When Miguel Cabrera comes to the plate his head is on a swivel. He’s looking into the stands behind the dugout, behind home plate. He’s peering into the opposing dugout, often smiling at a “frenemy.” He chats with the home plate umpire and he usually has many words to share with the catcher. Before stepping into the batters’ box he looks out at the opposing pitcher and nods his head in a silent “Hola” to his opponent. Then he gets down to business with the bat. For Miggy his stroll to the plate is like walking into a party thrown in his honor: a sheepish grin, some smiles, a playful look around the room, then it’s time to party.
Immediately following Cabrera in the lineup for the Detroit Tigers is Victor Martinez, and his approach couldn’t be more different than that of his teammate. As Martinez walks to the plate his head is slightly tipped downward, his eyes staring at the ground. He often puts one of his hands over the bill of his helmet, brushing back any outside stimuli. Martinez doesn’t look at the pitcher, he is nearly in a trance, putting himself into a deep state of concentration. Whereas Cabrera ambles to the plate, almost strutting with confidence, Victor is walking with quiet determination. He is as serious as Cabrera is carefree. Martinez’s actions are deliberate: he slowly tugs at his uniform collar, he gently adjusts his batting gloves, he tiptoes into the batters’ box. He doesn’t stop for pleasantries with the umpire nor the catcher. He is there for one thing: to punish the opposing pitcher.
Both Cabrera and Martinez are All-Star sluggers. Yet they approach the craft of hitting much differently. While Miggy is regarded as one of the smartest hitters in the game (he can recite pitch-for-pitch sequences a pitcher threw at him five years ago), he is able to harness his great talents despite putting the “play” in “player.” Miggy is a big kid on the diamond.
Meanwhile, Martinez is what they call “a professional hitter” who never gives an at-bat away. His approach is the same in the first inning of a game in April as it is in the 9th inning of a pivotal playoff game. Whether he’s 0-for-4 or 3-for-3, Martinez is determined to hit the ball hard in every turn at the plate. The numbers support the notion that Martinez might be the most focused batter in baseball: after two strikes on him this season, the switch-hitter is batting .338 with 14 home runs. The league average after two strikes is about .235, 100 points below the standard set by Victor.
Armed with their disparate styles, Cabrera and Martinez make up the powerful middle of the Detroit batting order. There are other Tigers’ hitters who can pound the ball, but opponents have their eyes peeled for those two, both career .300 hitters who can hit the ball all over the field and into the seats.
So far this September the two have been leading the way for the Detroit offense: they rank #2 and #3 in the American League in slugging percentage for the month.
Great players are supposed to step up when it counts, that’s part of what makes them great. This season Miggy and Victor have been doing it while using two very different styles.