Miguel Cabrera is one of the great hitters in the game, with a .312 career batting average that ranks in the top 10 among active players. But unlike most guys that hit for a high average, Cabrera is prone to striking out – a lot. In fact, since debuting in 2003, he has whiffed 835 times, which is by far the most by any player who has also hit over .300 since then.
Most strikeouts among players with a BA above .300 since 2003
This season, however, is a different story, as Cabrera has fanned just 10 times in his first 21 games. He has struck out in only 10.4% of his plate appearances, compared to a career rate of 18.6% entering 2010. What’s changed for Cabrera this year compared to past seasons?
The most obvious place to look for improvement would be how he is doing in two-strike counts, as those are the situations where the pressure is on to avoid a strikeout.
Not surprisingly, Cabrera is making fewer outs when facing two strikes, as his batting average has increased from .217 in 2009 to .281. Most importantly, he’s decreased his strikeout percentage in plate appearances that reach two strikes from 37.3% in 2009 to 27.8%.
Batting with two strikes over the last two seasons
His approach at the plate has changed dramatically – and for the better – in two-strike counts. He showing a lot more discipline, chasing just 16% of pitches out of the zone, the 7th-lowest rate among MLB players, compared to 37.7% last season. He’s also done a good job at making more contact with two strikes, missing on only 16.7% of his swings vs. 21.6% in 2009, and putting nearly 46% of his swings in play, up from his rate of 36.1% last year.
Still, it hasn’t been changes that Cabrera has made only himself which has lead to his success this season with two strikes. It appears that pitchers have also changed their approach when facing him in two-strike counts.
This season is still young, but he is seeing more pitches in the zone with two strikes (59.2% compared to 44.5% in 2009). Not only does this mean that Cabrera's getting more pitches to hit, he’s also getting better pitches to hit, as the percentage of fastballs he’s seen has also jumped from 49.8% last year to 63.2%.
This is a good thing for Cabrera, as he is crushing those fastballs with two strikes (.389 BA and .889 slugging) much more often than he did last season (.265 BA and .368 slugging).