Miguel Cabrera to third may have bunters salivating when playing Tigers
I’ve been overloaded with fantasy baseball analysts yipping at how Miguel Cabrera will regain his third base eligibility as he reverts to his “natural position” following the signing of Prince Fielder. While it might help “902Cano’s” fantasy team, it will fail to help Jim Leyland’s non-fiction team. Leyland will be loading up on the inexpensive cigarette cartons while he’s in Lakeland this year, because he will have to watch two literal anchors man the corner positions of his infield.
I’m not hating on Fielder, the defender of the first bag, as much as on the logic of putting Cabrera at third base; he of the 6′-4″ and 240 lb (highly debatable, has been as high as 260 lbs) stature. His last experience with the position was in 2008 when he played 14 games, and no matter what novel defensive metric you go by, he wasn’t good, though the sample was small.
I’m sure the Tigers must have weighed this variable carefully before deciding on signing Fielder. I honestly think they are taking the approach that the offensive addition of Fielder significantly outweighs the defensive liability caused by Cabrera playing third. I do not think they have accounted for the actual defensive regression Cabrera will have taken from his age 22 and 23 seasons, when at best you could qualify him as a borderline-average third basemen.
With the A.L. Central being one of the most winnable divisions in baseball this year, the question becomes, how do you gain an edge against your peer teams? The answer is, when you play the Tigers, you bunt.
Don’t bunt with the bases loaded, don’t bunt with two strikes, and for God’s sake, don’t bunt with Travis Hafner. But bunt more often than normal. Last year, the top bunters batted .532 on attempted bunts for a hit (Flat Bat Award 2011). If you are bunting for a hit this successfully, you should be bunting more. If you take a look at the top nine bunters from last year, those guys aren’t slugging .450. They should be bunting until those bunt-for-hit averages approach something more batting average-esque. With the repeated attempts, you draw Cabrera and/or Fielder in a little bit to keep them honest and give yourself an opportunity for a bloop double.
Alexi Casilla is salivating right now. Justin Verlander is working on his “falling off to the right” approach. Maybe the Tigers will score five runs a game and render this point moot. All I know is, if I’m Kenny Williams, I’m calling up Juan Pierre‘s agent. If I’m Pierre’s agent, I’m making a PowerPoint focusing on “if my client bunted every time, he would bat .389/.400./.389 and be worth x dollar over three years.” Soon, everyone forgets Kyle Williams, remembers Kenny Williams, and the world is at peace again.