Aaron Judge has been making headlines this season by not just tying, but breaking the AL single season home run record with 62 home runs. An absolutely legendary season that nobody expected. How nice must it be to have such a legendary and revered hitter in their prime on your team. The Tigers once had Miguel Cabrera in his prime, and that begs the question, could Miggy have hit 62 had circumstances been different?
The two best seasons in terms of home runs for Miguel Cabrera are 2012 and 2013. In those two seasons he hit 44 home runs which was the least impressive accomplishment of either of those seasons given that he won back to back MVPs and the last (as of writing this article) Triple Crown. During those two seasons Miggy was close to or led the MLB in home runs yet he was still 17 home runs from tying the AL record, much less breaking it like Judge has. The biggest obstacle in Miggy’s way when it came to hitting home runs would be Comerica Park.
It’s no secret that Comerica Park is a tough place to hit home runs in. According to Statcast park factors it is 25% harder to hit a home run in Comerica Park compared to the average ballpark. This is a stark contrast to the homer friendly Yankee Stadium in which Judge has made his home run chase this season. That ballpark makes it 15% easier to get one over the fence than in the average ballpark.
My first thought when I looked at this data was to simply add that extra 25% of home runs to Miggy’s 2012 and 2013 home run totals to see what he would’ve hit in an average ballpark. That resulted in about 58 home runs total. Close but not quite 62. Then again it’s easy to imagine if he didn’t have Comerica Park as his home ballpark and played home games in a ballpark such as Coors, where pitchers and HR/9 numbers come to die and easily have tied if not break the record.
In reality though, things aren’t that simple. There are things that this formula doesn’t account for and these are numbers from 2022 in a much different offensive environment in a different league. Therefore if we want a meaningful answer we’re going to need to change our approach.
Since 2016 Statcast has tracked a statistic called expected home runs. This statistic is used to predict the expected amount of home runs a player would be expected to hit over the course of their season in a completely neutral ballpark and environment. Not only is this a more modern and more accurate system, but it also accounts for things such as weather and elevation making it perfect for our purposes. Except that because it started tracking these things 3 years too late we won’t be able to use Miggy’s 2012 or 2013 seasons. Instead we’ll have to settle for his 2016 season in which he hit 38 home runs.
In that 2016 season Miggy led the Tigers with 38 home runs, but if you look at his expected home run total he actually has an xHRs of 46.4. That means that Miggy, due to playing in Comerica park in 2016 was robbed of roughly 8 home runs. That kind of discrepancy in actual home runs and expected home runs would comfortably put him in the lead in 2022 for underperforming xHRs. Still, 46 home runs is a far cry away from 62 home runs which is what we’re trying to aim for. Thankfully, Statcast also has a feature which allows you to not only see xHRs in a neutral environment, but in any MLB ballpark. If you use this feature then you will find that there are exactly two ballparks that are tied for most xHRs. Miller Park and Great American Ballpark. Both of which would have Miggy hitting 62 home runs. Not only tying the American League record at the time, but breaking it.
Throughout the years Miggy has given Tigers fans many things to be happy about. Back to back MVPs. The last triple crown winner as of writing this article. A world series appearance. Could he have given Tigers fans more? Could he have hit 61 or more home runs in a season? Possibly, under ideal conditions, but at the end of the day Miggy is already enough of a legend and Tigers fans should be happy to have witnessed him play for their team.