Miggy at mid-career

This past season, Miguel Cabrera turned 30 and passed the 350 home run and 1200 RBI milestones, while maintaining a career OPS+ above 150. Only four other players have done the same.

Player HR RBI OPS+ WAR From To Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Jimmie Foxx 429 1520 169 79.7 1925 1938 17-30 1710 7293 6116 1355 2049 346 102 1104 935 .335 .437 .635 1.073
2 Albert Pujols 408 1230 172 81.0 2001 2010 21-30 1558 6782 5733 1186 1900 426 15 914 646 .331 .426 .624 1.050
3 Mel Ott 369 1386 158 80.2 1926 1939 17-30 1864 7808 6544 1332 2061 359 63 1135 566 .315 .419 .558 .977
4 Hank Aaron 366 1216 157 80.0 1954 1964 20-30 1656 7216 6510 1180 2085 351 79 603 655 .320 .376 .567 .943
5 Miguel Cabrera 365 1260 154 54.7 2003 2013 20-30 1660 7126 6218 1064 1995 412 14 799 1201 .321 .399 .568 .967
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/2/2013.

After the jump, more on Cabrera and what might lie ahead for him.

If you’re wondering about the age 30 cutoff. only one other player (Frank Robinson) gets added if the criteria are extended to age 31. So, it is indeed an exclusive group.

Player HR RBI OPS+ WAR From To Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Jimmie Foxx 464 1625 170 86.5 1925 1939 17-31 1834 7858 6583 1485 2217 377 112 1193 1007 .337 .439 .640 1.079
2 Albert Pujols 445 1329 170 86.4 2001 2011 21-31 1705 7433 6312 1291 2073 455 15 975 704 .328 .420 .617 1.037
3 Frank Robinson 403 1225 156 76.9 1956 1967 20-31 1786 7651 6582 1248 2004 375 59 856 963 .304 .392 .563 .955
4 Hank Aaron 398 1305 158 87.8 1954 1965 20-31 1806 7855 7080 1289 2266 391 80 663 736 .320 .376 .567 .943
5 Mel Ott 388 1465 157 85.4 1926 1940 17-31 2015 8455 7080 1421 2216 386 66 1235 616 .313 .418 .551 .969
6 Miguel Cabrera 365 1260 154 54.7 2003 2013 20-30 1660 7126 6218 1064 1995 412 14 799 1201 .321 .399 .568 .967
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/3/2013.

With Foxx and Ott flaming out relatively early, only Aaron turned in a second half of his career that really was close to half of his career (of 9 retired players to reach 300 home runs before their age 30 season, only Aaron also reached 300 home runs afterwards). That said, all of Cabrera’s predecessors in our study group turned in somewhat similar performances over their next 3 seasons.

Rk Player HR OPS+ From To Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B RBI BB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Hank Aaron 115 157 1965 1967 31-33 463 1996 1773 339 533 100 5 325 199 274 62 13 .301 .368 .557 .925
2 Jimmie Foxx 90 159 1939 1941 31-33 403 1765 1469 323 467 88 22 329 283 262 10 15 .318 .429 .592 1.020
3 Albert Pujols 84 137 2011 2013 31-33 400 1764 1577 239 447 98 0 268 153 189 18 3 .283 .348 .505 .853
4 Mel Ott 76 150 1940 1942 31-33 451 1945 1610 296 467 77 3 262 309 179 17 .290 .408 .483 .891
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/2/2013.

It’s what happened after age 33 that separates Aaron from this group. Here are their performances, age 34-37.

Rk Player HR OPS+ From To Age G PA AB R H 2B 3B RBI BB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Hank Aaron 158 168 1968 1971 34-37 596 2486 2164 382 654 111 11 419 296 230 47 16 .302 .385 .583 .968
2 Mel Ott 66 144 1943 1946 34-37 411 1591 1298 231 348 52 6 212 264 151 10 .268 .397 .470 .867
3 Jimmie Foxx 15 96 1942 1945 34-37 204 618 549 73 130 24 1 73 65 114 1 0 .237 .320 .366 .686
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/2/2013.

Both Cabrera and Pujols have started to show some infirmities. And, it’s hard not to suppose that the bulk both are carrying has something to do with that. Just for comparison, here is what the other 3 players in this group looked like around the same age.

