Miguel Cabrera: Baseball Royalty is Ready to Take the AL Triple Crown and a Spot in Cooperstown
Tuesday September 25, 2012
Alex Mednick: 1967 was the year that boxer Muhammad Ali was stripped of his boxing world championship because he refused to join the U.S. Army. There were 475,000 US Troops in Vietnam. The Beatles had just come out with Sargeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Woodstock music festival was still 2 years away. Never had a man stepped foot on the moon, a gallon of gas cost $0.33 and Federal Minimum Wage was $1.40 per hour. It was also the last time that any professional ballplayer was awarded the triple crown: Carl Yastrzemski.
Here we are, in present day 2012, and 29-year-old phenom Miguel Cabrera is vying to be the first man to hit for the triple crown since 1967…after almost a half century. Back in 1998 when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire reignited national interest in our pastime, they were pursuing Roger Maris’ single season record for most home runs. Without deducting any valor from the record which I believe still belongs to Mr. Maris, the triple crown does not only take home run power into consideration; rather the triple crown validates a hitter based upon the three most important (Sabremetrician’s may disagree) measures of a hitters overall productivity.
In 1961, Roger Maris did in fact lead the league in both RBIs and home runs. So he had two of the three bases covered. He did, however—while putting up great power numbers along with a .620 slugging percentage—only manage to bat .269 that season. In fact, Maris fell almost .100 points behind baseball’s “best” hitter that year, Norm Cash, who ended the season with a .361 batting average.
To put things in perspective, and create a picture of how amazing the 2012 season has been for Miguel Cabrera, we need to really take a deeper look at the numbers. In the American League, Miguel Cabrera currently holds a secure lead on both RBIs and Batting Average. The closest competition to catch Cabrera for RBIs is Josh Hamilton, who while being injured is also 10 RBI’s behind Cabrera with only 10 games left in the Texas schedule (In fact, Cabrera is only trailing Andrew McCutchen in batting average, keeping in from an all-MLB Triple Crown). The .08 point lead that Cabrera holds over both Mike Trout and Joe Mauer is a less of a concern, in my book, than it is to others.
Ironically, the same thing that makes Cabrera’s lead less of a lock is, consequently, something that makes his lead even more impressive. Cabrera has managed to lead the league in batting average while also having over 60 more at bats than any of his closest competition. The greater sample of at bats held by Cabrera means that his average is less susceptible to fluctuation if he ends the season on a cold streak, but it also means that Trout and Mauer can creep up on Cabrera more easily if they put together a string of hits. The fact that all three of these guys bat the first 4 slots of the respective lineups, along with the fact that they have an average of 10 games left a piece, allows to do crunch some numbers based on some rough “guestimates”:
If all three of these players play every remaining game in their schedule and average 4 plate appearances per game, then each player will have approximately 40 more plate appearances remaining in the season. In order to make this more scientific, we need to eliminate as many “moving parts” as possible. So for these calculations, we are going to “assume” that none of these players will draw any walks for the rest of the season and that all 40 plate appearances become “At Bats”.
If Cabrera bats .250 for the remainder of the season, he will end the season with a .325 average.(204/626)
If Cabrera bats .333 for the remainder of the season, he will end the season with a .330 average.(207/626)
If Cabrera bats .500 for the remainder of the season, he will end the season with a .341 average.(214/626)
If Trout bats .250 for the remainder of the season, he will end the season with a .317 average. (179/563)
If Trout bats .333 for the remainder of the season, he will end the season with a .323 average. (182/563)
If Trout bats .500 for the remainder of the season, he will end the season with a .335 average. (189/563)
If Mauer bats .250 for the remainder of the season, he will end the season with a .317 average. (176/554)
If Mauer bats .333 for the remainder of the season, he will end the season with a .323 average. (179/554)
If Mauer bats .500 for the remainder of the season, he will end the season with a .335 average. (186/554)
These numbers very rough numbers (which mind you, neglect bases on balls and assume 40 remaining at-bats) help paint a rough picture of where the AL Batting Champion race stands. Even if Miguel Cabrera, the man in this race who held a higher batting average than his competition over a longer season, only manages to bat .250 for the remaining 40 at bats (.81 points lower than he has done over 586 at bats thus far), he will still end the year with a .325 batting average. In order for Trout or Mauer to catch up to Cabrera, given this scenario, they will have to both bat better than .333 for the rest of the season. This bodes well for Cabrera.
The statistic that seems destined to give Cabrera the biggest run for his money in achieving this huge feat, is consequently the only statistic in which he does not hold a steady lead. That statistic is “home runs”. Cabrera is currently one home run behind Josh Hamilton. Even if he catches Hamilton, he still has to worry about Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Dunn. Encarnacion has enjoyed a break out season in Toronto, and is only one home run behind Cabrera with 41, as is Adam Dunn, who is also having a comeback season…either player could very easily play spoiler for Cabrera.
