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Miguel Cabrera’s greatness goes beyond just hits and homers

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The total picture places Cabrera among baseballs greatest of all-time.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier via Imagn Content Services, LLC

As Miguel Cabrera belted his 500th career home run on Sunday, and continues to close in on his 3,000th career hit, both huge milestones that make a player eligible for Hall of Fame consideration, there are other less obvious milestones that give a snapshot into the greatness of the Detroit Tiger slugger’s amazing career.

Cabrera is already the greatest Venezuelan player of all-time. One of the greatest hitters of all-time. A legend built on big moment after big moment throughout his 19-year career in the major leagues. But it goes beyond the Triple Crown, the MVP awards, and the gaudy home run total.

The Home Run Derby

Cabrera’s 500 home runs put him 28th on the all time list. Another 13 home runs would put him 23rd, past Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews (512). This is no small matter as Matthews holds the distinction of having the most career home runs by a former Tiger. Matthews played briefly with Detroit in 1968. He would need another 23 homers to pass Ted Williams, Frank Thomas and Willie McCovey (521) into the top 20 home run hitters of all time.

The Hits Keep Coming

Miggy ranks 35th all time in hits with 2,955 as he closes in on the magic number of 3,000. 32 players have reached that milestone. Roberto Clemente has exactly 3,000 and Al Kaline is next on the list with 3,007. It seems like a sure bet for Cabrera to surpass those totals in his career.

Double down

One of the most impressive statistics might be Cabrera’s 591 career doubles. While this is the only major category where he ranks among the top 20 all time already, reaching the total of 600 doubles would put him in very rare company. Only two players in MLB history, Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols have amassed 600 doubles, 500 home runs, and 3,000 hits in their careers. (Thanks to Dave Siglin, author of Baseball’s Best for the tip)

To complete the triple crown category, the Tigers’ star currently sports a career batting average of .311. That seems more likely to go down than up as his career winds down. However, Cabrera has enough margin that he should have be able to finish his contract with a +.300 average. Many of baseball’s best sluggers did not also hit .300 for their career, placing him in even more rarified air.

Total bases

A more elemental statistic that often goes underappreciated, total bases is as simple as it sounds. All bases earned via hits, from one base per single, to four bases for a home run. In its way this category is one of the purest measures of hitting for both average and extra base power. While Cabrera has played in a somewhat difficult park to hit home runs in, others have played in much friendlier confines. Looking at the total bases gives you a better idea how Cabrera stacks up to the other greats as a hitter. He currently holds 5,080 total bases, 19th all-time. By the time he wraps up his career, it’s feasible he could reach 5,539 total bases, which would tie him for 10th all-time in baseball history. Most likely he’ll fall short of that point. Cabrera has 138 total bases in 2021, for example.

Driving em home

Cabrera has driven in 1,785 runs thus far, ranking 22nd on the all time list. He needs 15 more RBI to reach 1,800. This too, puts Cabrera in rare company.

  • Only 14 players in MLB history have hit 500 home runs and driven in 1,800 runs
  • Only six players have 500 home runs and 3,000 hits (Aaron, Mays, A Rod, Murray, Pujols, Palmiero)
  • Only five players have 500 homers, 3,000 hits, and 1,800 RBI
  • Only two of those five, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, also have a .300 career batting average
  • Cabrera is the first Venezuelan born player to hit 500 home runs
  • The first to hit 500 home runs as a member of the Detroit Tigers
  • He is one of just three players to rank in the top 5 in home runs with two different franchises

These comparisons put Cabrera among the Who’s Who of all time great baseball hitters. While he isn’t among the top five or ten in any one of these widely recognized categories, his achievements in every major offensive category, across the board, are most impressive.

Among Tiger Greats

Cabrera spent five seasons with the Florida Marlins before joining the Detroit Tigers, where he has played 14 seasons with at least two more to go. Still, he ranks among the top ten Tigers all time in just about every major offensive category. He’s played in Detroit long enough to rank 10th all time in games played, and 10th in rWAR.

362 of Cabrera’s 500 home runs have come while wearing the Olde English D. That puts him third on the all time list of Tigers, behind Al Kaline’s 399 and Norm Cash’s 373. If he is to become the all time leader in home runs in club history, he may have to pick up the pace just a bit. With two years and one month left on his current contract, he is 38 homers shy of Kaline’s club record, which was compiled in 23 seasons, all with Detroit.

Cabrera has hit 13 home runs this season, one more than his total for the full season in 2019. He hit 16 dingers in 2017, and was injured for most of the 2018 season. Those totals don’t put him on target to surpass Mr Tiger’s record, but it seems a safe bet that he will top Cash some time in 2022. It is possible that he will play another season after 2023, but the Tigers are not going to pick up his $30 million club option for 2024, and will instead pay the $8 million buyout. Most likely, that will be it for his storied career.

In other categories, Cabrera’s rankings in Detroit history include:-

  • Sixth in RBI with 1,262
  • Seventh in doubles with 408- Third in Slugging percentage at .531
  • Fourth in OPS at .920- Eighth in hits with 2,113
  • Ninth in Runs scored with 1,050
  • Sixth in total bases with 3,621
  • 10th in rWAR with 50.9, but eighth in OWAR with 57.0

WAR is not kind to designated hitters and first basemen, as we can see. The inclusion of defense actually results in a reduction in Cabrera’s WAR total. It’s not that he is a poor defender- he is not, but the positional adjustment is negative. For his career, Cabrera ranks behind only Ty Cobb, Al Kaline, Charlie Gehringer, Lou Whitaker, and Alan Trammell among Tigers WAR leaders.

Projecting Cabrera’s career numbers are an inexact science. Assuming that he has two more seasons before retirement, his final tally is dependent upon him remaining as healthy has he has been this season, logging enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. But if we were to project his finish based on his pace for the 2019- 2021 seasons, he could potentially finish in the top 20 players all time in home runs, RBI, and doubles. He would be on target for about 3,200 hits, which would rank 16th all time in baseball history.

Regardless of the final numbers, Tigers’ fans can enjoy the milestones and the names of all the legendary players that Miguel Cabrera passes on his way to the finish line, secure in the knowledge that we are watching one of the all time great players, and one of the best hitters that the Detroit Tigers have ever had.