Hank Aaron 1964Mel Ott 1941Jimmie Foxx 1938

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those are images of Aaron and Foxx on cards published in their age 30 seasons (or identified with that season), and for Ott in his age 32 season. The left-to-right ordering of the photos also appears to be the players’ order in waist size. Aaron, in particular, looks like there’s hardly an ounce of fat on him (though it’s hard to be sure with the baggy uniforms, Ott’s physique was probably not so sleek as depicted by the illustrator, as evidenced by this photo of Ott flanked by teammates in spring training of Ott’s age 30 season).

Bill James’ career projection tool knows numbers (but not BMI). Here are its career home run projections after age 30 and age 33 seasons.

Rk Player Age 30 Age 33 Actual
1 Jimmie Foxx 692 642 534
2 Albert Pujols 665 603
3 Mel Ott 553 567 512
4 Hank Aaron 571 658 755
5 Miguel Cabrera 615
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/2/2013.

Finally, the same projections for other members of the 600 HR club.

Rk Player Age 30 Age 33 Actual
1 Barry Bonds 511 585 763
2 Babe Ruth 517 716 714
3 Willie Mays 531 652 660
4 Alex Rodriguez 701 743 684
5 Ken Griffey 710 538 630
6 Jim Thome 536 627 612
7 Sammy Sosa 693 742 609
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/2/2013.

Really close with the age 33 projections for the Babe, Willie and Jim Thome. A-Rod’s total in the Actual column is his career projection today (just 30 more than his current career total).


Comments

Miggy at mid-career — 27 Comments

  1. Cabrera cetainly LOOKS like a future certain HOFer, if not an all-time great, at age 30. Then again, so did Vladimir Geurrero after his first 11 years.

    If you compare Games and WAR through their first 11 full years, they’re fairly close:

    Guerrero: 1603 G, 49.5 WAR
    Cabrera: 1660 G, 54.6 WAR

    Does Geurrero look like a likely HOFer now? Hard to say – just a cautionary tale about annointing players all-time greats in mid-career.

    I’m being somewhat disengenious here, as I don’t _really_ believe they are about equal; Cabrera has a peak that Guerrero doesn’t equal, at least hitting-wise.

    Also, those vintage cards are fantastic, especially the Foxx/Williams one. It scary to think that Ted Williams may have been ready to play MLB baseball at age 19 (mostly); supposedly the RS sent him to Minneapolis for more experience.

    • Disingenuous or not, the WAR comparison is relevant. There’s essentially no difference in WAR through age 30 for Foxx, Ott, Aaron and Pujols – you could throw a small blanket over the four of them. But, Cabrera is not even in the same zip code.

      Through age 30, Cabrera ranks only 35th in WAR among post-1901 players. Even if you were to “overlook” his -12.2 dWAR and just compared his oWAR (62.4) to the other players’ total WAR, that would only move him up to 26th spot, just behind Al Kaline and Yaz.

      • But if instead of oWAR, which has a position adjustment included, you use Rbat, which is WAR’s purely hitting component, Miggy does look like a true all-time great through age 30. He is 14th all-time in Rbat through age 30, just behind Aaron and A-Rod, and just ahead of Frank Robinson, Tris Speaker, Eddie Mathews and Willie Mays. There are no guarantees he can keep it going, but it is not unfair to treat him as one of the true all-time greats in this age cohort if you are talking purely hitting. His career hitting numbers to date are extremely close to Frank Robinson’s as they stood through Robinson’s age 30 season.

        • @13/birtelcom,

          I think that there’s more to this – basically, how do we define “Greatest Hitters Ever”?

          Longevity should count for something – when I looked at the lists I got googling “best MLB right-handed hitters ever”, most of the hitters had long careers, with the exception of guys with short careers but great career OPS+, like Greenberg, McGwire, Dimaggio.

          No one’s mentioned it, but don’t you think that Cabrera’s excess poundage is going to catch up with him eventually?

          • If Cabrera announced tomorrow that he was retiring (to start a shopping mall Santa franchise?)he’d fall into a small group of guys that were great, great hitters but that for one reason or another had limited career PAs. His career hitting numbers today are comparable to the full careers of guys like Johnny Mize and Dick Allen. I’m not making any claims one way or the other about what the rest of Miggy’s career will look like, only that where he is today, and given his age, he has the space to end up with a career of one of the greatest of great hitters, which is not really apparent until you pare out the defensive numbers, the baserunning numbers and the positional adjustment, and just look at the pure hitting stuff.

