11/06/08 5:02 PM EST
Cabrera honored as Tiger of the Year
Slugger overcame slow start to thrive in first season with Detroit
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
After becoming Detroit's first home run champion in 17 years, Cabrera was the overwhelming choice for the annual Tiger of the Year Award.
Members of the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America voted overwhelmingly in Cabrera's favor for the award, which has been given out each year since 1965. He is the fifth first baseman to win it, the last being Randall Simon in 2002.
It was another Tigers first baseman, Cecil Fielder, who was last able to win a home run title for Detroit, having led the American League in 1990 and '91. Cabrera took command of the league race down the stretch after White Sox slugger Carlos Quentin suffered a season-ending injury at the beginning of September. Cabrera hit nine home runs from Aug. 31 on, part of a 26-homer barrage after July 1.
It was the sign that Cabrera was growing comfortable with his new league and team after joining the Tigers in the eight-player megadeal with the Marlins at last year's Winter Meetings. He faced a huge amount of pressure from the outset between the trade, the team's extraordinarily high expectations and the eight-year, $152.3 million contract he signed in the final week of Spring Training.
Those pressures seemed to weigh on him early in the season as the Tigers and Cabrera struggled in tandem. Though Cabrera hit respectably over the first two months, his run production nonetheless was off from his previous years in Florida, where he drove in at least 112 runs in all four of his full Major League seasons to go with three 30-homer campaigns and three years with at least a .320 batting average and .946 OPS.
A position switch from third to first base, a late warm-up in Detroit from a cold spring and an ability to finally shrug off his burdens allowed Cabrera to emerge over the summer. His 37 home runs was the highest total for a Tigers player since Dean Palmer hit 38 in 1999.
Besides the homer total, Cabrera's 331 total bases tied for the AL lead with Texas' Josh Hamilton. Cabrera's 127 RBIs ranked third in the league, while his 75 extra-base hits placed him fifth and his .537 slugging percentage stood seventh.
For a player in his first year with the Tigers, Cabrera's RBI total was the third highest in club history, just trailing Fielder's 132 RBIs in his breakout season of 1990 and Dale Alexander's 137 RBIs in 1929.
One more honor could be in store for Cabrera next week, when Louisville Slugger announces its annual Silver Slugger Awards to honor the best offensive players at each position. Cabrera's RBIs and slugging percentage, plus 180 hits and an .887 OPS, all ranked second among AL first basemen.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.