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Miguel Cabrera ranks among all-time Tiger greats

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Miguel Cabrera slugged his 400th career home run on Saturday, surpassing the Tigers’ all-time home run leader, Al Kaline. Where does Cabrera rank among the Tigers’ greatest hitters?

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It took Al Kaline 23 seasons to hit 399 home runs, a Detroit Tigers franchise record. Miguel Cabrera has hit as many round-trippers in just 13 seasons in his major league career, which includes just over seven with Detroit. Kaline had 11,596 plate appearances in his career, while Cabrera has just 7,976 trips to the plate through Sunday.

Mr. Tiger, as Kaline is affectionately known, still holds the Tigers’ franchise record for home runs, smashing all 399 of them in a Detroit uniform. Cabrera has 262 home runs as a Tiger in eight seasons, currently tying him for fourth place with Willie Horton on the all-time list. Horton played 18 seasons in the major leagues, 15 of those with Detroit.

Detroit Tigers all-time home run leaders
Rank Player Home Runs Plate Appearances
1. Al Kaline 399 11,596
2. Norm Cash 373 7,776
3. Hank Greenberg 306 5,587
t-4. Miguel Cabrera 262 4,900
t-4. Willie Horton 262 5,978
6. Cecil Fielder 245 4,252
7. Lou Whitaker 244 9,967
8. Rudy York 239 5,352
9. Lance Parrish 212 4,674
10. Bill Freehan 200 6,900

Cabrera's home run ratio per plate appearance is the highest on the list of all-time Tigers. If he kept up the same pace through the same number of plate appearances as Kaline, he would finish with 620 home runs as a Tiger. If he were to play "only" the eight-plus remaining seasons on his contract (not including options) he would be on pace for 549 home runs as a Tiger, or 686 for his career. Most Tiger fans would be happy with that. As it stands, Cabrera will probably pass Hank Greenberg for third on the all-time Tigers' list some time during the 2016 season.

Cabrera has not yet cracked the top 10 all-time Tigers’ leaders in RBI. In his seven-plus seasons with Detroit, he has driven in 875 runs. That is 128 shy of tenth place Alan Trammell’s 1,003 career RBI in his 20 seasons in a Tiger uniform. At his current pace, Cabrera will not only crack this list in a year or so, but will rapidly ascend toward the top of the list.

Detroit Tigers all-time leaders: RBI
Rank Player RBI Plate Appearances
1. Ty Cobb 1,800 12,117
2. Al Kaline 1,582 11,596
3. Harry Heilmann 1,443 8,394
4. Charlie Gehringer 1,427 10,244
5. Sam Crawford 1,264 8,868
6. Hank Greenberg 1,200 5,587
7. Norm Cash 1,088 7,776
8. Lou Whitaker 1,084 9,967
9. Bobby Veach 1,044 6,796
10. Alan Trammell 1,003 9,376

Cabrera has averaged 36 home runs and 120 RBI per season over his seven-plus seasons with Detroit. It is not difficult to imagine him averaging 100 RBI over the next six seasons. If he does that, he would be ranked third all-time among Tigers hitters. Without adjusting for age or declining performance, that projects to 1,920 RBI through the 2023 season, when Cabrera's contract with Detroit will expire (not including two more club options). That would make him the all-time Tigers' RBI leader, surpassing Ty Cobb, despite finishing just 16 seasons as a Tiger compared to Cobb's 22 years as a Tiger.

Another 100 RBI per season over the next eight plus seasons would put Cabrera at 1,750 for 16 seasons, a close second on the all time Tigers' list. Add in the 523 runs that he drove in with Florida, and he is right between Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth on the all-time RBI list in major league baseball. Aaron holds the all-time major league record with 2,293 RBI.

Cabrera has cracked the top 10 list of all-time Tigers with 287 doubles. He is averaging 40 doubles per season with Detroit, which is on pace to finish very high on the list of all-time Tigers. Another eight-plus seasons at the same pace would put him second only to Cobb. Dial that pace back to average 30 doubles over the duration of his contract, and Cabrera would be third on the list.

Detroit Tigers all-time leaders: doubles
Rank Player Doubles Plate Appearances
1. Ty Cobb 665 12,117
2. Charlie Gehringer 574 10,244
3. Al Kaline 498 11,596
4. Harry Heilmann 497 8,394
5. Lou Whitaker 420 9,967
6. Alan Trammell 412 9,376
7. Sam Crawford 402 8,868
8. Hank Greenberg 366 5,587
9. Bobby Veach 345 6,796
10. Miguel Cabrera 287 4,900

Some of these comparisons are difficult to draw. Cabrera only has 42 percent of the plate appearances that Al Kaline had as a Tiger, and even the most optimistic scenario wouldn't project Cabrera garnering anywhere close to that many plate appearances. He could, however, double his 4,900 plate appearances with Detroit, putting him in the same range as Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell. He would need to remain very healthy, but it is possible.

In terms of batting average, Cabrera is fifth on the all-time Tigers list with a .325 average. The list requires 1,500 plate appearances. Set the minimum requirement to 3,000 plate appearances, and Cabrera jumps up to third on the all-time list.

Detroit Tigers all-time leaders: batting average
Rank Player Batting Average Plate Appearances
1. Ty Cobb .368 12,117
2. Harry Heilmann .342 8,394
3. Bob Fothergill .337 2,693
4. Dale Alexander .331 1,966
5. Miguel Cabrera .325 4,900
George Kell .325 3,735
7. Heinie Manush .321 2,378
8. Charlie Gehringer .320 10,244
9. Hank Greenberg .319 5,587
10. Gee Walker .317 3,240

None of the other players on this list have played baseball since the 1950s at the latest. Al Kaline posted a career average of .297. Just twice during his career did he have a batting average higher than Cabrera's career average of .325. Trammell hit .287 and Whitaker .276 for their careers. Magglio Ordonez hit .312 in just over 3,500 plate appearances with Detroit.

Cabrera ranks seventh on the all-time Tigers' list in on-base percentage at .403. Again, no other player who has played in the past 60 years is on that list. Kaline's .378 career on-base percentage is the closest among "modern" Tigers' players. Cabrera is second only to Hank Greenberg with a .579 slugging percentage, and with a .982 OPS.

Detroit Tigers all-time leaders: OPS
Rank Player OPS Plate Appearances
1. Hank Greenberg 1.028 5,587
2. Miguel Cabrera .982 4,900
3. Ty Cobb .950 12,117
4. Harry Heilmann .927 8,394
5. Dale Alexander .903 1,966
6. Charlie Gehringer .884 10,244
7. Rudy York .873 5,352
8. Mickey Tettleton .867 2,343
t-9. Norm Cash .865 7,776
t-9. Rocky Colavito .865 2,723
t-9. Roy Cullenbine .865 1,952

Going by the percentages, Miguel Cabrera is already one of the greatest Tigers hitters of all-time. All he needs to do to seal the argument in terms of total productivity is to continue at anywhere close to the same pace for a few more seasons.