No. 86: Miguel Cabrera

There was a cool presentation this past year at the SABR Analytics Conference breaking down ground balls. The idea (assuming I understood) was to figure out how hard — and to what precise location — ground balls needed to be hit in order to get through the infield and become hits. At the time, I sensed that the data was still raw, nobody was entirely sure what to do with it, and so on. But there’s one thing I remember clearly: Miguel Cabrera hit the hardest ground balls of anybody.

That’s no surprise, of course, considering that Cabrera has led the American League in batting average each of the last three years … but it’s still fun to get some confirmation on that sort of thing. There are players throughout baseball history who were famous for hitting baseballs HARD. The aforementioned Paul Waner was like that. Musial of course. Ted Williams. Tony Oliva hit baseballs so hard that first baseman would inch back nervously. I remember Will Clark hitting savage line drives and ground balls. Vlad Guerrero, whew, he hit the ball hard. Gary Sheffield. Cabrera hits the hardest ball right now.

Lately, it seems like, we’ve had a series of hitters who, for a few years anyway, made a viable case as the Greatest Right-Handed Hitter Ever (GRHE). The reigning GRHE is probably one of these five players:

– Henry Aaron
– Jimmie Foxx
– Rogers Hornsby
– Willie Mays
– Honus Wagner

You might throw Frank Robinson in there too, some would want to talk about Roberto Clemente, but let’s stick with those five. I’m not going to rank those five extraordinary players, but you can see just the slightest drawbacks in each. Wagner played in a completely different time and so is tough to judge agains a modern prism. Hornsby also started during Deadball and was mostly done by 1930. Foxx is just a little bit closer to our time, but his career was very short. Aaron and Mays, there is nothing but great things to say about either, but it is true that Aaron’s on-base percentage was .374, Mays’ .384, and while those are high, they are not legendarily high. These are the slightest of things, but there’s always been a sense that there’s a small opening here, a slight chance for the perfect right-handed hitter to come along and take top spot.

The Greatest Left-Handed Hitter — with Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Barry Bonds wearing the yellow jerseys — is not really an open competition.

Frank Thomas seemed on pace to become the GRHE. Thomas, in his first 11 seasons (10 of them full seasons) hit .321/.440/.579, led the league in on-base percentage four times, slugging once, OPS+ three times and so on. But then, as we know, Thomas’ career fell off the way careers generally do after age 33. He battled injuries and inconsistency, he got a lot bigger, he only flashed his hitting brilliance occasionally. He was an all-time great, but he didn’t quite make it to the top floor.

Meanwhile Manny Ramirez was making his case. He was flaky and erratic and not always the world’s best teammate, but he really was a hitting genius, Legendary stories popped up about his hitting all the time — stories about how he would set up pitchers by swinging through their so-so curveballs during spring training or purposely work into a 3-2 count so the runner on first would be on the move when he crushed a double. Through age 34 he was slugging .600 with a 157 OPS+. But, Manny was a bit too dodgy to be the best right-handed hitter ever and then there was the positive PED tests and that was that.

Albert Pujols all but had the title when he was 31. At that point, he was hitting .328/.320/.617 with a 170 career OPS+ and three MVP awards (he probably deserved four or five). Pujols was ahead of the place of just about every meaningful record holder, lefty or righty. There seemed nothing that could slow him down. And then … he left St. Louis. He moved into a dreadful hitters ballpark and played for a wildly underachieving team. His body started to break down. Albert Pujols would have declined in St. Louis too .– maybe even at the same rate — but you do wonder if the story would have been a little bit different. All you can say for sure is that his pursuit of GRHE has slowed to a crawl.

And the man of the hour is Cabrera. The thing that blows you mind about Miggy as a hitter is that there is no concrete way to get him out. He crushes fastballs — two and four seamers — and you can’t throw a pitch hard enough to bother him. But he also crushes curveballs. He crushes sliders. He crushes change-ups. He crushes sinkers and he crushes cutters. Last year, by Fangraphs Pitch Values, he had positive values on EVERY ONE OF THOSE KINDS OF PITCHES. That just doesn’t happen. You could always at least try to change speeds against Pujols.

Look at this:

Values for Cabrera against each pitch:
Fastball: 2nd in American League behind Mike Trout.
Slider: 9th in American League.
Cutter: 1st in American League.
Curveball: 28th in American League.
Change-up: 6th in American League.
Split-finger: 26th in American League.