          • If Cabrera announced tomorrow that he was retiring (to start a shopping mall Santa franchise?)he’d fall into a small group of guys that were great, great hitters but that for one reason or another had limited career PAs. His career hitting numbers today are comparable to the full careers of guys like Johnny Mize and Dick Allen. I’m not making any claims one way or the other about what the rest of Miggy’s career will look like, only that where he is today, and given his age, he has the space to end up with a career of one of the greatest of great hitters, which is not really apparent until you pare out the defensive numbers, the baserunning numbers and the positional adjustment, and just look at the pure hitting stuff.

    • @3/Doug,

      As Big Bird might say ‘One of these things is not like the other’.

      Well, there it is, right on your charts on top – Foxx/ Pujols/ Frank Robinson/ Ott/ Aaron are clearly a cut or two above Cabrera through age 30. Cabrera is certainly great, but they were greater.

      This is interesting, because before his hip troubles last year, many writers were ready to place Cabrera very high amongst the pantheon of all-time great hitters. Several even proclaimed him to be to be one of the Top Ten hitters of all time.

      I think this is rather premature. Have they forgotten what people were saying about Pujols 3-8 years ago, or Frank Thomas 15-18 years ago? They then hit a wall after ages 30 and 29 respectively, were frequently excellent but never the same dominant hitters again.

      I’d probably rate Cabrera amongst the Top Ten RIGHT-HANDED hitters ever. Here’s the best right-handed hitters since 1900, listed chronologically (my Top-Dozen in CAPS):

      – Napolean Lajoie
      – HONUS WAGNER
      – ROGERS HORNSBY
      – Harry Heilmann
      – JIMMY FOXX
      – Al Simmons
      – HANK GREENBERG
      – JOHNNY MIZE
      – Joe Dimaggio
      – Ralph Kiner
      – WILLIE MAYS
      – HANK AARON
      – Harmon Killebrew
      – Al Kaline
      – Roberto Clemente
      – FRANK ROBINSON
      – Dick Allen
      – Mike Schmidt
      – Mark McGwire
      – FRANK THOMAS
      – Jeff Bagwell
      – MANNY RAMIREZ
      – Mike Piazza
      – ALEX RODRIGUEZ
      – ALBERT PUJOLS

        • @10/RC,

          Serves me right for not checking on B-R, see #11. Everybody below Mize moves up a notch! (Put Dimaggio in the Top-Dozen).

      • @9/Doug,

        Thanks. It’s not meant to be totally inclusive; not based on any advanced stats*. Mize is a lefty, OOPS.

        For instance, I included Simmons, Kaline and Clemente, even though they are not in the Top-100 in career OPS+. So where would you rank you Cebrera?

        * I admit that I Googled “best MLB right-handed hitters ever” to scan several of those lists.

      • Are you sure you didn’t scan the Rbat list? Going back to 1890 (to capture all of Wagner’s and Lajoie’s careers) there are only 28 right-handed batters with 400+ career Rbat.

        Al Simmons (388), Ralph Kiner (369), and Roberto Clemente (373) don’t make the list but they are close. You have 25 players, minus Mize and those 3, so 21 of those players have over 400 Rbat. Throw in Cabrera and there are 22 of the 28 players, and the 1890 cutoff gets us Ed Delahanty (who wouldn’t have been on your list) so that’s 23 of 28 players.

        Who are the remaining five?

        Dave Winfield (415), Rickey Henderson (551), Edgar (528), Sheffield (558), and Vlad (433). Winfield and Vlad have the two lowest career Rbats (well, other than Piazza, who is 1 behind Winfield but he could probably make that up if we gave him another 4500 PAs), so Rbat coincides pretty nicely with your list.

        Of the other 3 guys, Henderson is probably overlooked from a purely hitting standpoint because of his base stealing, Edgar is usually just overlooked, and Sheffield is just not remembered (which is a shame, because career wise he is tied for 28th all-time with Chipper, and that includes 19th century players). I would probably drop Simmons and Clemente for Edgar and Sheffield if we are talking purely hitting.

