Is Miguel Cabrera The Best Right-Handed Hitter Of His Generation?

Not everything or everyone is the best thing ever. We live in a time of instant gratification, short attention spans, and hyperbole overload. Recently, I’ve heard and read various pundits and players proclaim that Miguel Cabrera is the best right-handed hitter of his generation or possibly even the best of all time.

I wanted to take a closer look to see if that might actually be true.

I compiled a list of right-handed hitters with a career OPS+ of 145 or greater with at least 3,000 plate appearances through their age 30 season. I used 1989 as the cutoff year and the list produced ten players, Cabrera being one of them.

Download (XLSX, 10KB)

Of the players on the chart above only A-Rod started his career at a younger age than Cabrera, and since Miguel is still playing his age 30 season he should pass Pujols in games played and plate appearances later this year.

Cabrera has posted an impressive career slash line of .319/.395/.561, however he ranks 5th, 5th, and 9th among the other great hitters on this list. Pujols ranks 1st, 2nd, 1st, respectively. Cabrera’s OPS of .956 ranks 7th and his OPS+ of 151 ranks 6th.

Cabrera does rank 3rd in homers (325), even though that total will grow this season, he is unlikely to surpass what either Rodriguez (464) or Pujols (408) did through age 30.

Cabrera vs Braun. This is an interesting comparison as both players are active and still playing through their age 30 seasons. Braun is actually only in his age 29 season, so he has 2013 & 2014 to add to his totals.

Braun’s slash line: .313/.374/.569

Cabrera’s slash line .319/.395/.561

Cabrera gets the slight edge but their numbers are very similar. What really puts Cabrera over Braun is the large gap between them in at-bats (2,204). Cabrera also tops him in OPS+ 151-148, but their numbers are closer than I expected.

Cabrera vs Manny

Manny’s slash line through age 30- .316/.411/.599

Cabrera’s slash line .319/.395/.561

Again those numbers are close but Manny gets the edge in OBP , SLG, OPS, and OPS+ (156-151). Manny did test positive for PEDs twice, and also reportedly failed the survey test in 2003. Manny’s PED connections  allow for some skepticism as to how legitimate all of his numbers are, but looking at the numbers alone, Manny was better.

Cabrera vs Thomas

Thomas’ slash line through age 30-.321/.443/.584

Cabrera’s slash line .319/.395/.561

Thomas leads all of the hitters in the chart above in OBP (.443), and OPS+ (174),  he also tops Cabrera in AVG, SLG, and OPS. Through age 30, Thomas was a better hitter than Cabrera.

Cabrera vs Pujols

Pujols’ slash line through age 30- .331/.426/.624

Cabrera’s slash line .319/.395/.561

Pujols sweeps Cabrera across the board including a 21 point difference in OPS+ (172-151). It’s perhaps Pujols who is the best right-handed hitter of his generation.

Cabrera vs Bagwell

Bagwell’s slash line through age 30- .304/.411/.538

Cabrera’s slash line .319/.395/.561

Cabrera has a higher OPS than Bagwell (.956-.949) but Bagwell has the better OPS+ (159-151). At best it’s a toss up for Cabrera.

Cabrera vs A-Rod

Rodriguez’s slash line through age 30- .305/.386/.573

Cabrera’s slash line .319/.395/.561

Rodriguez leads all of the players in the group in games played, plate appearances, at-bats, and homers. He also was playing shortstop at a very high level and was an above average baserunner as well. Rodriguez was a much better overall player than Cabrera, but Cabrera is the better hitter besting him in AVG, OBP, and OPS+ (151-145).

Cabrera vs Piazza

Piazza’s career slash line through age 30- .328/.391/.575

Cabrera’s slash line .319/.395/.561

Piazza of course put up these numbers while playing catcher, which is absurd. This is another coin flip but considering Piazza has Cabrera beat in AVG, SLG, OPS, and OPS+, I’d give him the slight edge. However I expect Cabrera to significantly outproduce what Piazza did after the age of 30.

Cabrera vs Vlad

Guerrero’s career slash line through age 30- .324/.391/.587

Cabrera’s slash line .319/.395/.561

Guerrero actually tops Cabrera in OPS (.977-.956), however Cabrera has the slightly higher OPS+ (151-150). I think as a baseball community we have forgotten how good Vlad was during the first decade of his career, he may not have been quite as good a hitter as Cabrera but it’s a lot closer than I expected.

Cabrera vs Belle

Belle’s career slash line through age 30- .292/.364/.566

Cabrera’s slash line .319/.395/.561

This is the only clear run away for Cabrera. Cabrera not only outproduced Belle through the age of 30, he should annihilate Belle’s accomplishments after the age of 30.

So what does all this mean? Miguel Cabrera is not the best right-handed hitter of all time or of his generation but that doesn’t mean he isn’t great. He is. He is without a doubt on a Hall of Fame pace. He has the chance to surpass the career accomplishments of nearly everyone on this rather impressive list as he is still performing at his peak and likely has several great seasons ahead of him.

However, looking the best right-handed hitters of his generation (through the age of 30) it’s nearly impossible to legitimately rank him ahead of Pujols or Thomas. A handful of others put up comparable numbers as well. That doesn’t diminish Cabrera’s accomplishments, he is among the best hitters of his generation, few can make that claim.

Not everyone or everything is the best thing ever. Miguel Cabrera doesn’t have to be the best hitter ever to still be awesome and fun to watch. Let’s just appreciate him for what he is.

Braun and Cabrera’s numbers are up to date as of 4/30/13

Originally posted 5/1/13

Follow me on twitter @RossCarey

Update: 5/15/13

After re-reading this piece, I really didn’t accomplish what I wanted to. When I started writing it I was just trying to take a look at the best right handed hitters of the last thirty years through the age of 30. I ended up comparing everyone to Cabrera for no reason and as Bryan noted in the comments section, I definitely stretched the definition of his generation while doing so.  I think the numbers are interesting but the tone of the piece wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Sorry Miguel!

