As you’ve probably heard by now, yesterday was a big day for Tigers 3B Miguel Cabrera. He hit two solo homers in his first two plate appearances against the White Sox’ Phil Humber, leading Detroit to a 6-4 win. The second homer, coming in the third inning, was the 300th of Cabrera’s still-fairly-young career.
Here’s a list showing the players with the most homers through their age-29 seasons; Cabrera is the 13th to get to 300 before the end of that year. Among the other 12, seven are Hall of Famers (Foxx, Mantle, Mathews, Aaron, Ott, and Robinson), and three more are certain to eventually be Hall of Famers (A-Rod, Griffey and Pujols). One other is Andruw Jones, who arguably deserves Hall consideration, but won’t get it; one is Juan Gonzalez, who looked like a Hall of Famer once; and one is, well, Adam Dunn. As of yesterday, Cabrera’s rest-of-season ZIPS projection had him hitting 13 more HR over the remainder of the year, which would keep him in 13th place on that list, three behind Dunn.
300 homers well before the end of one’s age-29 season is an impressive accomplishment to be sure, but considering that within all of our lifetimes, Pujols had 366, Griffey 398 and A-Rod 429 (!), it’s not the kind of thing likely to make you want to scrapbook or order a set of commemorative plates.
What I think is noteworthy about Cabrera, though, is that he’s not just — or even primarily — a home run hitter.
He’s never hit forty homers in a season (though his 37 in 2008 improbably led the AL), and most of his season lines have been notable for things other than home runs. Of those thirteen members of the 300-before-30 club, Cabrera is fourth in batting average (behind Foxx, Pujols and Aaron). He’s sixth in hits, and meeting his ZIPS projection for the rest of the season would leave him just a few hits short of becoming the eleventh player in history to have 1800 hits before his age-30 season (he just passed Tris Speaker into 15th place, at 1723). Homer 300 also tied Mickey Mantle for 9th in RBIs through age 29, and ZIPS sees him winding up by himself in 8th (with sixth or seventh within reach if he and the Tigers in front of him have hot second halves).
Perhaps most impressive are the doubles. He’s third all-time with 373 doubles through age 29, and is likely to pass Pujols’ 387 into second place before the year is out. The penchant for singles and doubles along with all the homers has meant that he’s tenth all-time in total bases, and, per ZIPS, likely to end the year in 8th, and with considerably fewer PA than anyone ahead of him had, save Pujols.
And it’s been as much quality as quantity. Cabrera is fifteenth all-time in OPS+ through age 29 (min. 5000 PA). All fourteen hitters ahead of him are either in the Hall already or certain to be eventually (yes, Bonds is a sure thing, but that’s a discussion for a different time), and all of them are the elite, no-doubt type of Hall of Famer. The next six after him on that list are each current or future Hall of Famers, too.
It all depends on his continuing to be healthy and effective for another seven or eight or twelve years after this one, which is a huge thing to just assume away, but there’s a whole array of things we might be in the middle of seeing with Miguel Cabrera. He could be on his way to 600 homers (he’d be the ninth to do that — hey, remember like five years ago and the thirty years before that when there were only three?), or 3500 hits (he’d be the sixth), or 2000 RBI (the fourth). He could be the fifth to 700 doubles, the fourth to 6000 total bases. He could even become the all-time record holder in one or two of those categories (though he’d have to start turning a lot more of those doubles into homers to catch Bonds).
Through his first decade in the major leagues, Cabrera has been not only one of the most consistently great hitters the game has ever seen, but has arguably been one of the very few most “complete” or “well-rounded” great hitters the game has ever seen, in that he simply does it all, if you don’t count triples or stolen bases. Yet we don’t seem to think of him that way, and for, I think, one simple reason: Albert Pujols.
We could have gone through this exact same sort of thing with Pujols three years ago (if, as I choose to, you accept his recorded age as his true age), except that Pujols would’ve come out even better in every way. Cabrera, for the past nine years, has been a near-lock for a .320 batting average, an OBP near .400, 30 home runs, 35 doubles, and 115 RBI, while Pujols, in his own age 21-29 years, was a near-lock for a .330 batting average, a .420 OBP, 40 home runs, 40 doubles and 125 RBI. They’ve both primarily been first basemen who have occasionally been miscast as third basemen, but Albert was also considerably better with the glove, and would (and still will) even swipe a base every now and then.
So Miggy, in a way, has been the Tim Raines to Albert’s Rickey Henderson. Raines was a historically great left fielder and leadoff hitter, who was overshadowed during his career, and has been kept out of the Hall since, because he happened to play at precisely the same time as one of the greatest left fielders, and unquestionably the greatest leadoff hitter, of all time. Cabrera, meanwhile, is on track to be one of the three or five greatest first basemen of all time (assuming he ends his career as primarily a first baseman, which still seems like a good bet), but is playing at approximately the same time as a guy who may already be the greatest first baseman of all time, is clearly at least in the top three, and has at least a few years left to climb.
And of course Albert, like Rickey, deserves to overshadow all the competition; Pujols does all the same things Cabrera does, but better, and has done much more besides. But Cabrera, like Raines, shouldn’t be ignored. He’s been a spectacularly complete and consistent hitter for a decade, he doesn’t turn thirty until next April, and he could be in the middle of doing something (or several things) really, really special.