Thursday, September 29, 2011

Miguel Cabrera Leads Tigers into Playoffs with Historic Season

Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera has not received as much publicity this year as teammate Justin Verlander.  In fact, his season has gone relatively unnoticed nationally as he has not been mentioned prominently in many MVP discussions.  However, a look at his raw numbers reveals a truly great season.

The right-handed slugger led the league in batting average (.344), On-Base Percentage or OBP (.448) and doubles (48) and finished second in walks (108) and Slugging Average or SLG (.586).  The OBP title is particularly noteworthy as he has led the league in that category two straight seasons.  The only other Tiger to lead the league in OBP more than once was the legendary Ty Cobb, who accomplished that feat six times.

If you place emphasis on late-season performance, Cabrera's season becomes even more impressive.  From August 1 until the end of the season, Cabrera hit an amazing .408/.491/.648 making him a crucial cog in Detroit's late season surge.     

Is there one number which can sum up his season?  The most commonly used metric of overall batting is On Base Plus Slugging or OPS.  His 1.033 OPS was second in the league to Toronto's Jose Bautista (1.056).  The problem with OPS though is that it weights OBP as equal to SLG when OBP actually contributes about 80% more to run scoring than SLG.

A better measure of overall batting than OPS is Batting Runs or BtRuns, first introduced in the Hidden Game of Baseball by Pete Palmer and John Thorn in 1984.  In this system, weights are assigned to each batting event based on the statistical probability that the event contributes to a run. Based on the results of thousands of games, we know that the average single is worth 0.47 runs.  In other words, if one single is added to a team’s hit total in each game for 100 games, that team would be expected to add 47 runs to their season total.  Other events are weighted as follows:

1B 0.47
2B 0.77
3B 1.04
HR 1.40
BB 0.31
IBB 0.17
HBP 0.33
outs (AB-H) -0.27 (varies from year to year)

Adjustments can also be made to reflect the effect of the player's home park.

According to Baseball-Reference, Cabrera led the AL with 71 batting runs in 2011.  This means that he contributed an estimated 71 runs to the Tigers offense beyond what you would expect from an average hitter in the same number of plate appearances.  Bautista finished second with 67 and Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was a distant third with 51.  Based on that, you can make a strong case that Cabrera was the best hitter in the American League this year.  Last year, incidentally, he also led the league with 66 Batting runs with Josh Hamilton of the Rangers second at 52.

Not only did Cabrera have a great year compared to his contemporaries, but his season also ranks very highly among Tigers hitters all-time.  The table below shows that he had the fifth highest BtRuns total in the history of the franchise this year.  The all-time best was Norm Cash with 85 in 1961.  Cabrera's 2010 season ranked tenth on the team's all-time list.  Not surprisingly , Cobb appears six times in the top 15.

So, while Cabrera's season has not received a great deal of national media attention yet, it was a remarkable season both by this year's standards and historically. 

Table 1:  Tigers Single-season Batting Runs Leaders


Player
Year
BtRuns
Norm Cash
1961
85
Ty Cobb
1911
76
Ty Cobb
1917
75
Harry Heilmann
1923
74
Miguel Cabrera
2011
71
Ty Cobb
1915
70
Ty Cobb
1912
69
Hank Greenberg
1937
67
Ty Cobb
1910
66
Miguel Cabrera
2010
65
Hank Greenberg
1940
64
Harry Heilmann
1927
64
Ty Cobb
1909
62
Hank Greenberg
1935
62
Magglio Ordonez
2007
62

Source: Baseball-Reference

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