Saturday, May 25, 2013
Miguel Cabrera just keeps getting better
By Jayson Stark
When you're already The Best There Is, how is it possible to get even better?
That's the question we should be asking ourselves about Miguel Cabrera: How? Exactly how is this possible?
What he's in the process of doing these days has never been done. Never.
Win a Triple Crown one year. … Have a better year the next? Who does that?
I can tell you the answer: No one does that.
Here are Cabrera's numbers from last season, stacked up against his projected numbers for this season. They're ridiculous just to look at:
2012: .330/.383/.606/44 HRs/139 RBIs
2013: .385/.459/.682/48 HRs/196 RBIs
Entering play Saturday, Miguel Cabrera leads the majors in batting (.388) and RBIs (57). His 14 home runs rank second in the AL.
He's on a path to take a mammoth jump in every category? Really?
A 55-point leap in batting average? More than 150 points in OPS? And nearly 60 more RBIs? This is incredible.
Not to mention without any precedent whatsoever.
I took a look this week at everyone in history who ever won a Triple Crown. You'd think somebody -- Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, somebody -- would have had a season the next year in which he had better numbers, even if he didn't do that three-peat thing again. Right?
There were 11 other "official" Triple Crown seasons to look at (dating back to 1920, when RBIs became an "official" statistic). But there were only 10 "next years" to study because Ted Williams went off to war after hitting that trifecta in 1942.
So, how did those 10 previous Triple Crown winners fare when they tried to figure out what to do for an encore the next season? Here's what I found:
• Their batting averages dropped by an average of 28 points. They hit 16 fewer home runs on average. They drove in 36 fewer runs apiece. So no wonder nobody has ever won Triple Crowns back to back.
• None of those 10 hit more home runs the next year. Right, none of them. Jimmie Foxx came the closest (hitting 48 in 1933 and 44 the next year). All but two of the others had double-digit drops of anywhere from 10 to 28. … And Miguel Cabrera is on pace to go from 44 to 49.
• Only one previous Triple Crown winner drove in more runs the next season. That was -- who else? -- Ted Williams (114 RBIs in 1947, 127 in '48). All but one of the others plummeted by at least 30 RBIs the next year. Yessir, 30. … And Miguel Cabrera is on pace to go from 139 to 201.
• And just two in that group had a higher batting average the next season. One was Williams in '47-48, who went from .343 to .369. Hey, of course he did. The other was Mantle in 1956-57 (from .353 to .365). All the others plunged by between 15 and 86 points. … And Miguel Cabrera has gone from .330 to .388. Wow.
• No Triple Crown winner came back to lead his league in homers the next year. Only one (Joe Medwick) led his league the next season in RBIs. And there were just three back-to-back batting champs in this crowd (Rogers Hornsby in 1922-23, Williams in '47-48 and Carl Yastrzemski in '67-68). But no one led in more than one of those categories the next year.
• Even if we venture beyond the Triple Crown categories, no player in the group increased his slash line across the board the next season. Not a one. Only if we include Ty Cobb's "unofficial" Triple Crown in 1909 (before RBIs were a recognized stat) can we say that any Triple Crown winner ever did that.
• But even if we include the two "unofficial" Triple Crown kings since 1900 -- Cobb and Nap Lajoie (1901) -- we still find zero players who had a better year in all three Triple Crown categories the next season than they had in their Triple Crown seasons. Not Cobb or Lajoie or Hornsby or Foxx or anyone else. Zero.
Until Miguel Cabrera came along and put himself in position to do the unimaginable.
He's a long way from pulling this off, obviously. But would you bet against him? Would you seriously believe there's anything he can't do with a bat in his hands? Based on what? His horoscope? The man is a genius. An offensive genius.
And this, says a fellow who has known him for 15 years, is his moment in time. This is that moment when everything converges. Right man. Right team. Right place. Right forces in the universe.
Tigers assistant GM Al Avila looks at Cabrera, whom he scouted as a teenager, and sees a guy "in the prime of his career, playing on a very good club that is totally focused on getting back to the World Series." And this, Avila says, feels like pretty much the perfect place for this player, on the field and off.
"I believe Miguel, at this point in his life, has reached a maturity level that has him at peace with himself, his family and with his responsibility and role with this club," Avila says. "Miguel has always had the physical ability and the baseball savvy, and now he has the mental maturity and stability to take charge of his future.
"If he stays healthy and focused," Avila says, "he will continue to accomplish great things. The youngster has turned into a man."
And the man is rising above the offensively challenged masses in his sport to make the impossible look possible. And you know what's most impossible of all?
When you're already The Best There Is -- and then you keep on getting better.