Miguel Cabrera & Historical Perspective
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+.
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.