 

 

Comments

  1. Ross, I agree that my generation is prone to hyperbole. In fact, we’re without a doubt more prone to hyperbole than any generation ever has been or ever will be. But with statements like the one you take to task here, I think it’s important to establish terms before disagreeing.

    You take a very broad few of “Cabrera’s generation”. If we consider a generation ~30 years (our dads’ players vs. our players vs. our kids’ players), you’re probably going about this the right way. But it seems that term is often used in sports to indicate a player’s contemporaries, within a window of, say, five-to-seven years. If that’s the case, it’s Cabrera vs. Braun and Pujols, and I’d say Cabrera finishes second (safely ahead of Braun when you consider the leagues in which they put up their respective 151 and 148 OPS+ figures).

    If we stretch a little more and assume Pujols is a couple years older than the 33 years he claims (his career trajectory wouldn’t argue with that assumption), and that Albert might be out of the game while Miggy’s still hitting .300/.400/.500, Cabrera’s probably the best right-handed hitter of his generation (or at least his sub-generation).

    If whoever is making this claim is suggesting that Cabrera is the equal of Pujols or Thomas or Manny with the bat, they don’t have much of a case, but if they’re taking a narrow view of the word “generation”, they’re not too far off.

    • Ross Carey says:

      Hey Bryan,

      You make some good points.

      I did take a broad view of Cabrera’s generation, that’s true. However, Cabrera’s career overlaps somewhat with everyone on the list, except for Belle.

      Pujols’ age doesn’t matter, he started his career in 2001 , Cabrera in 2003, they are definitely of the same generation of players.

      If we narrow the term generation to players who started their career in the 2000s, Cabrera is 2nd for sure. I think that’s a bit too narrow though.

      My point wasn’t to slam Cabrera it was to show that a handful of other hitters have accomplished similar things in the not so distant past. It just seems like many are rushing to dismiss them and anoint the next best thing. Five years from now people will have moved on from Cabrera and declared someone else the best hitter ever. That will probably be a reach too.

  2. I won’t argue Cabrera is a better hitter than any of those guys you compared him to. However I would like to note that for his entire MLB career, Cabrera has not hit in a hitter friendly (especially home run friendly) home ball park. I would imagine that his HR totals and SLG percentage would get a significant boost if he played 81 games a year in a more hitter friendly home ballpark like Yankees stadium or Rangers stadium. For perspective, while Cabrera’s career SLG% is. 565, his SLG% at Rangers stadium is. 661, and at the two Yankees Stadiums, it’s. 818 and. 872 respectively. Just food for thought.

    • Ross Carey says:

      All good points. Some of the others hitters on the list also played in poor hitter parks too, especially Bagwell and Thomas. We can only assume they would have seen an increase in SLG% playing in Texas as well.

  3. I don’t know much about the Astrodome, but from what I know US Cellular Field is considered a bandbox that yields a lot of homeruns, so I wouldn’t agree that Frank Thomas played in a poor hitter home ballpark.

    • Ross Carey says:

      You got me curious. Baseball-Reference has a stat called AIR. AIR measures the offensive level of league and parks over the course of a players career. Over 100 is favorable to a hitter. Under 100 is not. For example, Todd Helton is at 122, he obviously has gotten a huge boost from Coors.

      Here’s how the players on the list look.

      Thomas-106
      Pujols-105
      Bagwell-106
      Manny-111
      Piazza-105
      Cabrera-105
      Vlad-109
      Braun-105
      A-Rod-109
      Belle-106

      Manny, Vlad, and A-Rod got a big bigger boost from their parks than the rest of the group but everyone else is clustered together.

  4. Ok, i just have to say that of that list of generation players only cabrera, bagwell pujos and piazza hasnt been linked to drugs or roids so that leaves only pujos and cabrera racing for the best hitter of this generation…that being said pujos has been on a slow pace las 3 seasons putting good numbers but not amazing numbers like cabrera who instead has been getting MUCH better numbers as he gets older…not to mention that cabrera has 3 world series and a ring (many on that list dont have one) and just to make my point clear CABRERA HAS SOMETHING NON OF THE PLAYERS ON THE LIST HAVE…TRIPLE CROWN!!! when someone on that list gets one we can probably talk, …AROID ON THE LIST?? come on we all know where those numbers come from… dont we? sad for baseball and cabrera at least BONDS is not on the list jajaja!

    note: cabrera might get his second triple crown this 13 season!!! lets be objective people!

    • Ross Carey says:

      Frank Thomas has never been linked to PEDs. In fact he was an early whistle blower and the only active player who cooperated with the Mitchell report. Vlad has never been linked either.

  5. I know “clutch” is used more often with QB,s and NBA superstars and baseball usually dosent consider it,but look at what Cabrera does in clutch situations ie 7th inning on,with 2 strikes,with 2 outs,RISP and such his slash line gets even greater especially the last few years,now I never looked to see how good the others were in those situations but that fact about Cabrera or anyone in baseball who gets better in those moments has to really be taken into consideration

    • Ross Carey says:

      Context or clutch definitely matters. WPA is a metric that helps measure those things. Cabrera is currently at 47.4. Pujols was at 58.9 through age 30, Frank Thomas was at 41.3.

      I’ll revisit this post at the end of the year and expand the player pool. Cabrera is having an all-time great offensive season. Pujols has never had a season with an OPS+ or wRC+ over 200. Cabrera is doing both this year (202/206) Thomas had a similar year in 1994 (212/205).

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