Change-UpJuly 03, 2010
Miguel Cabrera & Historical Perspective
By Patrick Sullivan

R.J. Anderson, in a piece at Fangraphs, sets the stage nicely:

The 2009 season ended poorly for Miguel Cabrera. An arrest and the Tigers’ collapse coincided with the worst month of his season which wasn’t all that poor by anyone else’s standards. The dialect associated with the 27 year old was unkind and the offseason carried with it rumors of a potential trade for budgetary concerns. Those passed and as such Cabrera has spent the 2010 season changing the language like Babylon.

Cabrera is back and producing like he never has before. His .337/.412/.628 line would easily be a career best, which is saying something given the career we're talking about. Since 1960, only 12 players amassed more plate appearances through their age-26 season than Cabrera. Of those with at least 4,000 PA's through their age 27 season, here is how Cabrera ranks in OPS+.

1 Albert Pujols 167 4741 2001 2007 21-27 1091 282 141 38 23 .332 .420 .620 1.040 STL
2 Ken Griffey 150 5262 1989 1997 19-27 1214 294 87 123 48 .302 .381 .562 .943 SEA
3 Barry Bonds 147 4255 1986 1992 21-27 1010 176 45 251 72 .275 .380 .503 .883 PIT
4 Alex Rodriguez 144 5687 1994 2003 18-27 1275 345 110 177 46 .308 .382 .581 .963 SEA-TEX
5 Miguel Cabrera 143 4766 2003 2010 20-27 1115 229 136 26 16 .313 .385 .548 .933 FLA-DET
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 7/3/2010.

Cabrera is off to as good a start as all but a handful of the very best hitters over the last 50 years. And now, at 27-years old, it appears he could be coming into his own as a truly elite power hitter. Not once has Cabrera finished in the top-5 in his league in slugging percentage. In 2010, despite playing home games at spacious Comerica Park, Cabrera leads the American League with a .630 figure.

Working in Cabrera's favor is the historical trend that hitters tend to tack on power around the age of 27. Below I present the average of the ten best slugging seasons by 24, 27, 30 and 33-year olds from 1990 through 2009:

Age     SLG
24     .588
27     .628
30     .634
33     .618

Some might say that the era in question, 1990 through 2009, could be skewed by the influence steroids played. Have players always been able to tack on power into their 30's? Well here is the same table, this time for 1970 through 1989.

Age     SLG
24     .550
27     .591
30     .582
33     .549

In both eras, elite sluggers were able to establish and maintain peak power levels at the age of 27. From 1990 through 2009, hitters were able to extend the period out another three years to their 33-year old season, while in the earlier timeframe power leveled back off to the levels seen prior to the 27 season. Depending on how you choose to interpret the data above, it would appear Cabrera has anywhere from three to six top-notch power hitting seasons ahead of him. More succinctly, the power spike could well be here to stay.

There are no guarantees, of course. Albert Pujols had his best two slugging seasons in his age 26 and 23 seasons respectively. Alex Rodriguez notched his best number at the age of 31. But something seems to be happening with Cabrera, and if history is any guide, it's quite possible that one of the more impressive young sluggers of all time is about to get even better. Even though Miggy's problems were mostly off-the-field at the end of 2009, the power spike is a welcome development for Tigers fans, who only months ago seemed to be questioning whether Cabrera was the sort of cornerstone player they wanted for their team. He's answering those questions emphatically in 2010.


Another fortunate thing about this development is that it coincides nicely with his contract, which is set to expire following the 2015 season. Not that he wouldn't have been worth it without this power spike, but if he truly is improving (or has improved) then the contract looks even better than it did when given.

If you look at Pujols supporting cast his stats take on more meaning, granted he had better stats when younger but now he is seldom pitched to when the games are on the line. It seems teams are willing to let any other Card hitter beat them, he's not had a Gherig behind him lately or even a Hanley Ramirez. He did have Rolen and has Holliday but are they feared enough to get him pitched to, as I recall Griffey and Arod had each other for a while and also Buhner. Bonds had similar problems, though he did have an all-star and borderline HOFer in Jeff Kent for a few seasons.

I know Albert's two best years in terms of SLG came in years 23 and 26, but the thing that's always stood out to me about Albert is his consistency. For the most part, he doesn't get too high or too low. You can count on a .320-35-110 type of line year in year out with about 40 doubles, 100+ runs, 10+ steals, 80+BB and GG defense.

Cabrera has been a favorite of mine for several years now. Actually reminds me a lot of Albert in body type and the way they play. If he keeps healthy, he very well could take the title of the games best player fairly soon.

"He did have Rolen and has Holliday but are they feared enough to get him pitched to, as I recall Griffey and Arod had each other for a while and also Buhner. Bonds had similar problems, though he did have an all-star and borderline HOFer in Jeff Kent for a few seasons."

Bonds actually batted 5th for his first couple MVP seasons. And this was after leading off for the early part of his career.

For Griffey's biggest years he had Buhner batting behind him for the most part. Advantage Holliday, IMO. Though Edgar did too, later on.

In my pre-season predictions, I stated that Cabrera was the player most likely to win the Triple Crown. I still think he has a chance to do so. Good for him. He's far from a household name, and he seems to have overcome his off-field problems. Enjoyed reading this post, Bill (