Miguel Cabrera Isn’t A Safe Fantasy Pick

By Eriq Gardner //
Miguel Cabrera is, without a doubt, one of the biggest talents in the game today. Among the players throughout baseball history listed by Baseball Reference as being similar through the age of 27 is Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, and Albert Pujols. But this could be the year to pass on putting Cabrera on a fantasy roster.
It’s not only the fact that Cabrera was arrested for DUI the other night, which is certainly concerning in and of itself, and holds legal ramifications that could interfere with both his schedule and focus for the upcoming season. Cabrera held significant risk even before this tragic week.
So far in most drafts, Cabrera is being taken with the third overall pick, which represents the highest that Cabrera has ever been taken in fantasy drafts throughout his career. Cabrera has done great things in his eight seasons in the major leagues, but plays first-base — always a deep position where more is expected.
Thanks to his finest season yet in 2010, where he hit 38 HRs, drove in 126 runs, and hit .328, Cabrera made that jump in the eyes of the draft community. But to justify being taken with the third overall pick, a first baseman like Cabrera will need to repeat such specialness from a season ago.
Here’s why it might not be in the cards. First, let’s put aside his legal troubles for a moment.
Consider his power. Cabrera’s typical season is 33 or 34 HRs, and while he’s still young enough that 38 HRs comes as no surprise, it’s a better bet that he’ll regress slightly. His HR/FB% last year was 19.8%, above his career mark at 18.3%, and while he did more by hitting the ball in the air in higher frequency rather than on the ground, normal regression to career achievements would seem to yield a HR total closer to 33 than 40.
Consider his average. His .328 average represented the second best mark of his career — his best since 2006 — and while he has a long track record of overachieving the standard “Batting Average on Balls in Play” (BABIP) of about .300, is it realistic to expect another .336 BABIP like the one he posted last year from a man whose weight tends to be on the slightly high side and isn’t really that fast? 
His xBABIP, a measure of what his expected BABIP should have been in 2010 based on other statistics like home runs, strikeouts, line drive percentage, points to .312, meaning we should expect to see some regression there too.
A few fewer home runs, a slightly lower batting average, and probably less RBIs and runs too…which starts to raise the question of whether Miguel Cabrera is really going to be much better than the other elite 1B this season including Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez. Based on the projections we’ve seen, the difference between Cabrera, Votto, and Gonzalez has always been a tad overstated — even before this week’s bad news. See my piece on Adrian Gonzalez in December as an example.
Now let’s factor in the DUI arrest. 
Regardless of the projections, the case for taking Cabrera first among the group could easily have been made on the assumption that he was the safest of the group. Votto has only one full elite season on his belt; Gonzalez is still recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. 
But now? Cabrera could miss some time to put his legal troubles to bed. He could lose focus. He could be battling alcohol again, which has reportedly caused him problems in the past. Doesn’t mean any of these things will necessarily come to pass, but suddenly Votto’s lack of track record and Gonzalez’ minor injury concern don’t jump out as being any more risky at the moment. And based on news yet to come, it’s quite possible that Cabrera represents the biggest risk of the bunch.
For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com

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