Cleveland — If you watch Miguel Cabrera’s approach in the batter’s box these days, you might think he’s starting every at-bat with two strikes on him. His legs are spread apart, he’s not lifting his front foot and he’s not striding into the ball.
He’s mainly throwing his hands at the ball.
“I always do it with two strikes,” he said before the game Saturday.
But lately he’s been doing it all the time, regardless of the count.
“Yeah, I didn’t do that last year and this year, but I’ve started doing it again,” he said.
Why? What’s the methodology behind it? Is it to alleviate stress on his back? His answer will likely surprise you.
“I won four batting titles, two MVPs and a Triple Crown with that,” he said. “It’s something I always used to do.”
Look back at video from his Triple Crown season and, sure enough. He did a slight toe tap, but no exaggerated leg kick, no stride. At times, when he was especially locked in against a certain pitcher or pitch, he would raise his front leg slightly and put it right back down.
Mostly, he would spread out, let the ball get deep, open his hips, clear his hands and unleash his text-book swing. Just like he’s getting back to now.
“I think he’s done that at some point in every season, at least every season I’ve been here,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Sometimes he does it with two strikes. Right now, he’s doing it on every pitch.
“It’s just something that takes all the movement out of it and helps him stay short to the ball.”
It has nothing to do with taking stress off his back or his hips.
Pitchers this season have had success pitching him hard and in, pitches that have become increasingly difficult for Cabrera to get the barrel to. Earlier in the season, it appeared he was guessing more often, cheating a little to the fastball. The result was he was chasing a lot of breaking balls out of the strike zone.
Since going back to the spread stance with no kick or stride, he’s put the ball in play more consistently. His slash line (average, on-base, slugging and OPS) in May was .256/.374/.378/.752.
Since June, he’s gone .275/.338/.492/.830. He’s hit six of his 11 home runs since June 15.
Suffice to say, the progress has been excruciatingly slow for Cabrera.
“I am still hitting .260, so it’s not made a big difference,” he said. “I’m seeing the ball. I’m still hitting it, just right at somebody. Just keep working, that’s what I do.”
Last year at the All-Star break, Cabrera was hitting .293 with 18 home runs and 53 RBIs. He’s presently hitting .267 with 11 home runs and 41 RBIs – despite leading Major League Baseball with a 28.1 percent line drive rate and ranking fourth with a 48.8 percent hard-hit rate according to FanGraphs.
After the break last year, Cabrera hit .346 with 20 homers and 55 RBIs.
“This has a déjà vu feel to it, for sure,” Ausmus said. “That’s probably why I don’t worry about it.”
Asked if it felt similar to last season to him, Cabrera shrugged.
“I hope so,” he said.