In a game of numbers, I would cautiously bet that Cabrera’s leads in RBIs and Batting Average are both safe. On that same note, when we are talking about players who hit home runs every 12-14 at bats, I become a little less confident regarding the 1 home run deviation that separates these players…this is where Cabrera is the most vulnerable. Now, it is very possible that Cabrera hits 5 more home runs this season, while Encarnacion, Hamilton and Dunn remain relatively stale in his power production. It is, however, also equally or more likely that the opposite occurs or something in the middle that allowing one of these bombers to catch up with Cabrera.
Putting aside the fact of whether Cabrera actually pulls this off or not, we need to as lovers of this game, shed some light on the season Cabrera is having and celebrate it. Prince Fielder has been a very good thing for Miguel Cabrera, and he should definitely be taking his “bash brother” out for an expensive meal at a vegetarian restaurant of his choice! We are talking about a achieving a feat that has not been touched in 45 years…going back to a time that debatably included pitching of a lower standard.
With such a rare thing possibly being achieved comes many arguments about whether this accomplishment alone guarantees Miguel Cabrera also wins the MVP award for the American League. History says that 12 out of 13 times that somebody won the triple crown, they also won their league’s MVP award. In terms of MVP voting, I see no merit in whether a players team made the playoffs and the teams overall success as a determining factor of their worthiness. In my eyes, the MVP is the player who has had the most impact on their team as a single player, regardless of the season the team has had…it is very similar to the Sabermetric WAR, at least, in my eyes.
With this knowledge in hand, I would argue that the brand of baseball that Mike Trout has played in Los Angeles, has been a more “whole” and “well rounded” variety. Not only does he hit for power and average, but he steals bases, plays amazing defense and creates a spark at the top of the Angels lineup. Miguel Cabrera has proven himself over 10 seasons to be arguably the best pure hitter in baseball…it seems as if he could bat .300 with 35+ home runs with his eyes closed.
Mike Trout has had an impressive rookie season. There can be so many arguments about whether Mike Trout is sustainable and the “real deal”, and even if he is, whether an Andre Dawson/Rickey Henderson hybrid is more valuable than an Albert Pujols. The fact is, we are not arguing who will be a better ball player over the course of their careers. We are simply evaluating who has been more valuable during the 2012 season.
In my opinion, Mike Trout has been more “well balanced” player during the course of their respective seasons. This is not the end of the discussion. I am not debating who has been a “better player”, but who has had a greater “impact” on their team (regardless of playoff spots). Yes, we can look at all kinds of statistics that say Miguel Cabrera costs the Tigers games with his defense and Trout saves games. Having Trout dancing on the base paths, is also an intangible that really shakes up a pitchers mind’s and cannot be quantified.
Miguel Cabrera, however, is the kind of presence in a lineup that pitchers think about 5 batters before he comes up to the plate. He is the kind of batter that causes pitchers to throw fastballs down the middle to Prince Fielder, just hoping that he might pop out and they can face Miguel Cabrera next inning with nobody on base. Mike Trout steals bases, and this is a great thing. Ultimately, players steal bases to score runs. Mike Trout has been amazing, scoring 122 runs while still missing a month of the season. Who knows how many runs he would have scored, had he been in LA all season. The fact is, however, he only has 15 more runs scored than Cabrera. And Miguel Cabrera is a cleanup hitter…not a lead off man. His job is to drive in runs. Miguel Cabrera has driven in over 50 more runs than Mike Trout. Does Mike Trouts defense in center field save 50 runs a season over a league average defender in center field? Sometimes being the best hitter in baseball simply makes you more valuable than being the most well rounded player. But if we are looking at whether the Tigers would be better by adding Trout and deducting Cabrera and whether the Angels would be better by adding Cabrera and deducting Trout…this is when we find the real answer.
A large part of the results can be thanks to the Tigers offseason acquisition of Prince Fielder. Having a 1-2 punch of Miguel Cabrera messes with pitches game plans and how they approach the lineup…I mean it completely obliterates it. Having an amazingly talented and toolsy player like Mike Trout is a great thing, but it does not “make a lineup”. The Blue Jays added Rickey Henderson to their playoff bound team to enhance it…but they already had an existing lineup that was completely unforgiving to opposing pitchers. Possibly, the best example can be found within the Angels themselves. How much of a decline in production have we seen with Albert Pujols, now that he doesn’t have a Matt Holliday batting behind him? A player in the mold of Mike Trout and Rickey Henderson is a great thing to have, but given the 2012 Detroit Tigers and the 2012 LA Angels and the pieces as they lay, Miguel Cabrera is much more valuable to his team. Likewise, the improvement of Mike Trout over Austin Jackson would be marginal for the Tigers, but the improvement of Miguel Cabrera over Kendry Morales batting third for the Angels would be huge…just ask Albert Pujols. Putting dollars and contracts aside (because Trout is clearly the bigger “bargain”), it would be hard to argue that the Angels would not trade Mike Trout and Kendry Morales for Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera.
