Albert Lang: Miguel Cabrera is not the #1 option in Fantasy Baseball
Cabrera was first in average last season, fifth in runs, tied for 21st in HRs, and tied for 10th in RBIs. He was out-homered by Paul Konerko, had the same RBIs as him and didn’t bat that much better. Cabrera is a better value than Konerko, but their production isn’t that far off.
Over the past three years, Cabrera hit .332 and averaged 106 runs, 34 HRs and 111 RBIs. During that same time frame, Albert Pujols hit .313 and averaged 115 runs, 42 HRs and 117 RBIs. This includes a relatively down 2011 season for Pujols.
Last season, Troy Tulowitzki hit as many HRs as Cabrera. In addition, he averaged 90 runs, 30 HRs, 97 RBIs and 13 SBs while batting .304 over the last three seasons. Cabrera has him in runs/RBIs, but Tulo is more than adequate in the other categories. Tulo is a shortstop. No one at that position has matched his production. Several first basemen have matched Cabrera’s production.
Over the last three seasons, Jose Bautista averaged 89 runs, 37 HRs and 89 RBIs while batting .269. This includes 2009, during which he played just 113 games and hit just 13 HRs. Bautista qualifies at third base. No third baseman has come close to Bautista’s production over the last two seasons.
Matt Kemp had a horrible 2010, but, even factoring that in, matched Cabrera’s production over the last three seasons. Kemp has averaged 98 runs, 31 HRs, 105 RBIs and 31 steals, while batting .290.
Kemp will be 27, Tulo will be 27, Bautista will be 31, Pujols will be 32 and Cabrera will be 29. Age isn’t really a factor in this discussion, but, as you’ll note, it appears Kemp and Tulo are entering their primes, while Cabrera is in the midst of his. It’s possible the best is yet to come for both Kemp and Tulo and their production has been incredibly similar to Cabrera’s of late. Cabrera is a four-category stud, but so are other first basemen. He’s a top player, just not the best fantasy option.
And this third base business is malarkey. If he eventually gets eligibility it will be a decent way into the season. So you’d need a suitable back-up during the process (and then a suitable replacement at 1b) and you’re banking on something that is by no means an eventuality. Bet on known things in fantasy.
Consistency is difficult to come by in a game riddled with variability. Miguel Cabrera has been, dare I say, the king of consistency over the course of his nine year career. Aside from his rookie season, Cabrera’s minimum values in R, HR, RBI, and AVG have been 85, 30, 103, and .292, respectively. Similar statistical lines represent a career year for many.
Over the last two seasons, he has drawn 54 intentional walks and has been consistently pitched around. The newly signed Prince Fielder offers protection at a level that Cabrera has never had. Prince will be able to offer elite run production and, most importantly, indirectly provide Cabrera with juicier pitches to hit. Victor Martinez’s .380 OBP will be missed from the 5-spot in the order but he’s nowhere near the run producer that Fielder is. Fielder did pretty well hitting in front of the NL-MVP last season and I can’t see that changing in the Motor City.
The wildcards liable to throw a wrench into Detroit’s master plan are Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch. Neither possesses a sparkling walk rate (8.4% and 7.4% in 2011, respectively) nor hit for an elite average (.249 and .283 in 2011, respectively). Jim Leyland’s options are rather thin as the only Detroit regulars to post an OBP at .320 or better in both 2010 and 2011 are Cabrera, Fielder, and Boesch. On a positive note, Boesch has improved his K% over the last three years to a respectable 17.6% in 2011. Reports also suggest that Austin Jackson has been working with Detroit Hitting Coach Lloyd McClendon to revamp his swing by quieting his hands and altering his leg kick. For as pessimistic as I could be about their 1-2 hitters, I see no reason to panic. Cabrera still hit .312 with the bases empty in 2011. 14 of his HR last season were solo shots and no one seemed to complain that he hit .344 and still drove in 105. Elite hitters have made due with less than Cabrera and moving up in the order isn’t going to kill him. Ryan Theriot and John Jay don’t exactly incite fear into the opposition but Albert Pujols did pretty well hitting behind them in the 3-spot last year.
Perhaps the loudest reason that we’ve heard over the last week regarding Cabrera’s fantasy value centers on his alleged move back to third base. The prospect is appetizing to say the least. It would offer added flexibility at a more shallow position. For as much as I’d love to use this space to enhance my argument for Cabrera as the number one pick, I can’t and I won’t. The odds that he sticks for 10 games at 3B before the All Star Break based on his history at the position aren’t great. He’s liable to hurt himself and has proven to be anything but a defensive stud at third. There’s significantly less risk for Jim Leyland to let Cabrera and Fielder alternate between DH and 1B and I fully expect him to take this route. You shouldn’t need to justify selecting him first overall with the potential for 3B eligibility, though. His bat does that for him.
If we look at the competition, Jose Bautista, Matt Kemp, Albert Pujols, and Troy Tulowitzki figure to challenge Cabrera for the #1 selection. I’ll keep my criticisms short and sweet:
-Go look at Jose Bautista’s monthly splits last year and you’ll probably be very surprised. After his scorching start, he hit .258 (June), .316 (July), .261 (August), and .259 (September). Additionally, 20 of his 43 HR came in his first 216 PA. Yuck. Maybe someone has figured out that he’s not an impossible out if you keep the ball down and in?
-Matt Kemp is the only 40-40 candidate in baseball and had a monster year. The problem is that I can’t really decide if 2011 was an aberration or not and it’s enough to put me off. His chances on the bases have varied greatly over the last 3 years and his power spiked considerably in 2011.
-Albert Pujols is at the end of his prime years and has shown slight signs of wear over the last few seasons. I foresee an adjustment period in April/May that could slow his numbers out of the gate. Cabrera, entering his prime, seems the safer play.
-You won’t find a bigger Tulo fan than me (diehard Rockies fan since inception) but I refuse to buy into him as the number one pick. Quite simply, he’s too streaky. He will kill you in head-to-head leagues and he doesn’t have Cabrera’s consistency or Kemp’s speed.
No matter how we slice and dice it, Cabrera is an elite hitter. I could bombard you with his splits all day but there’s really no point. You know what you’re going to get and that’s the biggest comfort of all.