Vavra 'not really worried' about Cabrera

Tigers hitting coach analyzes slugger's struggles

August 22nd, 2020

The numbers, both past and present, say should be doing better than this.

His average exit velocity this season is among the top 10 percent of Major League hitters, according to Statcast. His hard-hit rate is in the top 12 percent. Based in part on that contact, his expected batting average entering Saturday was .276, among the top 20 percent of big league hitters this year.

Instead, the 2012 Triple Crown winner and four-time American League batting champion entered Saturday hitting .184 (16-for-87) with five extra-base hits (four of them home runs), 11 RBIs, 11 walks, 20 strikeouts and a .613 OPS.

Even for a 37-year-old player with 18 Major League seasons on his resume and a recent history of knee and back injuries, it doesn’t match. For Tigers hitting coach Joe Vavra, it’s a work-in-progress to get Cabrera up to his statistical expectations, if not his own lofty goals.

“The trend continues with him,” Vavra said. “His barreled-ball percentage was up, his exit velocity was good, but he wasn’t getting hits. That’s not good enough for Miguel Cabrera, so he wants to look at some things and change some things up. And that’s a hard concept for somebody as good as him to try to sequence his swing so he gets everything going, his lower half with his upper half.

“But that’s precisely what we’re trying to do, try to keep the upper half with his hips turned in a little bit, but start early enough that he doesn’t have to just rely on his hands when the ball’s on top of him.”

A handful of key statistics from Statcast reflect the issues:

• While Cabrera’s batting average on fastballs has dropped from .307 last year to .238 entering Saturday, his expected batting average has jumped from .297 to .346. His average exit velocity on fastballs has jumped from 91.6 mph last year to 95 mph so far this season, but his launch angle on fastballs is down from 13 degrees in 2019 to 10 in ‘20.

• Cabrera’s emphasis on hard contact on fastballs has cost him on breaking balls (.143 average) and offspeed pitches (.100). He has just five hits off breaking balls, but three are for home runs. His only hit off an offspeed pitch also left the yard.

• While Cabrera’s strikeout rate is 20 percent, right around last year’s (19.7) and better than 2017 (20.8), his whiff rate (swing-and-miss) has jumped to 32.3 percent, up about eight points from last year and 8.7 points over his career rate. He has a 60.9 percent whiff rate on offspeed pitches.

“From what I’ve seen over the last couple years, the ball gets on him and he’s had a tough time getting to a fastball. The numbers show it,” Vavra said. “So this year he’s kind of working a little bit faster getting to fastballs and having a little bit more difficult time on offspeed. We’ve got to find the balance in there.”

Cabrera had an opposite-field single off Dominic Leone and drew a walk off Adam Plutko in Friday’s 10-5 win at Cleveland. He put an inside-out swing on a first-pitch slider and sent a low line drive through the right side. But in Saturday's 6-1 loss, Cabrera went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, two of which came on fastballs.

“I’m not really worried about Miggy overall,” Vavra said. “I think Miggy worries about himself not getting hits. He wants to contribute. He wants to be that guy. And if you saw him for about four or five games there, everything was going really good. He was driving the ball when guys were in scoring position. He was driving the ball where he needed to drive it, and I totally feel that the numbers will fall where they need to fall.”

Lugo clears waivers, outrighted to Toledo
The Tigers held onto through Spring Training and Summer Camp and into the season after he lost out to Jeimer Candelario for the starting job at third base. But he cleared waivers this week, and on Saturday was outrighted to Toledo, the Tigers announced.

Detroit designated Lugo for assignment when the club called up to take over at third. Lugo had just 11 plate appearances this season, going 2-for-10 with an RBI. He made just two starts at the hot corner and was a pinch-runner for Cabrera three times.

Quick hits
• Paredes is the first Tiger to post six or more RBIs in his first four Major League games since Pete Fox in 1933.

threw his first bullpen session Friday and felt very good, according to Tigers head athletic trainer Doug Teter. Zimmermann, currently on the 45-day injured list with a right forearm strain, will begin pitching simulated games next week if he remains symptom-free.

(10-day IL, right triceps tendinitis) is working on range of motion and strength, according to Teter. He’ll begin a throwing program once he’s pain-free.

• If you watched Friday’s game and noticed something off about manager Ron Gardenhire’s dugout attire, he was wearing the batting practice cap with the Tiger-striped Olde English D in the early innings, rather than the road game cap. “I went out on the field and [clubhouse manager Jim Schmakel] saw it. He came running down and put my new hat on. I did have it on, yes. Once I put a hat on in the clubhouse, I normally just keep it on, and Jim took care of me.”