Additionally, I don’t think we can give an MVP award to a player who did not play the entire 2012 season. Sure, the opposite argument can be made that had he played the season in its entirety, all of his stats except batting average would have surely been higher. Yes, this is true. But by this logic, Brett Lawrie would have been the 2011 American League MVP. How valuable was Mike Trout to the Los Angeles Angels for those 20 games in March? Obviously the Angels brass did not see him providing enough value over Peter Bourjos for the month of March 2012 to risk him becoming a Super Two. Players like Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout have different kinds of impacts to different team over the course of an entire season. Having Miguel Cabrera in the 4 hole for 155+ games this year has been much more valuable for the Tigers than having Mike Trout play centerfield and bat leadoff for 135 games in Los Angeles.
Putting aside the debate for AL MVP, I want to point out that these two ball players are amazing talents. Dissecting seasons and looking for holes and flaws is merely for the sake of argument and to prove a point. The way that hitters duel it out with pitchers, journalists have to grind it out with logic…it’s a rough game! The fact is, both of these ball players can end up being two of the greatest of all time. Mike Trout may end up actually casting a shadow of Mickey Mantle, for all we know, and become one of the greatest centerfielders of all time. Miguel Cabrera, at the age of 29, and already having played 10 seasons of major league baseball has already carved himself in baseball history.
In my eyes, the only way the Miguel Cabrera does not become a Hall of Famer is if he woke up tomorrow missing both of his legs, or we discovered that he has been in cahoots with a mad scientist that created PED’s that surpass MLB’s stringent testing. Remember, he is only 29 years old! Already, “Miggy” has logged almost 1800 career hits, almost 400 doubles, scored almost 1000 runs, hit almost 350 home runs, batted in over 1100 runs, and batted .331 lifetime! Sure, at the age of 29, Miguel is in his prime. But with the kind of bat that Miguel Cabrera possesses, it can be expected that even if he has to become a full-time DH, he can be a productive and “sign-able” player for another decade. It can be argued that he currently would make the hall of fame. The only limiting factor for this argument, might be his current hit total. But given that he plays at least a portion of 10 more seasons, he will surely be well on his way to being in 3000 hit “territory”. If he keeps a lifetime batting average around .300, and if he somehow only managed to add an additionally 150 home runs, he would be a .300 hitter with 500 home runs and almost 3000 hits. Many of the all-time greats have been inducted into the Hall of Fame with lesser statistics.
It needs to be acknowledged and celebrated by baseball fans every time you get to watch Miguel Cabrera play that we are watching someone who may not only hit for the triple crown, but who will be in the Hall of Fame someday. He is arguably the most pure hitter in baseball, much akin to Tony Gwynn with power in his bat. We watched players like Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr. and others who etched themselves into the game as sure bet Hall of Famers. Miguel Cabrera, over the past ten years, has quietly been securing himself a seat in the hall and as the most productive hitter of the past 10 years.
(*The views and opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of mlbreports.com*)
Alex Mednick is a Baseball Writer and Analyst with MLB Reports. He has both played and followed the game extensively his entire life. Alex grew up in New Haven, Connecticut—right in the crossroads of Red Sox Nation and The Yankee Empire. Somehow, he dodged the bullet of joining the war between these two teams, and a love affair between the Toronto Blue Jays and Alex formed. Growing up in Connecticut, Alex Mednick idolized Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. When he was 19 he moved to Saint Petersburg, Florida. Here he attended Eckerd College and continued fulfilling his love for baseball. Tropicana Field was 5 minutes from his apartment, and there were 5 spring training camps within an hour drive. Alex graduated from Eckerd in 2010 with a B.S. in International Business and dual minors in Spanish and Management. Most importantly, he met his amazing wife in college, and the two now reside in Stuart, Florida.
You can follow Alex Mednick on Twitter (@MednickAlex)
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Posted on September 25, 2012, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged albert pujols, alex mednick, andre dawson, baseball, brett lawrie, detroit tigers, edwin encarnacion, joe mauer, josh hamilton, mark mcgwire, matt holliday, miguel cabrera, Mike Trout, mlb, mlb reports, peter bourjos, prince fielder, rickey henderson, sammy sosa, ted williams. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.