He was on the first page for every pitch they chart (except knuckleballs). And do you know why he ranked relatively low in curveball and split-finger? Because almost nobody throws those pitches to him. Nobody’s wants to throw soft stuff to Miguel Cabrera. He crushes that stuff. In 2010 and 2011, he finished Top 10 against the curveball.

They keep looking but just can’t find a consistent weakness in that swing. When Cabrera first came up with the Marlins, he was a bit of a free swinger and a high-strikeout guy. He struck out 148 times in his first full season, 125 times in his second. Now? Cabrera has not struck out even 100 times the last four years.

The last four years for Cabrera: .337/.425/.612 with a Triple Crown, two MVPs and a 177 OPS+.

The best four consecutive years for Pujols (2006-09): .335/.441/.637 with two MVPs and 179 OPS+.

The best four consecutive years for Foxx (1932-35): .350/.457/.687 with three home run titles and 195 OPS+.

The best four consecutive years for Mays (1962-65): .308/.386/.612 with three home run titles and 174 OPS+.

The best four consecutive years for Aaron (1959-962): .324/.381/.604 with battling title and 168 OPS+.

Yes, Miggy is in the race (we’ll leave Hornsby and Wagner out for now). Of course, what made Aaron and Mays so special was how long they performed at that extraordinary level. Aaron hit .300 with 40 homers at age 39, Mays was still hitting at 40. The recent contenders for GRHE all tended to drop off in their early 30s. We’ll see how Miggy ages. For now, he’s the best hitter in baseball.

70 thoughts on “No. 86: Miguel Cabrera

    1. jz

      He’s third on the MVP-shares-with-out-a-win list behind Eddie Murray and Mike Piazza, and ahead of Al Kaline, Derek Jeter, Mel Ott, Bill Terry, and David Ortiz.

      Reply
    2. johnq11

      Truth be told Manny Ramirez was a very overrated ballplayer. He was an atrocious fielder who couldn’t run and he was a slugger who benefitted from playing in one of the best offensive eras in baseball history. For all of his Hr and hitting prowess he only led the league in HR once and Rbi’s once and BA once. He’s a HOF but he’s nowhere as great a player as he’s remembered to be.

      He’s not even the best member of those Indians’ teams not to win an MVP. Thome, Lofton and Alomar were better players.

      Mel Ott is the best position player to never win an MVP.

      Then you have Eddie Mathews. Then Wade Boggs, Johnny Mize & Al Kaline.

      Then you have Arky Vaughn, Ron Santo, Luke Appling, Ozzie Smith, Adrian Beltre, Jim Thome, Al Simmons, Duke Snider, Bobby Grich, Sam Crawford, Paul Molitor, Alan Trammell and Derek Jeter.

      Then you have Lou Whitaker, Scott Rolen, Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, Graig Nettles, Kenny Lofton, and Tony Gwynn.

      Then you have Roberto Alomar, Goose Goslin, Andru Jones and Manny Ramirez.

      Reply
        1. johnq11

          Even if you just focus on offense and forget defense, he wasn’t the dominant player of his era, Bonds and A-Rod were head and shoulders above the rest.

          Even just offensively Manny’s peak period is 1997-2006 he’s in the top 4-5. There’s a lot of players who match up to Manny offensively during that time period: Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Vlad, Jim Thome. Carlos Delgado, Todd Helton, Bobby Abreu and Brian Giles aren’t far behind.

          Reply
          1. Kermit

            Yeah, I can’t dispute those guys put up numbers just as good or better than MannyBManny.

            They just had different approaches and demeanors which make their exploits a little less memorable.

            Sheffield swung with bad intentions.
            Vlad swung at everything.
            Jeter and Chipper played the game the All-American Right Way
            Giambi was mostly just sweaty.
            Abreu and Giles were steady and dull and totally forgettable.

            Manny, however, did it with swag.
            And he did it consistently on the big stage with a lifetime line of 285/394/544 in almost 500 postseason PA.

            As much as I loathed the Sox, his tenure with them was one of the best narratives of the 2000′s.

      1. rct11

        I disagree with most of this, but I’ll only pick out what point I find most egregious. I’m someone who loves Edgar Martinez and thinks he should be in the HoF, but there is no coherent argument for saying that he’s better than Manny. None.

        Defense: Edgar was an even worse fielder than Manny. The only reason Manny wasn’t DH-ing like Edgar is because David Ortiz was even worse. You can’t fault Manny’s defense while ignoring the fact that Edgar was so bad at defense that he couldn’t even play it at all.

