Is Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera having a bad year, or just an odd year?

Tom Gage
The Detroit News

Detroit — Miguel Cabrera is having a good, but unusual season for the Tigers.

Instead of his normally great season.

At the very least, he’s been enigmatic.

His batting average is .309. He’s on a pace to end up with 114 RBIs. For most players, that would be a banner season.

Cabrera can’t be compared to most players, however. He can only be compared to Cabrera — the American League’s Most Valuable Player the last two years, and the best hitter in the game.

But some are wondering what’s up with the best hitter?

If you point to how his home runs are down — at his current pace, he would hit 22, his lowest total since 2003 — you also have to point to his doubles.

Cabrera already has 40 doubles, projecting to 53 for the season. That would be a career high.

And based on the 58 extra-base hits he has through the Tigers’ first 122 games, he’s on a pace to have 77 for the season — six more than last year.

But if doubles have replaced his home runs, are doubles from Cabrera enough? That’s the question.

Traditionally July and August are Cabrera’s most powerful months. He has 71 career home runs in August, 68 in July.

Therein lies Cabrera’s unusual summer.

In the 42 games he’s played since July 1, Cabrera has three home runs and 21 RBIs. In each category, they are his lowest totals as a Tiger over a similar time period. Also of note, in the 42 games he’s played since July 1, the Tigers are 20-22.

Is there a corollary?

Perhaps there is, but you can’t blame a team’s struggles on one player even when he’s the team’s best player.

It’s not as if Cabrera is hitting .199 since July 1. He’s hitting .299, but it’s not a batting average to which he’s accustomed.

If anything, Cabrera has spoiled the Tigers. In four of his previous six seasons with the team, he’s hit at least 10 home runs since July 1 by now.

In three of the previous six seasons, he’s averaged an RBI per game since July 1 by now — instead of the RBI for every two games he’s averaging since July 1 this year.

There’s been some speculation that the reduction in his production can be traced to the off-season surgery he had — and that his strength couldn’t be expected to hold up the entire year.

Players don’t like to use medical excuses, though. Most of them don’t like any excuses at all, but there have been times we’ve all recently seen Cabrera staring at a fly ball he’s driven deep into the outfield, while looking surprised it fell short of the seats.

It’s also true that hitters can encounter bad luck. Such stretches don’t usually last for 42 games, however.

Nor is this meant to be an indictment of Cabrera’s performance, because hitters who have performed at the high level he’s achieved as a Tiger certainly deserve some slack.

But when analyzing the Tigers’ 21-22 performance since July 1 — they won the game (July 9) in which he didn’t play — Cabrera’s numbers certainly must be taken into account.

Has he changed his swing, which would account for more line-drive doubles?

It doesn’t appear so to the naked eye.

Plus there’s this about his doubles: It’s true he has four in the last four games, but he had none in the 24 games before that — so they appear to come in spurts, and can disappear for weeks.

Can the Tigers win if they get the kind of the numbers from Cabrera for their final 40 games that they’ve gotten in his last 42?

It might prove difficult, but at the same time it would be unfair to say they can’t because that would be set Cabrera up for the entire offensive blame.

They might not win if he starts hitting home runs — or they might win even if he doesn’t.

All that can be said at this point is what was said originally: He’s having a good, but unusual season.

Someone on a pace to end up hitting .309 with 53 doubles, 77 extra-base hits and 114 RBIs is not having a bad year.

But it’s not a summer that has looked like his others.

That’s unusual

The following chart shows what Cabrera has hit for the first 42 games after July 1 of each season he’s been a Tiger.