        There are about the same number of lefty batters with over 400 career Rbat (there are 31 since 1890). The distribution is more skewed – 13 players have less than 450 (only 5 RHB less than 450), while 8 lefties have over 700 (there are 5 RHBs with over 700, but the top 6 are LHB, and 5 LHBs are over 950).

        Only 3 switch hitters are over 400 – Mantle, Chipper, and Berkman (Murray is at 389).

        Cabrera has almost as many career Rbat as Kaline and Killebrew, though he has played many less games.

        • @15/Artie Z,

          I looked at OPS+ and several lists that I googled, but not Rbat. My list is partly stat-based, but I just wished to put down in one place all the outstanding right-handed hitters.

          A lot of of this is based on peak, and somewhat subjective. From your additions, I’d also include:
          – Gary Sheffield
          – Edgar Martinez
          – Vlad Guerrero

          …But not Rickey Henderson or Dave Winfield, because I think that their Rbat totals are due more to their longevity than their hitting greatness. Why Clemente and not Winfield, even though they have the same OPS+ of 130? I thought Clemente had a bit more of a peak.

          I also left out a few high OPS+//very short career guys such as Gavvy Cravath, Charlie Keller, and Hack Wilson. Hey, you gotta draw the line somewhere.

  2. For the period 2011-2013, the Tigers have both the top WAR everyday player (Cabrera just ahead of Cano, 22.1 to 21.5) and the top WAR pitcher (Verlander just barely ahead of Kershaw, 20.8 to 20.6). Over that three-year period, Detroit has the fourth-best regular season winning percentage:
    1. Rangers 280-207 (.575)
    2. Braves 279-207 (.574)
    3. Yankees 277-209 (.570)
    4. Tigers 276-210 (.568)
    5. Cardinals 275-211 (.566)

  3. Miggy is one of nine players with 500 or more career games played at both first base and third base, but the only one to do that by age 30 (he reached 500/500 about 8 months before his 30th birthday).

    The eight other 500/500 guys at first and third: Killebrew, Rose, Torre, Dick Allen, Tony Perez, Darrell Evans, Enos Cabell and Dave Magadan (Magadan being one of my all-time personal favorite players for some reason). Seven of these eight guys, all but Magadan, were active in the majors during the 1972 season, and the 1973 season, and the 1974 season and the 1975 season. Roberta Flack on the radio and 1B/3B guys in the majors.

  4. Don’t know where to put this so I’ll do it here if you don’t mind Doug. With the recent passing of Mike Palagyi, Bobby Doerr and Art Kenney are the only 2 still living players who played in the 1930s. Palagyi played in one ML game on 8-18-39. Doerr also was in that game and it had currently been the furthest back in time that 2 still living players had faced each other. I also saw that Lou Brissie also just passed away. He made it to the ML despite playing with a rebuilt leg due to a serious WWII injury.

    • Time marches on.

      Looks like our new earliest game with two living players is July 2, 1940 with Athletics’ pitcher Carl Miles (making his second and final career appearance) facing Bobby Doerr and the Red Sox in a 15-9 Boston win.

      Next would be Fred Caligiuri and Chuck Stevens, who both appeared in the Sep 14-16, 1941 Browns/Athletics series, though not in the same game (Caligiuri and Doerr also appeared in different games of the season-ending Athletics/Red Sox series). By 1942, there are several still-living players who were active in the AL. But, looks like the earliest NL game with two living players is in 1943.

      Earliest post-season game with two still-living players appears to be game 1 of the 1946 Series, with Doerr, Red Schoendienst and Joe Garagiola. Lennie Merullo and Ed Mierkowicz appeared in different games of the 1945 series.

  5. I know this is not the place, but anybody who
    thought the Yankees would show financial restraint, wrong!

    This reeks of Dave Collins.

    RE Miggy…

    I agree with Lawrence.

    I think his weight is the big challenge.

    I had Marlins season tickets in 04, his first full season.

    He has always been big.