        Offense:
        Edgar – .312/.418/.515, 147 OPS+, 514 2B, 313 HR, 1261 RBI, 66.4 oWAR, .204 ISO
        Manny – .312/.411/.585, 154 OPS+, 547 2B, 555 HR, 1831 RBI, 81.2 oWAR, .273 ISO

        This is just a cursory comparison. They’re nearly identical in average and OBP, but Manny blows him away in power numbers. HUGE disparity in SLG and ISO. Manny was far and away a better hitter, so your basic argument is that because Edgar was so bad at fielding (ie worse than Manny) that he had to DH, he was better than Manny?

        Reply
        1. johnq11

          As far as Edgar goes, remember he switched (1999) to one of the worst hitter’s parks in the American League (Safeco) while Manny went to one of the best hitter’s parks (Fenway). I think that explains some of the disparity in slugging percentage post 1999.

          Manny was the superior offensive player no question as displayed by your OWAR stat. But Manny’s fielding became so awful that he really should have been a full-time DH starting in 2003. Manny’s career DWAR was −22.5 which is just awful.

          If you compare their overall WAR numbers they’re very comparable with a slight edge to Edgar’s peak:

          Career WAR: Manny 69.1, Edgar 68.3
          Best 7 seasons: Manny 39.8, Edgar 43.5
          Jaws (Combined /2): Manny 54.5, Edgar 55.9

          I disagree with what Kermit brought up. I think Manny’s great talent was his consistent offense talent over a long period of time rather than a peak. I think he was actually underrated in Cleveland and overrated in Boston.

          If you take the time period from 1995-2009, Manny is one of the top 10 players in baseball.

          Offensively for his career Manny was outstanding as referenced by the OWAR stat. He ranks 31st all time in OWAR.

          But his DWAR is one of the worst in MLB history. It’s Adam Dunn, Frank Howard, Frank Thomas bad. There’s only 12 players in MLB history to have a negative −20 DWAR or worse and Manny is one of them. You actually have to be an amazing hitter to stay in the big leagues with that type of defense.

          Reply
          1. rct11

            A) Bringing up Fenway vs. Safeco is irrelevant. OPS+ and WAR include Park Factor in their calculation.
            B) Again, about Manny’s defense: he played with Ortiz, who was worse, and also played for the Dodgers, who are an NL team. You’re faulting him for having to take the field in relation to a guy who never had to take the field. Manny was a better player than Edgar. By your logic, had he been on a team that allowed him to DH full time, he would have been much better than Edgar. You’re penalizing him for not being the worst defender on his team.

          1. johnq11

            thegreatstoneface,

            You make an interesting point. I don’t really know about Edgar in the early 90′s because the Mariners were so rarely covered back then.

          2. Xao

            Edgar’s hamstring injury in ’93(?) basically prevented him from returning to the field. Prior to that he was a third baseman, indicating that his defense probably wasn’t that bad, though defensive metrics in those days were basically limited to errors, so it’s hard to tell.

            The other thing to consider is that because he played for an extraordinarily clueless organization (in the opinion of a Mariner fan who’s been watching them for 25 years), he didn’t get a starting job until 1990, when he was already 27 years old. I’m not saying that makes him better than Manny, because Manny was an amazing hitter, but I would have loved to see what Edgar might have done with an extra four years in the big leagues.

      2. Mark Daniel

        Manny overrated? I think he was properly rated. Awesome, awesome hitter. Terrible defender. A total flake. He is rated exactly as he should be.
        I recall back in ’06, the Yankees played the Red Sox in a 5 game series. The Yanks won all 5 as the Sox collapsed, but during that series the Yankees walked Manny 14 times (9 unintentional, 5 intentional). Despite this avoidance, Manny was still 8 for 11 with 2 HR and 2 doubles.

        Reply
        1. Chris M

          The Yankees won all 5? What, did they decide to play two exhibition games after they eliminated the Sox to stay fresh?

          Reply
          1. Ian R.

            I think Mark is talking about a five-game regular-season series, not a playoff series. In fact, he’d have to be, because with the postseason format at the time, the Yankees and Sox couldn’t play each other in the ALDS.

      3. Richard Aronson

        I look at your list, and you left off Eddie Murray and Mike Piazza. Piazza was the best hitting catcher of all time (and had a solid catcher’s ERA, so his weak arm didn’t hurt his pitchers) and Murray was superb for many years (but consistency isn’t worth as much as peaks and valleys for MVP and Cy Young awards). I have no objections to putting Ott on that list, and maybe Matthews and Boggs. But you have to have Piazza and Murray there as well.

