It seems odd to think of Miguel Cabrera in terms of all-time, already. He’s the foremost hitter in the game today easily, and he’s in the midst of one of the best primes seen in quite a while. He seems to be a very young 30 years old; after all he did come up with the Florida Marlins as a very advanced () year old, and has already had a career’s worth of accomplishments as is. World Series winner, batting champion, RBI king and home run king…with a few occurring multiple times, and quite notably as well, in the same season (in case it was a very heavy rock you’ve been underneath). With the majority of this series, it’s been based in qualify whether or not for the Hall when it’s all said and done. However, for the sake of Cabrera, it’s about looking at him from the perspective of just how high he could end up in the history of the game. And most likely, it’s a career in the works that lands among some of the most revered of all-time. Let’s have a look at it here.
The Numbers (through May 15): .320 avg, 329 home runs, 1164 RBI, 1860 hits, 396 doubles, 990 runs scored, .396 on-base percentage, .562 slugging percentage
The Case For: Perhaps only Albert Pujols is a more accomplished active overall hitter than Cabrera. Cabrera is the model of a balanced, power bat. His 162 game averages are staggering: a .320 average, 34 homers, 118 RBI, 103 runs scored and 194 hits per year. He’s topped 30 home runs and 100 RBI in all nine of his full MLB seasons, and in five of those seasons he’s bettered 40 doubles as well. In the last three seasons, which could be deemed the entry into his prime, he’s truly ramped up to a historic level. Since his age 28 year, he’s hit .340, with 82 home runs and 285 RBI, along with a .423 on-base percentage. In addition to his impact, he’s a low risk swing; he’s adjusted his swing to the point where his impact has risen along with his contact. After averaging 124 strikeouts his first six seasons against 70 walks a year, he has restricted his zone and only struck out 94 times on average per year since 2010, while raising his walks by 18 per year. He’s nearly brought his strikeouts to walks even, while improving his power numbers (33 to 37 home runs), average (.315 to .334) and total on-base plus slugging percentage (.936 to a ridiculous 1.025). For perspective, his OPS over the past three seasons would be the sixth best of all-time, behind only Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Barry Bonds and Jimmie Foxx’s career marks. As it stands, his career OPS of .957 through 11 years is the 19th best of all-time. And he’s still trending upwards. His ability to drive in runs has already taken him to a historic level, as he is one of four players in history to drive in 1,000 runs before his 30th birthday, along with Gehrig, Pujols and Hank Aaron.
He’s a seven time All-Star that hasn’t finished outside of the top 5 in a league MVP votes in the last four years. He won a World Series in his rookie season, has he hit four home runs and 12 RBI has a 20 year old outfielder. Overall, he has appeared in three World Series before turning 30 years old.
The Case Against: If he stopped today, would he be in? It’s a tough question to ponder, because he’s still short of the “guaranteed” numbers to reach the Hall at his positions, which are particularly offense heavy. The only downfalls in his game are his speed and defensive prowess. He made strides to become a solid defensive first baseman before moving to third base before the 2012 season to accommodate Detroit’s acquisition of Prince Fielder. Conversely, third base was his original position before he was moved to first due to his lack of mobility on the opposite corner, so he’s playing out of position currently, but a bat like his will never be kept from recognition due to a slight of defense. He has had a few legal issues that have been detractors from his character, but not to the extent that they draw his accomplishments on the field into the shade.
3. Similar players (through age 30):
- Frank Robinson: .304 average, 373 home runs, 1131 RBI, 1855 hits, 1165 runs, 352 doubles
- Hank Aaron: .320 average, 366 home runs, 1216 RBI, 2085 hits, 1180 runs, 351 doubles
- Albert Pujols: .331 average, 408 home runs, 1230 RBI, 1900 hits, 1186 runs, 426 doubles
4. Cooperstown Likelihood (what’s it going to take): Basically, all it’s going to take for Cabrera to make it to the Hall is for him to #1) keep breathing, and #2) stay at a moderately above average pace. To reach 500 home runs, he’d need to stay at his current, mid-prime rate for another four to five seasons. At his current rate of 194 hits per season (his career average), he’d top 3,000 hits in roughly six years. However, the intriguing thing about Cabrera is how high he is spiking currently. He’s having some of the great production seasons in the history of baseball over his past three and a half seasons, and could easily move his time table up some. He started early, being a full-time player at age 20 and has been remarkably durable, playing in no less than 150 games a season in his career, and only once under 157. He has led the league in 15 categories already, including his historic Triple Crown effort of 2012, which potentially could end up not being his best performance of his own career (compare 2012 against how 2013 is shaping up currently).
In terms of his established potential already, as a first baseman, there have been 19 players inducted into the Hall as first basemen, and it is among the most competitive positions of all-time. While he has some way to go to reach the standard marks of a Hall of Fame first baseman (which for comparison sake in this era would be a career such as Willie McCovey, Eddie Murray or Johnny Mize), he’s on pace to hit some pretty hallowed marks with another eight seasons or so that he projects to play at. For projections sake at the likely halfway point in his career, Cabrera could have another 204 home runs, 732 RBI, 246 doubles and 1,164 hits ahead of him. That would put his career totals at 533 homers, 1861 RBI, 642 doubles and 3,024 hits, good for top 5 all-time at the most offensive dominant position the history of the game…at just 36 years old, or just two years younger than Derek Jeter is now.
All of this considered before he enters his DH-only twilight, where he could tack on another 75 homers or so to cap off what truly is, and can be one of the most spectacular careers of all-time.
So if the question is asked today, is Miguel Cabrera in, out or in-between the Hall of Fame, the correct answer is IN-BETWEEN, but enjoy saying that now, because in two years (when he’s a grand old age of 32) that answer will probably be outdated.
For more on what’s happening right now along the road to the Hall for Miggy and many more, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan