12/23/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
After Triple Crown season, Miggy even better in '13
Playing through injuries, Tigers slugger raised slash lines across the board
By Phil Rogers / MLB.com
No epic encore was required.
Miguel Cabrera had put his greatness on display in 2012, becoming the first hitter in 45 years to win the Triple Crown. No one could have expected him to top it.
After all, the other 11 hitters to achieve the feat saw their OPS drop by an average of 86 points the following season -- not exactly a complete exhale but a return to semi-mortality. Take away a career year when Chris Davis raised his home run total from 33 to 53 and Cabrera, the big man from Maracay, Venezuela, would have become the first hitter to win the Triple Crown in back-to-back seasons.
Factor in the injuries that limited Cabrera to 148 games for the Tigers -- more than anyone would have thought he could play watching him grimace and limp -- and this was one of the greatest hitting performances of all time. Cabrera actually raised his slash line totals across the board in 2013, compiling a 1.078 OPS that was 79 points better than in the Triple Crown season.
Only Ty Cobb (1910) and Mickey Mantle (1957) had raised their OPS the year after winning the Triple Crown.
"I don't know that myself and the coaches appreciate enough what we're seeing,'' former Tigers manager Jim Leyland said in New York in August. "It's hard to believe what we're seeing. This is my 50th year and I don't get too giddy about anything, but I'm not sure I've seen what's going on, what I've seen last year and this year. I'm seeing things that are a little mind-boggling."
With Prince Fielder hitting behind him in a lineup that was hurt by leadoff man Austin Jackson losing 40 points off his on-base percentage, the 30-year-old Cabrera hit a career-high .348 to become the first player to win three straight batting titles since Tony Gwynn won four (1994-97). His 44 home runs were nine short of the Orioles' Davis, who also finished with one more RBI than Cabrera's 137.
Leyland, who retired as manager at season's end, says Cabrera's success starts with his vision and ability to recognize pitches. His power comes easily.
"The best part is he swings like a little guy and hits like a big guy,'' Leyland said. "You rarely see him out of control swinging at the ball.''
Cabrera was hitting .365 with 30 home runs and 95 RBIs at the All-Star break -- the first player to have 30 homers and 90-plus RBIs before the All-Star Game. His second half wasn't nearly as productive, because of injuries -- a strained back, bruised left hip flexor, abdominal strain and partially torn groin -- that left him with 45 fewer plate appearances than in 2012. He compensated by hitting .397 with runners in scoring position, delivering big hits time after time as the Tigers won the American League Central for the third year in a row.
After losing the World Series to the Giants in 2012, Cabrera and the Tigers were on a mission to finish the job. But Cabrera, who would have surgery to repair the groin injury on Oct. 29, didn't have enough left to carry them past the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series.
Cabrera was a picture of pain throughout the playoffs, never more so than when he ran through a stop sign and was tagged out at the plate in Game 5 against Boston.
During the World Series, Cabrera admitted that he couldn't enjoy what he was experiencing in October because of his injuries.
"At that time it was hard to talk to me about how I was feeling, because I always try to focus about how I am able to help my team to win games,'' Cabrera said after receiving the Hank Aaron Award. "That time I would try to take off the negative stuff. We understand I was hurt, but I don't want to open up and try to tell the other team that I was hurt, and say I was like such percent, because I don't want to give any team the opportunity, like the weakness, like I was weak. I want to be out there strong. I want to be on the field and try to compete and try to win some games. It was hard to play like that, but I want to play like that I want to go out and help my team like that. It was my choice.''
For the second consecutive year, Cabrera was named the AL's Most Valuable Player over the Angels' Mike Trout. He received 23 of 30 first-place votes, with Trout receiving five and one apiece going to Davis and the Athletics' Josh Donaldson.
"He's so special," Leyland said. "It's hard to put into words how special this kid is, and I just hope Detroit knows how fortunate they are to have somebody like this. They're seeing history. They're seeing something they may never see again. It's just unbelievable."
Unbelievable times two.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.