        Reply
        1. johnq11

          Richard,

          I didn’t really look at peak value by itself or looked at a year when a player was robbed of an MVP award. I looked at career + peak value overall.

          This list is also about players with better career+ peak WAR better than Manny Ramirez.

          Valid points about Eddie Murray. Eddie Murray is more a career value type player. Valid points about Piazza. Piazza being a catcher is more about peak value. I used a combination of Peak + Career War so that’s why those two players didn’t make the list.

          Reply
  1. Guilherme

    What I’ll say is stupid, since Cabrera’s a two-time MVP, but can he be considered relatively underrated?

    People seem so eager to show how much Trout is better than Miggy, that almost everything about written about him has to have a Trout disclaimer. Maybe Trout is better, but it doesn’t mean Cabrera is one of the most amazing players we’ve ever seen.

    Reply
  2. largebill

    As far as whether Cabrera will claim the GRHE it really comes down to his decline phase. Or more accurately, how long he can maintain his peak and delay the decline phase.

    Reply
  3. Sam

    “he would set up pitchers by swinging through their so-so curveballs during spring training”
    I remember one year in Spring Training, probably 2007, Ollie Perez got consecutive strike outs on MannyBManny and Ortiz, and I thought “hey, the Mets might actually be decent this year, and Ollie might be the real thing”….stupid tricky Manny Ramirez.

    Reply
    1. 18thstreet

      I once heard Maddux never got a no-hitter because he was willing to set up batters in the same way, willing to give up a hit so that the batter would file away that information for later. Maddux’s theory was that batters didn’t remember what got them out, but they remembered their hits. I don’t know if that’s true, or if I’m even remembering the third-hand story correctly. But I think it’s awesome.

      Reply
      1. bellweather22

        There are lots of stories like this about Maddux. He definitely thought way ahead about ways to setup hitters. But some of it was mind games. By telling these stories himself he got hitters thinking a lot about how unpredictable Maddux could be. By injecting the thought that a hittable pitch might just be a setup for later, Maddux gained yet another advantage.

        The reason Maddux never had a no hitter, is that he was the ultimate pitch to contact pitcher. His idea of a perfect game was an 89 pitch, no walk, complete game. To throw a no hitter, generally speaking, you have to have more of a Ryan mentality of trying to make the batter miss every pitch. Every pitch is a war. Maddux was the polar opposite. Every at bat is a skirmish within a game long battle, but within the larger context of a season long war.

        Reply
    1. blahblahblah

      Probably worth discussing “deadball” hitter Rogers Hornsby too.
      We’ll be unfair to him and do five years, not four in a row.
      .402/,474/.690/1.164
      204 OPS+
      1 triple crown
      2 home run titles
      averaged 83 BB, 41 2b, 13 3b and 29 HR per year.
      Led the league in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS and OPS+ all five years. A clean sweep of the major stat categories every season.
      Led the league in total bases four out of the five seasons.

      You can talk best about lots of other things. You can talk peak vs prime.But at his best, no right handed hitter ever was a dangerous as the Rajah at his peak

      Reply
  4. johnq11

    I think it’s too early to rank Cabrera fairly.

    As of now he ranks 231st in career War. He’s in the Billy Herman, Jose Cruz, Vada Pinson, Jeff Kent, Tony Perez area right now.

    Reply
    1. Karyn

      Sure, but he’s only 30. If he stays off the sauce, there’s no reason he can’t be amazing for another two seasons, very good for three or four more, and productive for another five.

      Of course, this is a very loose projection, but: 7+7+5+5+5+5+4+4+3+3+2 = 50.

      Okay, that’s totally on the high side, but it’s not impossible. That would put him in the top 35. Heck, if he gets ‘only’ 30 more WAR, he’s close to the top 50 all time.

      Agreed with your overall point that it’s too soon to judge. This is why they wait five years to put a player on the ballot.

      Reply
      1. johnq11

        Oh, I agree with you. I think there’s a very good chance he’ll be a top 50 guy before he’s through. If you just look at offense or OWAR, he’ll probably be top 25.

        I can’t see how he ranks as one of top 100 overall players (including pitchers) in baseball history.

        I can’t remember who wrote it but there was a top 100 book written around 1980 or 1981 and I remember George Foster was listed as a top 100 guy. It seems crazy now but Foster was viewed as a basically a sure bet HOF around 1980-81.

        I’m not saying Cabrera is like Foster, no he’s much better than Foster but I’m just highlighting the problem or ranking a player too early.

