January 31, 2012
Painting the Black
Don't Forget: Miggy Can Mash
It took fewer than seven days for Miguel Cabrera’s season to take on added significance. Cabrera’s move to third is the talk of the league right now, talk that will resurface whenever he makes an error or mishandles a routine play third base. Fair or not, the focus on Cabrera’s scabrous glove is going to overshadow his bat at times, making this as good a time as any to remind everyone about his offensive talents.
Cabrera enters his age-29 season with a career line of .317/.395/.555. That rare blend of average, on-base, and slugging abilities puts Cabrera in a special class of hitters. How special? Since 1901, here are the players to hit at least .300/.350/.500 in more than 1,000 plate appearances through their age-28 season while maintaining a higher adjusted-OPS than Cabrera:
A hitter would be hard-pressed to find better company. Just about every player eligible for the Hall of Fame is in, and those on the outside are there due to non-performance reasons. A casual observer would recognize a great number of players on the list, from Ruth to Aaron and most of the names in between. Maybe the only player folks would be unfamiliar with is Klein, which is too bad since he invented the humble brag:
It is fair to suggest that Cabrera’s bat has him on a Hall of Fame pace. Using Jay Jaffe’s JAWS methodology, Cabrera finds himself with a 35.5 JAWS score (resulting from 37 career Wins Above Replacement Player and 33.9 wins coming during his peak). Of the first baseman eligible for the 2012 ballot, Cabrera’s numbers come closest to resembling Fred McGriff’s tallies. McGriff seems to be a long shot for enshrinement, as he received fewer than 24 percent of the votes in his third year on the ballot, but even so, that Cabrera has a similar candidacy despite having just 57 percent of McGriff’s plate appearances is a testament to his offensive prolificacy.
As impressive as Cabrera’s raw stats are, it should surprise no one that few batters can match his output in two-strike situations. This is not a new revelation, as some may recall that Cabrera’s play in the American League Championship Series inspired this comment:
The offseason allows for digging, and thanks to Bradley Ankrom’s assistance, here are the five batters with the highest True Averages in two-strike situations since 2007 (minimum 500 plate appearances):
Cabrera’s broad offensive skill set includes an ability to cover the plate in otherwise difficult circumstances. He is, in a sense, close to being the perfect hitter. The rough fielding makes him the comparison de jour for bat-only prospects without a steady glove or defensive position. As appealing as it is to make those comparisons, it is unfair to everyone involved. Asking a prospect to live up to Cabrera’s offensive performance is asking a lot, and it undermines just how great Cabrera is. Besides, it ignores that Cabrera was not an all-bat prospect, but rather a soft-handed, strong-armed shortstop that outgrew the position and moved to third base. He outgrew third base in time, too, but there is a difference between being able to play poor defense at a premium position at a young age and being limited to designated hitter duty immediately. Plus, any prospect that causes Jack McKeon to call his son deserves some extra credit points.
The position change is going to net Cabrera plenty of attention, but he deserved some added limelight anyway.