of a hybrid cutter/slider, with short break and near-90 mph velocity. Now, hitters have to worry about two nasty breaking pitches in addition to baseball's best fastball and a killer changeup. Verlander's stuff really goes across the velocity and movement spectrum:

Release velocity and movement on Verlander's fastball (red), changeup (yellow), slider (green) and curveball (blue)

Good luck differentiating between fastball/changeup and slider/curve.

Verlander's MVP-winning 2011 season echoes that of Clemens in Boston 25 years ago. The Rocket tossed 254 innings, also won 24 games, led the league with a 2.48 ERA and just missed out on the triple crown by finishing second to Mark Langston in strikeouts. Clemens' WAR totals (7.9 Baseball-Reference, 8 Fangraphs) were right around those of a deserving position player (teammate Wade Boggs, who finished a distant seventh in balloting), though the pitcher got the honor.

Fans might not agree about whether Verlander was the best candidate, or if a pitcher should ever win MVP without being head and shoulders above contending position players. But I think we can all agree on this: Verlander is at his peak, and he'll be in the Cy Young/MVP discussion for the foreseeable future.



A Little Bit of Luck

There is always a certain degree of luck involved with balls put in play.  This was perhaps most evident last night when Miguel Cabrera hit a ball off the third base bag in the sixth inning, scoring a run and kicking off a four run inning for the Detroit Tigers.  Had the ball missed the bag, it is likely fielded by Adrian Beltre for at least one out.  Instead, Cabrera's ball, not particularly well-hit, bounced over Beltre and into left field for a double, and the Tigers went on to win Game 5 against the Texas Rangers.

Interestingly enough, Cabrera hit .301 on ground balls this season, which ranks him in the top 15 percent of batters.  Of course, for someone like Cabrera it's tough to say whether this is due to his ability to hit the ball hard or just good fortune.  He's not particularly fast, and speedy players tend to have higher batting averages on ground balls due to their ability to get down the line faster.  However, Cabrera has consistently hit ground balls above the league average line over the past four years.  Between 2008-2010, he hit .283 on ground balls, which was about 40 points above league average.

One last interesting note: Prior to last night's sixth inning, Cabrera had hit nine ground balls this postseason, all outs.  Whether you believe he is particularly skillfull at hitting ground balls for hits or not, it's hard to deny that his 10th ground ball was almost purely a product of luck.  And as a result, the Tigers are still alive.