        Reply
        1. bellweather22

          That must have been in Cincinnati. He had one great season and several good ones. He was always overshadowed by his more famous teammates, except maybe in his one big year. But, if what you say is true, that goes to the point that people tend to take the most recent season and try to extrapolate that year into a full career. A couple of commenters have done the same with Cabrera. Each season is it’s own. Nobody knows what age, injuries, personal issues or tougher competition might bring to the next season. Cabrera is passing his peak as we review his career and try to predict his trajectory. For all we know, he could fade and be out of baseball in two years….. Or continue to play at a high level into his late 30s and make himself a sure first ballot HOFer.

          But remember Dale Murphy? He was a sure HOFer after his second MVP. Then suddenly his production dropped dramatically…. And no soup for Murphy.

          Reply
          1. johnq11

            bellweather,

            It was a national book not just a local Cincinnati book. I think it was the Ritter and Honig book of the top 100 players of all time. There was also a top 100 baseball players book from a New York Daily News writer around that time as well.

            It’s hard to remember now but Foster was really a great player from 1975-1981. Then his career went off a cliff in 1982 when he went to the Mets.

            From ’75-81 he ranks 4th in WAR behind Schmidt, Brett and Carew. Joe Morgan was 5th.

            During that time period Foster led the N.L. in HR twice and finished in the top ten 7 consecutive seasons. He led in RBI 3 consecutive seasons and finished in the top ten 6 times. He led the league in slugging once and finished in the top three 5 times. He finished in the top three in Total Bases 4 times. And he was a pretty good fielder when he was playing for the Reds.

            Foster was the only player in the 1970′s to hit 50 HR. Actually he was the only player from 1962-1989 to hit 50+ HR in a season. There were only 20 instances of players hitting 40+ or more HR in a season and Foster did it twice.

            I think part of the problem was Foster got blocked in the outfield on the Giants and then on the Reds. As a consequence he didn’t become a full time player until he was 26.

            Yeah, Dale Murphy is similar to Foster. Murphy had a late start having staring out as a catcher then his career fell off a cliff at 32-33. I think Foster was more consistent then Murphy during his peak years. Murphy has some odd fluctuations in his fielding during his peak of the 80′s. Murphy probably should have been made a corner outfielder early in his career.

          2. mrgjg

            Foster was a big star in the late 70′s through the early 80′s. Then he went to the Mets and seemingly lost it over night.
            He did all the things that looked good on a stat sheet, a lot of HR, bucket loads of RBI, .300 BA.
            Also, speaking of hitting the ball hard, Pete Rose said about Foster that he hit the ball so hard that if they didn’t go over the wall they’d go through them.

  5. RPMcSweeney

    While I understand the impulse to exclude from contention players with either short peaks or steep declines, I wonder if this is the best way to go about determining who was the GRHE. I might begin by looking at a list of the best seasons posted by right-handed hitters and seeing whose name appears the most, or maybe weighting the average of the best seasons with the number of times a player posted those types of seasons (so that 3 180+ OPS seasons and 6 160+ seasons are equal, or something), etc. Players with longer careers or gentler declines might be more valuable overall, but is that what we’re looking for when it comes to GRHE? Sure, there needs to be some amount of longevity so that we exclude fluke seasons. But imagine a right-handed batter who strung together, say, 10 seasons the equal of Ted Williams’s best seasons, but because of a devastating injury his career only lasted 10 seasons. Would we say he was the GRHE? What if he played only 5 season? Is that enough evidence? Why does getting hurt or getting old diminish the “greatness”?

    Reply
  6. MtheL

    Joe – the list of GLHE is missing two of the greatest lefties of all time – Musial and Gehrig. Gehrig certainly deserves to be on the list – just imagine if he had not slowed down halfway through his 35 year old season when he was the best hitter in baseball. As to Musial, how could you leave off the guy who had the most hits, doubles, etc. in the NL when he retired, along with 475 homeruns?

    Reply
    1. Ian R.

      You can leave off Musial because he’s pretty clearly a step below Ruth, Williams and Bonds. Even if you discount Bonds for PED use, there’s those other two guys.

      Musial and Gehrig are absolutely some of the best guys in the second tier, but there’s a pretty clear divide between them and the top three.

