As recent BYB polling attests, Miguel Cabrera is a very popular guy among Detroit Tigers fans. The reasons are obvious. Beyond his fun-loving personality, and the clear joy he takes in playing a kid's game among grown men, he's simply the best hitter we've ever seen in a Tiger uniform. For seven seasons now, Cabrera has provided this fanbase with the luxury of watching not just the best hitter in the game today, but a player who is clearly on a path to legendary heights within the history of the game.
When he broke into the Major Leagues with the Florida Marlins in 2003, Miguel Cabrera quickly earned acclaim as one of the brightest young stars in the game. His first game as a starter ended with a Miguel Cabrera walk-off home run. Numerous coaches and players were already speculating wildly about his potential for greatness when he was in his early 20s. On one hand, that is standard practice in a sport that always seeks the next new thing. But unlike most, for 12 seasons now Miguel Cabrera has lived up to his early billing in every way imaginable.
Miguel's potential to place himself statistically among the all-time greats makes him nearly unique in the game today. Only Albert Pujols is currently mounting a caliber of assault on the record books comparable to the Tigers' slugger. But after injuries plagued his power numbers in 2014, has he lost a step in his run through the record books? Before the 2015 season gets underway, let's take a look at Cabrera's position in regard to a few all-time records, and examine what heights he's still capable of attaining.
Cabrera currently stands at 2,186 hits, and has averaged 191 per year (seasonal averages based on his 11 full season totals) in the majors. Even in an injury plagued 2014 season, Miguel still racked up 191 hits, right on his average pace. He currently sits 2,070 hits behind the excommunicated all-time leader, Pete Rose. At Cabrera's current average, he'd need nearly 11 more full seasons to catch Rose. He'd be 42-years-old, in 2025, were that unthinkable achievement to occur. It bears noting that Miguel is technically signed through 2025 if you take into account his contract extension's options for 2024 and 2025. Still, it would take a miraculous assault on Father Time as much as on fastballs, to make that a legitimate possibility.
In Miguel's favor is the fact that he doesn't rely on his wheels to get on base. The aging process and injury may not be the issue for him the way it would be for a player who relies on beating out infield hits for part of his total. It's not unlikely that Miguel will continue to sting the ball to the tune of 191 hits a year for a long time to come. Few in the game have ever possessed his plate coverage and power to all fields. Yet it is highly unlikely that he could ever approach Rose's mark. The fact that it's within the realm of slim possibility is somewhat incredible in itself, given that, outside of Hank Aaron (whose career path Miguel is most closely associated with) and Stan Musial, no one in the top ten comes close to Cabrera in terms of power.
A more reasonable target is catching Tris Speaker for fifth all-time. Miguel would only need seven more seasons at his current pace to comfortably take his place in the top five leaders in total hits. That seems like a very good possibility if Miguel can stay relatively healthy through age 39. The fact that he'll be able to fill the DH slot full-time when Victor Martinez' contract expires bodes even better for the big man. For a power hitter of Miguel's stature to reach top five status in hits would be pretty jaw dropping. Such an accomplishment would put him in rare company with Musial and Aaron as the best combination of power and contact ability in the game's long history.
Miguel averages 119 RBIs per season, for a total of 1369 total RBIs thus far in his career. At that rate, this is a record that will potentially fall to Cabrera. He needs only 928 RBIs to catch the Hammer. He'd need to average 116 RBI over the next eight seasons to make that a reality. Again, the fact that Cabrera will presumably DH full-time starting in 2019 makes it a reasonable possibility that he'll take the throne from Hank Aaron and reign atop the all-time RBIs leaderboard when his playing days are done. As with all these numbers, health is the main concern. Of course, we know RBIs have a lot to do with the overall lineup, and where a player hits in the batting order, so this isn't exactly an individual award. There will be factors beyond Miguel's own longevity at play. Still, it would be a fine feather in his cap should he accomplish it.
