For our second #3 season of the Decade Top Ten, we’ll discuss one of the best Marlins of the decade in his best season of the decade. While Miguel Cabrera has always been an excellent hitter as a member of the Marlin, the 2006 season brought about one of the few campaigns in which Cabrera showed a passable glove, and that glove helped supplement an excellent season.
Miguel Cabrera (2006)
The 2006 season was a season of change for the new-look Florida Marlins. After gutting much of the roster in favor of a younger squad (the so-called “market correction”), the team was left with only two remnants from the 2003 World Series winning squad, Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis. These two were charged with leading a new team after the 2004 and 2005 teams failed to compete.
Of course, Cabrera and Willis were at the forefront of a young, resurgent team. The 2006 squad was a lowly 11-31 by the end of May. The play of both of these players, along with newcomers Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, and a cast of young starters, led the team storming back into Wild Card contention. By August, the Marlins became the first team to be 20 games under .500 at some point during the year and make it to .500 that same season. A few days later, they became the first team to be 20 games under and actually go over .500 in the same season.
A big part of that success was the play of Cabrera. After the departure of Mike Lowell, Cabrera took over at third base, a position he had not played since his rookie year. However, the transition from corner outfield back into the infield went far smoother than could have been expected. After posting awful seasons in the outfield the last two years (-27 runs according to TotalZone, -24 according to UZR), Cabrera put up “just” a below average season at third base in 2006 according to the metrics. TotalZone had him at -6 runs that season, while UZR had him at -4.5.
Those meager defensive shortcomings at third were more than justifiable given his tremendous hitting. Cabrera put up his best hitting season to date, batting .339/.430/.568 on the season, a slash line worthy of a .413 wOBA. Cabrera walked 86 times (though 27 of those were intentional), and hit 50 doubles and 26 home runs. All in all, his campaign was worth 54 runs above average according to Rally’s linear weights, which more than made up for his shortcomings everywhere else. The man was a hitting machine, plain and simple.
In retrospect, it may have been a good move all along to move Cabrera back into the infield. Since his 2003 campaign, he had undergone some serious (ahem) “growth,” especially in width category. What once was a lanky frame had become more rotund, and perhaps a decrease in speed had something to do with his lack of prowess in the outfield. The Fans in the Fans Scouting Report in 2005 tended to concur. However, his arm strength was never in doubt, and in the following season it helped him in his play at third base, as the Fans pointed out as well. Moving him to the hot corner, where he did not have to cover as much ground and could depend on reaction time and his arm to play defense may have been the right move all along.
Cabrera had another fine season in 2007 for the Marlins, though it was marred with defensive problems again according to TotalZone. After that season, the Marlins were forced to move Cabrera at his prime in order to obtain decent value for him, trading him to the Detroit Tigers along with Willis and acquiring prospects in return. Though we have yet to see how well this deal ultimately pans out, center fielder Cameron Maybin, the centerpiece of the return for the Marlins, is once again set to start in center field this year for the big league team. Let’s see how well he does.
Next, our #2 performer, a man who has already been seen a few times in this list, and will be seen at least once more.