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Miguel Cabrera blames loss of power on lack of lineup protection

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Tigers DH Miguel Cabrera has an otherwise decent triple-slash line: .298/.363/.372. However, the lack of power is noticeable for the future Hall of Famer, who has hit just one of his 466 career home runs this season.

By many measures the Tigers have the worst offense in the American League. For example, the Tigers’ average of 3.47 runs per game is worst in the league, significantly behind the second-worst Indians at 3.81. Cabrera in fact, attributes his lack of power to his lack of lineup protection, Chris Nelsen reports for the Detroit Free Press. Cabrera said, “You know Prince Fielder? You know who’s hitting behind me right now? That’s a big difference, too.”

Cabrera added, “How am I going to hit 40 home runs. In the past, I got Prince Fielder, Víctor Martínez, Jhonny Peralta. I got a big bat behind me. You see the way guys pitch me? That explains everything.”

Niko Goodrum has most commonly batted cleanup behind Cabrera this season, doing so in 24 of 31 games. He hasn’t been bad, owning a .224/.336/.398 triple-slash line. No, not prime Prince Fielder or Víctor Martínez but also nothing to sneeze at. Goodrum’s .735 OPS is just a hair under the league average of .744.

Pitchers haven’t really altered how they pitch Cabrera, overall. According to FanGraphs, Cabrera is currently seeing a career-low percentage of fastballs at 53.3 percent. His career average is 58.4 percent and was as high as 59.6 percent in 2011. However, that’s in line with the overall league trend. Batters saw 58.7 percent fastballs in 2010 and are seeing 53 percent this year.

Furthermore, pitchers have actually pitched Cabrera outside the strike zone slightly more than he’s used to, but that’s also attributable to the overall league trend. Pitchers were in the strike zone 45.3 percent of the time throughout his career, but only 42.2 percent this season. The league-wide percentage was at 45.8 percent in 2010 and only 42.8 percent in 2019. Cabrera is also seeing a career-high percentage of first-pitch strikes (66.9%), and he’s swinging and missing at his second-highest rate in the last decade (10.8%).

I don’t buy that a lack of lineup protection is the reason Cabrera isn’t hitting for power. He hit just 16 home runs in 130 games in 2017, and three in 38 games last year, which is only slightly better than the one in 31 games he has this season. The easier explanation is that he’s 36 years old. He battled a hamstring injury last year and his body is starting to wear down, as it does for almost all players in their mid-30’s. His bat speed has slowed. Cabrera is one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game, but not even he can outrun Father Time.

Nats’ success shouldn’t be about Bryce Harper

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Bryce Harper turns 27 years old today. As an early birthday present, he got to watch his former team reach the World Series for the first time in franchise history. His new team finished exactly at .500 in fourth place, missing the playoffs. These were facts that did not go unnoticed as the Nationals completed an NLCS sweep of the Cardinals at home last night.

Harper spent seven seasons with the Nationals before hitting free agency and ultimately signing with the Phillies on a 13-million, $330 million contract. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract at the end of the 2018 regular season, but about $100 million of that was deferred until he was 65 which lowered the present-day value of the offer. The Nats’ offer wasn’t even in the same ballpark, really.

Nevertheless, Nationals fans were upset that their prodigy jilted them to go to the Phillies. He was mercilessly booed whenever the Phillies played in D.C. Nats fans’ Harper jerseys were destroyed, or at least taped over.

Harper, of course, was phenomenal with the Nationals. He won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2012, then won the NL MVP Award several years later with an historically outstanding 1.109 OPS while leading the league with 42 homers and 118 runs scored. Overall, as a National, he had a .900 OPS. Pretty good. He was also productive in the postseason, posting an .801 OPS across 19 games, mostly against playoff teams’ best starters and best relievers. Furthermore, if the Nats had Harper this year, he would have been in right field in lieu of Adam Eaton. Harper out OPS’d Eaton by 90 points and posted 2.5 more WAR in a similar amount of playing time. The Nationals would have been even better if they had Harper this year.

The Nationals lost all four Division Series they appeared in during the Harper era. 3-2 to the Cardinals in 2012, 3-1 to the Giants in ’14, 3-2 to the Dodgers in ’16, and 3-2 to the Cubs in ’17. They finally get over the hump the first year they’re without Harper, that’s the difference, right? I saw the phrase “addition by subtraction” repeatedly last night, referring to Harper and the Nats’ subsequent success without him.

Harper, though, didn’t fork over four runs to the Cardinals in the top of the ninth inning in Game 5 in 2012. He didn’t allow the Dodgers to rally for four runs in the seventh inning of Game 5 in ’16 before ultimately losing 4-3. He didn’t use a gassed Max Scherzer in relief in 2017’s Game 5, when he allowed five of the seven Cubs he faced to reach base, leading to three runs which loomed large in a 9-8 loss. If certain rolls of the dice in those years had gone the Nationals’ way, they would have appeared in the NLCS. They might’ve even been able to win a World Series.

The Nationals saw how that looks this year. It was the opposing manager this time, Dave Roberts, who mismanaged his bullpen. Howie Kendrick then hit a tie-breaking grand slam in the 10th inning off of Joe Kelly to win the NLDS for the Nats. The playoffs are random. Sometimes a ball bounces your way, sometimes an umpire’s call goes your way, and sometimes the opposing manager makes several unforced errors to throw Game 5 in your lap.

Reaching the World Series, then thumbing your nose while sticking out your tongue at Harper feels like a guy tagging his ex-girlfriend on his new wedding photos. It’s time to move on.