Miguel Cabrera is having a monster 2013 season to follow up his 2012 season, a season in which he won MLB’s first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Cabrera now appears to have a chance to become the first player in the history of the sport to win back-to-back Triple Crowns, further fueling the fire that Cabrera is the greatest right-handed hitter ever. Such an idea, however, is incredibly short-sighted and simply blasphemous, as Cabrera is not even the greatest right-handed hitter of his own generation. In your own mind, rank these six offensive seasons in order of quality:
- 157 G, 591 AB, .359, 43 HR, 124 RBI, 137 R, 51 2B, 3B, 79 BB, 65 K, .439 OBP, .667 Slugging, 1.106 OPS, 187 OPS+
- 154 G, 592 AB, .331, 46 HR, 123 RBI, 133 R, 51 2B, 2 3B, 84 BB, 52 K, .415 OBP, .657 Slugging, 1.072 OPS, 173 OPS+
- 143 G, 535 AB, .331, 49 HR, 137 RBI, 119 R, 33 2B, 3B, 92 BB, 50 K, .431 OBP, .671 Slugging, 1.102 OPS, 178 OPS+
- 148 G, 524 AB, .357, 37 HR, 116 RBI, 100 R, 44 2B, 0 3B, 104 BB, 54 K, .462 OBP, .653 Slugging, 1.114 OPS, 192 OPS+
- 160 G, 568 AB, .327, 47 HR, 135 RBI, 124 R, 45 2B, 3B, 115 BB, 64 K, .443 OBP, .658 Slugging, 1.101 OPS, 189 OPS+
- 161 G, 622 AB, .330, 44 HR, 139 RBI, 109 R, 40 2B, 0 3B, 66 BB, 98 K, .393 OBP, .606 Slugging, .999 OPS, 165 OPS+
If I were ranking these six seasons, I would rank the last listed season as being the worst one of the six. That last one belongs to Miguel Cabrera, while the first five belong to Albert Pujols. In each of the listed seasons, Pujols had a much higher OPS+ than Cabrera, along with pretty much any other measure that does not include raw totals (although Pujols did out-homer Cabrera in some of those years).
This idea of Cabrera being better because he simply won the Triple Crown is ridiculous. If you look at advanced statistics, you will see that Cabrera actually had better offensive seasons in 2010 and 2011 than he did last season:
- 2010: 150 G, 548 AB, .328, 38 HR, 126 RBI, 111 R, 45 2B, 3B, 89 BB, 95 K, .420 OBP, .622 Slugging, 1.042 OPS, 178 OPS+
- 2011: 161 G, 572 AB, .344, 30 HR, 105 RBI, 111 R, 48 2B, 0 3B, 108 BB, 89 K, .448 OBP, .586 Slugging, 1.033 OPS, 179 OPS+
- 2012: 161 G, 622 AB, .330, 44 HR, 139 RBI, 109 R, 40 2B, 0 3B, 66 BB, 98 K, .393 OBP, .606 Slugging, .999 OPS, 165 OPS+
As you will see from these stats, Cabrera had significantly higher OPS+ numbers in 2010 and 2011 as opposed to 2012. The only difference is that Cabrera walked less, hit fewer doubles, batted one slot higher up in the order and played a few more games in 2012. Does that make him a better hitter in any way? The clear answer is no. That shows that him winning the Triple Crown is more of a matter of great timing than having a year that we haven’t seen before. Cabrera’s best OPS+ was in the 2011 season at 179, a number that Pujols has exceeded in a single season on three different occasions, with his highest being at 192. If you really still think that Cabrera is better than Pujols, take a look at Pujols’s cumulative numbers from 2003-2010:
1240 G, 4553 AB, .334, 337 HR, 973 RBI, 956 R, 339 2B, 9 3B, 773 BB, 484 K, .433 OBP, .635 Slugging, 1.067 OPS, 177 OPS+
Ponder that, Pujols’s cumulative OPS+ for eight seasons was just two points lower than the OPS+ for Cabrera during his best season!
These are Cabrera’s numbers from his last eight years (not including 2013):
1265 G, 4746 AB, .325, 276 HR, 949 RBI, 821 R, 334 2B, 9 3B, 616 BB, 875 K, .403 OBP, .573 Slugging, .976 OPS, 157 OPS+
Pujols’s numbers are far and away better than Cabrera’s over their best eight years and Pujols also has three MVP awards to show for it, as opposed to just one for Cabrera.
This season is the only year that Cabrera has had that has the potential to top Pujols. These are his statistics as of when I am writing this article:
123 G, 474 AB, .359, 43 HR, 130 RBI, 94 R, 25 2B, 3B, 76 BB, 81 K, .450 OBP, .688 Slugging, 1.137 OPS, 202 OPS+
His OPS+ this season is well beyond any season that Pujols has ever had, but this season is not yet complete yet and it is only one year besides. Unless Cabrera is going to continue at this level for another six or seven seasons, there is no conceivable way that Cabrera could ever reach Pujols’s offensive level. Pujols has had seasons where he had better numbers at this point than Cabrera does currently. In all likelihood Cabrera’s performance will drop slightly and this season will be in line with Pujols’s best. After that, Pujols has many seasons better than Cabrera’s second best. This has been a special season for Cabrera, but it will take many more like it for him to catch Pujols and become the greatest right-handed hitter of the generation, let alone of all-time.
Just remember to maintain perspective. Pujols may be in decline now, but he was a special player for many years and did things just as well, if not better, than Cabrera. The only reason that Cabrera is getting all this attention is that he the guy doing great right now. Also remember in five years when they are talking about someone else this way, not to forget Cabrera or Pujols. The book is not yet written on whether or not Cabrera will be as good as Pujols, but if he is going to be he will need to put in a bunch of more 2013-type seasons. Will he do it? Stay Tuned…