Fantasy Baseball

2018 Fantasy Baseball: Drafting Miguel Cabrera

I’ve finished my rankings and just doing the usual finessing which occurs during Spring Training every year. You know, when Brent Honeywell’s season is over before it begins and you bump up another starting pitcher. Then continue to change things every day when someone else gets injured. That sort of finessing.

When it occurred to me: I have no idea if I’m too high or too low on Miguel Cabrera.

There’s always a handful of players I have a tough time ranking. Guys who have big potential upside but also red flags so do you take the risk and go high, play it safe and go low or just sit on the fence and think they’ll even out. I’m not a sit on the fence kinda guy. Yet that looks to be how I am on Miguel Cabrera.

Let me explain; if there’s a hitter who could hit .290 with 30 homers, 15 steals and 90 or so runs and RBIs across a full season, you’re looking at a top 50 pick. But he comes with a big injury risk so you can either downgrade him thinking he misses 30 games or avoid him, concerned he could miss 3 months.

I’d rather ignore the injury risk or rank him as if he’s missing 3 months. A lot of the rankings in such cases tend to sit on the fence, giving a mean average on their possible outcomes. Someone will be projected to hit 40 homers if healthy or just 10 if he misses the usual time he has recently. So his predicated total will be 25.

When the reality is, it’s an either/or case.

So back to Miggy. Does he stay healthy all year and return back nearer to the first round pick he was for nearly a decade? Or does his age and nagging injuries finally take their toll and we see an Adrian Gonzalez 2017 level of collapse?

Well let’s take a look at his last three seasons’ numbers;

R         HR       RBI      Avg

64        18        76        .338    2015 – Missed 7 weeks with a calf strain

92        38        108      .316    2016

50        16        60        .249    2017

Now it wasn’t a secret that Cabrera was hurt for much of 2017 and back problems are no fun, especially for a 35 year old baseball player with over 2,200 career games played. When it was clear the Tigers were no longer competing for a playoff spot, they were prepared to sit him more (missing half of the final month of the season) having missed time in April due to a groin strain.

Where does that leave us for 2018 projections? Combining Steamer and ZiPs projections, Cabrera’s 2018 is predicted as;

R         HR       RBI      Avg

67        22        77        .287    2018

The Tigers offense projects to be the worst it has for a long time given they’ve commenced the rebuild. They do have some interesting pieces but it’s hard to make a case that they’re stronger now than in the last 3 years. Obviously, runs and RBIs will suffer as a result.

Steamer (538 PA’s) and ZiPs (526 PS’a) have Cabrera missing time, but they too seem to be “sat on the fence” numbers. The reality is; the Tigers have nothing to gain playing a hurt Cabrera. If he is injured, they’re much more likely to DL him or sit him frequently.

If he’s healthy, then other than the occasional rest day, Cabrera will play near every game. But which is least likely? Playing 155 games, playing 125 games or playing less than 100 games? I‘d be inclined to say the middle option is least likely.

So is 22 homers a good bet? If like me you think 125 games is least likely, you’d be saying he’ll either hit 30 or under 20. Pretty much exactly how his last three seasons have gone.

Then there’s that batting average. Again, would you bet against a healthy Cabrera hitting .300 this year? I wouldn’t. But if he’s hurt, he’s unlikely to be playing and maybe he’ll hit nearer .250. Over the course of a full season, .287 is possible but not something I’d be predicting. It’s more likely to be either his 2016 or his 2017 seasons, not somewhere in between.

The downside to drafting Cabrera in 2018 is obvious. He’s old and falling apart so could be a complete bust. Yet, for someone in his mid-30’s, there’s actually some upside.

Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge, Paul Goldschmidt, Corey Seager, Nick Castellanos and Cody Bellinger. What do these 6 have in common? They’re the only qualified hitters to have a higher Hard Hit Rate in 2017 than Miguel Cabrera.

Cabrera also had a significant drop off in HR/FB rate (13.4% compared to an 18.8% career mark). So there’s also a good chance that re-corrects itself in 2018.

Taking all this information, we’ll take a look at where Cabrera is being drafted (data taken from Average Draft Positions as of 06th March);

ESPN              125th

Yahoo              71st (Yahoo’s site was only online in the last couple of days)

NFBC              95th

CBS                86th

Even dismissing Yahoo’s ADP as they have the least amount of data to go on, there is still a sizeable difference. Maybe ESPN is the outlier? We will find out more as the draft season gets into full swing.

That’s all of the “if’s, but’s and maybe’s”. What about the how and where to draft him?

In standard leagues, I’d be taking Cabrera as a corner infielder rather than my first baseman. It’s too much of a risk to be reliant on Cabrera only at that position given the talent available there and the young shiny stars emerging at that position.

But given where he’s being drafted, pairing him with another first baseman in back-to-back (or soon after) picks would be the wisest move.

Perhaps having Cabrera as your first baseman but ensuring you have one of the dual-positional eligible first baseman on your roster (Hoskins or Desmond for example). This way you have more flexibility should the worst happen.

In regards to the when, it’s pretty much based entirely on what you think he’ll do. My feeling is that a lot of people will just be avoiding at all costs and he’ll slide down a bit. But if he falls to around the tenth round, that’s where it’s worth rolling the dice on someone. If it backfires, the damage can be limited but if it pays off, it could be a game changer.

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