Will Cabrera's shift to third base precipitate a faster decline?

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

While Miguel Cabrera might have won the Triple Crown and the MVP award, is he actually declining?

After reading this brilliant article written by Kincaid about how Cabrera actually hit better in 2011 than in 2012, it got me thinking about one of the biggest headlines from last season. Prince Fielder signing in Detroit wasn't just a big headline, but also sparked the controversy over if Miguel Cabrera could move back to third base. At the time people were expecting Cabrera to be absolutely horrendous at the hot corner and that he'd be DHing by the All-Star break. Fast forward a year and Cabrera managed to not only play third base, but to produce the first Triple Crown in 50 years. And ironically, when taking positional value into account , Cabrera was worth more defensively this season than last season. While he was worth negative sixteen runs last season, he lowered that to negative nine runs this past season.

When taking a quick glance at Cabrera's 2011 season, one thing that should immediately jump out at you is his plate discipline. Cabrera had a higher walk rate than strike out rate, quite the accomplishment in this day and age.

When comparing his numbers to this season, Cabrera declined in BB% from an elite 15.7% all the way down to 9.5%. In addition, his K% went in the wrong direction as well, going from 12.9% up to 14.1% this past season. This clearly is not a good trend for Cabrera who will be entering his tenth major league season at 30 years of age. Also, heavier players tend to age less gracefully than their lighter counterparts.

If you take a look at FanGraphs' Plate Discipline statistics for Cabrera you'll notice his O-Swing% (the percentage of pitches swung at out of the strike zone) went up this past season by 3.4%, a pretty serious drop. While his Z-Swing% (the percentage of pitches swung at inside the strike zone) declined by 3%. While his swinging strike rate stayed the same, the two aforementioned metrics could be telling in Cabrera's deteriorating plate discipline.

Going into next season, this should be something to monitor with Cabrera. While up until now Cabrera's deteriorating plate discipline has manifested itself mainly in the form of a dwindling walk rate, who knows what it could effect in 2013. It could start effecting Cabrera's batting average and power going forward. While Cabrera's ability to hot the ball hard probably hasn't taken a step back, his plate discipline has and it'll be interetsing to see if he'll be able to maintain a high BABiP again next season. It would definitely be a leap to proclaim that Cabrera's move to third base directly caused his decline in plate discipline, having to play a more taxing position entering his decline phase definitely doesn't help. I'm willing to bet Cabrera will decline much less gracefully now that he's a full time third basemen, which is a more taxing position to play than he has in a while.

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