  6. Can anyone tell me what Piazza’s numbers could’ve been if he had played at first base instead of Catcher? Estimates obviously…

    • I don’t think they would have been very good at all, because he was a HORRIBLE first baseman. As a Mets fan I remember watching Piazza the year they tried to convert him into a first baseman and he was just awful (which is probably why the Mets scrapped the idea and moved him back to catcher the next year). My belief is that first base is a more difficult position to play than most people think it is and it takes some skill (it’s a different type of footwork than catcher), and while Piazza was not a great defensive catcher he gets a worse rep than other not great defensive catchers because his biggest weakness was his throwing arm, which is also the most visible “defensive part of the game” of the catcher. He was likely no worse defensively than Jorge Posada, but I don’t think Posada gets as bad a rap as Piazza.

      Now, maybe if Piazza had transitioned to first earlier on he would have succeeded there (and maybe done a little better at the plate), BUT his Rfield and his Rpos net out to a positive 19 runs for his actual career. I doubt they would do that if he played first. Keith Hernandez, who might be the best defensive first baseman ever, nets out as +8 runs (117 Rfield, -109 Rpos). Mark Grace, who was a really good defensive first baseman, nets out at -43. Frank Thomas, through 1997 (the last year he played first full time), is at -126 Rfield+Rpos. So Piazza would have had to have a huge increase in offensive performance (in my opinion) to actually have been more valuable as a first baseman.

      The only player I remember looking more clueless at a position was when the Mets tried to turn Howard Johnson into an outfielder. I was in high school at the time and I was 100% positive the Mets would have been better with me in the OF (though not batting at the plate) because I could actually judge a fly ball.

  7. On a tangent … I’ve been resisting this assertion, but the time seems ripe: Cabrera has reached the point where only scandal could keep him from the Hall of Fame.

    Right now, Miggy is a HOF traditionalist’s dream. They love high-average sluggers, they love awards and league leaders, they love reputation and stature. They don’t care so much about defense, surrounding context, or positional standards.

    Take batting average alone. Through age 30, Cabrera has a .321 BA in over 7,000 PAs. Twenty-one retired players had, by age 30, at least 6,000 PAs and a BA of at least .310. All are in the Hall but Mike Tiernan, who played only in the 19th century, was finished at 32 with less than 7,000 PAs, and never won a batting title.

    Stretch the threshold to those with 7,000 PAs by age 32. Thirty-three HOF-eligibles have reached that threshold with a BA of at least .303. All have been inducted save Stuffy McInnis, who never batted over .327 nor led the league in anything.

    Mix in the HRs. Miggy has just finished a 5-year run totaling 190 HRs and a .335 BA. Drop the cutoffs to .320 BA and 150 HRs, and the only HOF-eligibles to do that in a 5-year span are 13 HOFers plus two who would be in if not for the taint of steroids or Coors Field: Ott, Foxx, DiMaggio, Aaron, Mantle, Ruth, Mays, Klein, Gehrig, Greenberg, Musial, H.Wilson, Williams, L.Walker and Bonds.

    (Among those yet to be voted on, add Piazza, Thomas, V.Guerrero and Chipper.)

    In the last 10 years, Cabrera has batted .324 with 353 HRs. All HOF-eligibles with any 10-year span of .320+ and 300+ HRs have been inducted: Foxx, Aaron, Ruth, Gehrig, Mays and Musial. (Vladdy, Piazza and Thomas yet to be voted on.)

    Miggy has two MVPs (already 14th in all-time MVP shares), a Triple Crown, three batting titles. If he keeps his nose clean, he’s in. I’m not saying it’s right, just that I can’t picture another outcome.

    I know some see Vladdy as the cautionary tale, but (a) I’m not so sure he doesn’t get elected, and (b) he never led the league in any Triple Crown stat.

    P.S. I checked this out of curiosity: Of the 42 retired players who batted at least .315 in 5,000+ PAs through age 30, all finished with a BA of .301 or higher.

    • I think the triple crown locked down Miggy’s case for the Hall, myself. Like you, I don’t necessarily *agree* with this thinking, but my suspicion is that the voters will refuse to pass up the first guy in 45 years to do it.

  8. Thanks for the vote of confidence about Miggy’s HOF chances, John. How many WS titles do you think he will win, having one only once with the Marlins, assuming he continues with the Tigers and perhaps another contending team? I know team achievements shouldn’t factor into the HOF vote but it probably does. How many HOF members won only 1 WS title or none?

    Also, it’s probably been mentioned before, but how come Babe Ruth only has 1 MVP? He should have about 10. And the only other times he got votes he finished 4th or 5th and still posted ludicrous power and on-base stats.

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