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Miggy's classic opposite-field swing has returned

@beckjason
February 27, 2020

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The former American League Triple Crown champion stepped to the plate Thursday, and the Rays' infield stepped to the left. Tampa Bay played Miguel Cabrera to pull based off of last year’s hitting, and the Rays aren’t alone. “Every time,” Cabrera said afterwards. “Every time.”

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The former American League Triple Crown champion stepped to the plate Thursday, and the Rays' infield stepped to the left. Tampa Bay played Miguel Cabrera to pull based off of last year’s hitting, and the Rays aren’t alone.

“Every time,” Cabrera said afterwards. “Every time.”

The ensuing line drive from Cabrera tailed just to the first-base side of Rays reliever Peter Fairbanks, carried through the middle and into right-center field for a single leading off the fourth. It was one hit in a 6-3 Tigers loss, but it continued a trend since games began a week ago.

Cabrera talked at the start of camp about getting his old swing back and not having to compensate for injuries. The classic Cabrera swing powers opposite-field line drives with authority. The Cabrera swing of this spring is headed in that direction.

All four of Cabrera’s base hits have gone to the right side or toward the middle, including the home run he crushed to right-center in Tuesday’s win over the Mets. Cabrera says it’s not intentional, that he’s just going with the pitches. But it’s not a bad sign.

“Miggy’s got a feel for the whole field,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He knows what he’s doing. I just let Miggy do Miggy. He does have a nice swing going on. He’s working on using it that way, but it’s early in camp.”

Cabrera has built his resume as a hitter to all fields. He owns a .364 career batting average on balls hit up the middle, and .373 when hitting to the opposite field, according to baseball-reference. He has more career home runs up the middle (201) than pulled (180). He had just two opposite-field home runs last year, but he hit .394 to that side. Two other home runs carried out to the gap in right-center, according to Statcast.

Cabrera used the opposite field last year, but his hits all over the field had less authority. While his average launch angle was right around normal at 12.2 degrees in 2019, according to Statcast, his average exit velocity dropped to 90.3 mph, his lowest since Statcast started tracking in 2015 and 68th among Major League hitters. Likewise, his hard-hit rate dropped to 44.6% -- still in the top 18% of Major League hitters, just not up to his standards.

Thus, while Cabrera raised his opposite-field percentage back around his usual rate last year, his line-drive and barrel percentages went up just incrementally, staying under his average over the last five years.

If a healthier, lighter Cabrera can use his back leg to generate power in his swing like in the past, those numbers should go back up.

“Let’s wait for the season,” Cabrera said.

Those opposite-field liners are also a big reason why Cabrera is at that point where he can think about the 3,000-hit milestone. He needs 185 hits to get there, a total he has reached in a season once in the last five years. He also needs 23 home runs to join the 500-homer club.

He’s close enough that he’s admittedly thinking about it, especially after watching the reception Albert Pujols received at Comerica Park for reaching the 2,000-RBI milestone last year.

“The last two years I’ve been hurt,” he said. “Hopefully I can I have a better year this year. That’s why we have to wait. We have to wait for the season.”

Up next
Iván Nova makes his second start of the spring Friday as the Tigers return to Joker Marchant Stadium for a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Blue Jays. Nova tossed two scoreless innings in his Tigers debut Sunday.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.