Cabrera makes smooth transition to third base

BY foxsports • July 24, 2012

DETROIT -- Remember before the season when one of the main concerns about the Detroit Tigers was whether Miguel Cabrera would be able to play third base?

While the Tigers probably won't be winning any awards for defense this season, with the possible exception of center fielder Austin Jackson, Cabrera's defense hasn't been a topic at all.

Scott Merkin, the Chicago White Sox beat writer for MLB.com, had an observation he shared on Twitter over the weekend.

"I have not watched Cabrera on a daily basis but he certainly looks as if he handles third base pretty smoothly," Merkin said.

If you check the defensive statistics for third basemen through Monday, Merkin's observation has numbers to back it up.

Among the American League players who have played third base the majority of the season, Cabrera ranks third out of six in fielding percentage at .964. Kansas City's Mike Moustakas is first at .968. Texas' Adrian Beltre is second at .966.

Rounding out the six players are Seattle's Kyle Seager at .958, Los Angeles Angels' Alberto Callaspo at .958 and Toronto's Brett Lawrie at .956.

In terms of errors, Cabrera has nine, as does Moustakas. Beltre has six, Seager and Callaspo each have seven and Lawrie has 12. But Cabrera has played in more games (93) than any of them.

If you expand those to include National League third basemen, Cabrera is ranked eighth out of 15.

Former Tiger Placido Polanco is first with a .990 fielding percentage. Milwaukee's Aramis Ramirez is second at .970, San Diego's Chase Headley is third at .970, St. Louis' David Freese is fourth at .968, Moustakas is fifth at .968, Beltre sixth at .966 and Washington's Ryan Zimmerman seventh at .965.

Back in January when the Tigers signed Prince Fielder, which necessitated Cabrera's switch back to third base, manager Jim Leyland made it clear what he expected with the move.

"I think I have a tremendous set of hands that could actually play anywhere in the infield and catch a ground ball," Leyland said. "So what your concern is because of the size of Miguel, is his athleticism going to be as good coming in on bunts, is his range going to be maybe as good as some of the better third basemen? That's probably not going to happen.

"But when he gets himself at the weight that he wants to be at, I think his first step is very quick. I think his hands are absolutely tremendous and I know for a fact that his throwing arm is one of the best in baseball. It's kind of gotten hidden in the first base position but it is a tremendous throwing arm."

Cabrera, now listed at 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, had played closer to 280-290 pounds in previous years when he played first base.

Cabrera, 29, worked diligently in the offseason to lose weight so he could play third.

He then arrived early at spring training in Lakeland and did extra work every day with infield coach Rafael Belliard at third base.

Leyland recently was asked what he thought of Cabrera's defensive performance so far.

"I thought he'd be good and he's good," Leyland said. "I thought there'd be some limitations but he's been tremendous. He loves to play it. He gets off the ball pretty well, side to side in particular. Defense a lot of times is concentration and he's been really concentrating on it."

Obviously, the main reason the Tigers are willing to take what Cabrera can give them at third base is the fact that offensively he's one of the most dominant players in baseball.

Through Monday, Cabrera was batting .330 with 23 home runs and 79 RBIs. He had a .389 on-base percentage and .970 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage).

The other third basemen in the league weren't even close to that kind of production.

Polanco, 36, who won the NL Gold Glove at third base last season, was batting .255 with two home runs and 19 RBIs in 82 games. He had a .300 on-base percentage and .628 OPS.

Ramirez, 34, was batting .279 with 10 home runs and 56 RBIs. He had a 348 on-base percentage and .822 OPS/

Headley, 28, was batting .265 with 11 home runs and 50 RBIs. He had a .360 on-base percentage and .782 OPS.

Freese, 29, the World Series MVP last year, was batting .305 with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs. He had a .374 on-base percentage and .870 OPS.

Moustakas, 23, was batting .267 with 16 home runs and 50 RBIs. He had a .322 on-base percentage and .794 OPS.

Beltre, 33, who won the AL Gold Glove at third base last season, was batting .315 with 18 home runs and 61 RBIs. He had a .346 on-base percentage and .869 OPS.

Zimmerman, 27, was batting .272 with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. He had a .336 on-base percentage and .798 OPS.

Catcher Alex Avila, who works out with Cabrera in the offseason in Florida, has said nothing surprises him when it comes to Cabrera's offensive accomplishments.

But the fact that Cabrera was able to continue to put up those numbers while making the switch to third did amaze Avila.

"How many players to you see moving from a position and can play it well at such a short period of time," Avila asked. "And, not only that, being the star that he is and the type of player that he is? And to be able to do it well and put up those type of numbers? That’s special.
 
"I can’t think of guys that are his caliber to be able to do that in the past."

So while Cabrera won't win a Gold Glove, he could win another batting title or an MVP award.


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