Career Total Bases
Cabrera is averaging 337 total bases per season for a total of 3,850 and needs 3,006 more to catch, you guessed it, Hank Aaron. The theme develops. Hank Aaron and Miguel Cabrera have been repeatedly linked as closely comparable players, and that plays out again in total bases. This is a stat I really like, and feel should get more love from baseball fans. After all, what is a hitter supposed to do but collect bases individually or in home run driven bunches? As a cumulative stat, there's none better at gauging a player's success and longevity in my opinion.
For those not familiar, total bases simply records the number of bases claimed by a hitter, excluding walks and stolen bases. Four bases for a home run, three for a triple, and so on. Incidentally, total bases divided by at bats gives you a player's slugging percentage.
At Cabrera's current pace, he needs nine full seasons at his current rate to pass Hank Aaron for the all-time lead. Particularly because total bases rewards power, it will probably be difficult for Cabrera to maintain the pace he's on deep into his late thirties. At least much more difficult than it will be to simply accumulate hits of any kind. However, to finish 2nd all-time, Miguel would need only need to maintain his pace for seven seasons. If he can remain a highly productive power hitter for another 7-8 seasons, Stan Musial is likely going down with Miguel only 2,284 total bases behind him.
Career Home Runs
|6||Ken Griffey, Jr.||630||22|
Finally, we come to everyone's favorite, the most storied and debated record in the sport. At a pace of 34 home runs per year, Miguel has racked up 390 bombs since his first, this walk-off bomb to straightaway centerfield in his first start with the Florida Marlins in 2003. His current total is good for 58th on the all-time list. Barry Bonds is far in the distance at 762, and I think, essentially unreachable, not just by Miguel, but for anyone in the foreseeable future unless current trends in offense take a distinct turn back toward favoring the hitter. It would take 372 home runs for Miguel to catch Bonds. Basically that would require Miguel to nearly double his current total after almost 12 seasons of major league ball played. Not bloody likely I'm afraid.
Likewise, Hank Aaron is probably out of reach as well. My hope for Miguel is that he clears 600 HRs. Seven more years at an average of 30 per year would get him to that mark. That should be within his reach, particularly if he's able to rebound for the injury woes of the 2014 season to post a few more 40 HR seasons. Ideally, we'd see Miguel overtake Alex Rodriguez for the fifth spot all-time, but as things stand, that would require 8 seasons of 33 HRs just to tie A-Rod. That's by no means out of the question, but of course we'll have to see how much Rodriguez is able to add to that total in the last two seasons of his current contract. Albert Pujols, currently sitting at 520 HRs heading into his age 35 season, probably won't catch Rodriguez either, but I could see both he and Cabrera finishing with very similar totals beyond the 600 HR mark.
So, for the duration of Miguel Cabrera's career, we're likely to see a great many milestones reached. 3,500 hits, 500 and hopefully 600 HRs, are all within range. As fans, we're going to enjoy the privilege of watching this climb through the record books on behalf of our favorite team, whatever comes for the Detroit Tigers as an organization in years to come.
More than anything else, health is presumably going to be the main determining factor. It's pretty difficult to imagine a basically healthy Miguel fading badly in the coming years. His hand-eye coordination, balance and bat speed are outrageously developed gifts that show no sign of diminishing.The longevity of modern stars like Adrian Beltre and David Ortiz, and past greats like Aaron and Bonds, are reasons for optimism as well. As is the fact that Miguel Cabrera has proven to be one of the elite hitters in the game even with a fractured ankle, and plays through pain as well as any player I've ever seen. With any luck he'll have many more seasons of good health with which to extend his prime and front load his numbers. If he can, a long, productive decline into his early 40s will no doubt land him in the top ten of all major categories in baseball history. He'll have done so in an era of seriously declining offense as well. So sit back and enjoy the Miguel Cabrera show. We're going to be witnessing a lot of baseball history written by our favorite Detroit Tiger in the years to come.