How do you defend against Miguel Cabrera?
October, 5, 2012
By Mark Simon | ESPN.com
There is no team that Triple-Crown winner Miguel Cabrera shredded quite like the Oakland Athletics in 2012.
Cabrera was 14-for-29 with three home runs and 14 RBI in seven games against Athletics pitching this season.
How might the Athletics try to change their fortunes in the postseason?
Up, Up, and Away
Oakland’s best bet could be to pitch Cabrera up around the eyes.
Cabrera misses high pitches at about the same rate that he misses pitches thrown elsewhere. But upstairs is the area where Cabrera did the least damage.
When Cabrera made contact with a pitch in the upper-third of the strike zone and above, he made 46 outs and got 16 hits. That’s a ratio of nearly three outs for every hit.
Cabrera’s ratio of outs to hits when he makes contact with pitches thrown to other spots is about 1.4-to-1.
However, Cabrera will need a reason to go after those pitches. He only swings at pitches thrown in the upper-third and above about one-third of the time.
Cabrera’s other vulnerability is pitches on the outer-third of the plate, or just off the outside corner.
He had a .256 batting average with six home runs in at-bats that ended with a pitch to that area. The chart on the right shows the difference between pitching Cabrera away and pitching him to any other area.
White Sox right-hander Gavin Floyd held Cabrera to one hit in eight at-bats this season, and his primary strategy was to work Cabrera away.
Of his 35 pitches to Cabrera, 24 of them were on that outside edge or just off the outside corner. Five of the seven times he got Cabrera out, the pitch was classified as being on the outer-half or off the outside corner.
Cabrera did club outside pitches, but not until the very end of the season. Three of those six home runs noted above came in the last three weeks of the season.
As much as Cabrera dominated this season, much of that has come against right-handed pitching.
Cabrera has just four home runs in 159 at-bats against lefties, though he does have a .441 on-base percentage against them this season.
The means by which lefties have kept Cabrera from hitting the ball out of the ballpark has been to keep the ball down. Nearly half of the pitches Cabrera has seen this season from lefties have been around the knees or below (the major-league average is 42 percent).
Move to the Middle
If you see the Athletics employ an infield shift, it will probably be because of this statistic.
Of the 217 times that the Cabrera hit the ball on the ground, 172 of them were hit over the second base bag or to the left of second base. That’s an 80 percent rate, which is an above-average rate for a right-handed hitter.
If Cabrera hits the ball in the air, he’s actually more apt to hit the ball to right field than he is to hit it to left field.
Any leftfielder will probably play him extremely deep. Cabrera’s line drives and fly balls to left field traveled an average distance of 330 feet (22 of them went over the fence).
The only player to hit balls a greater average distance to that area was Matt Holliday of the Cardinals (340 feet).