      Reply
    2. Richard Aronson

      I love both Musial and Gehrig as typifying what you want a baseball star to be, far more so than Ruth or Williams or Bonds. But the numbers don’t lie. You can cut out Bonds because of steroids (which were legal when he was juicing, and plenty of ball players have taken plenty of drugs legal and illegal over the years to try and get an edge); without steroids he is not on this list. Personally, I pick Williams; he was one of the greatest hitting minds ever (read his book) and he lost years to two wars. I think Ruth was the better player, because of his pitching skills (which also reduced his times batting) and, when in shape, better defense. But I think Williams was the GLHE and it’s not close to anybody except Ruth (and maybe Bonds).

      Reply
      1. Alejo

        Sorry, but steroids were not legal during BBs time. They were illegal according to federal law, unless medically prescribed.

        Reply
  7. KTM

    Cabrera certainly deserves some consideration… I saw him live on July 5th in Cleveland. Tribe wasn’t in the hunt yet. He doubled in the 1st. then in the 4th, after Vmart hit a double, He crushed one over the fence in left. Of course, Prince Charming came up right after, and hit a moon shot to Right field. Tigers up 5-0, game over, Cleveland’s water pistols could not match them. They lost like 9-0. Next day, he hit one out. They won like 3-0. Then i returned to Progressive the 3rd day, and same script different score. He hit one out. Tribe rallied in the 9th, just not enough.

    Cabrera hit every pitcher, and just about every pitch they gave him. I’m surprised they don’t Intentionally walk him more. Cabrera and Miguel Ordonez’s stats against the Tribe read like MVP seasons. Cabrera has like 30+ HRS, .350, 95 RBi’s vs, Tribe… Ordonez is not far off of these either.

    It was Old time hat day on July 5th. Detroiter’s had come down in buses for the weekend, and had entered the stadium early (got all the hats). My buddy who is a Rangers fan, said “look there are more Tigers fans than tribe fans here” … that did appear to be true… Even the outfield Vendors were from Detroit.

    It’s interesting that there were more Tigers fans than home fans… Does any other city experience this ?

    Reply
    1. Gordon Hewetson

      I have heard the Yankee fans invade Baltimore whenever they play there. The ticket prices, seat availability and cost are very attractive compared to Yankee Stadium. Amtrak takes loads of fans from Times Square straight to the Camden Yards stop.

      Reply
    2. Which hunt?

      Denver does. Rockies games are almost always split down the middle when the Dodgers, Cardinals, Cubs, or Giants come to town, and when it’s interleague Red Sox or Yankees, fuhgetaboutit.

      Reply
      1. Which hunt?

        I’d be willing to guess the Diamondbacks and Padres suffer similarly. Cubs fans dominate Brewers fans in Milwaukee.

        Reply
    3. Jeff Harris

      It was the reverse in the 90′s when the Tigers sucked and the Indians were great. It sounded like a home game at old Tiger stadium when Cleveland came to town.

      Reply
  8. Marty McKee

    “stories about how he would set up pitchers by swinging through their so-so curveballs during spring training or purposely work into a 3-2 count so the runner on first would be on the move when he crushed a double”

    Is Manny really this clever? I never got the impression he was smart enough to outwit his opponents like this.

    Reply
    1. Ian R.

      Manny was also jacked; he intentionally wore baggy clothing to conceal his muscles. He had a reputation for being, shall we say, lackadaisical, but it’s well documented that he was a hitting fanatic who got to the ballpark early, put in extra hours in the batting cage and watched tons of video.

      He may have looked like a goofball in his public persona, but that’s divorced from his baseball expertise.

      Reply
    2. DjangoZ

      I agree.

      I think these kind of stories sound really neat, but are very unlikely to be true.

      However, “Manny took it easy during spring training”? Sure, that sounds right.

      Reply
    3. Karyn

      I think he was smarter than he let on. It’s not unlikely that he played up the spacey, flaky side of his personality–possibly to set everyone’s expectations a little low.

      Reply
  9. Zack

    Any shortlist of the top RH hitters needs to include Dimaggio. If you look at their home-away splits and home much Yankee Stadium hurt him, he was probably a better hitter than Jimmie Foxx.

    Reply
  10. Zack

    As a follow-up to my last post concerning Foxx vs. Dimaggio…

    Dimaggio career on the ROAD: .333/.405/.610, 1 HR per 16.2 AB, tOPS+ 86
    Foxx career on the ROAD: .307/.405/.561, 1 HR per 18.1 AB, tOPS+ 107

    Reply
  11. bellweather22

    Miggy is turning 31 in April. Joe talked about 29 being the age where the decline typically starts, but I’ve always heard that 31 is the magic age. So, Miggy will, I think start to move past the peak of his bell curve next year. It may, for him, look like .315, 35 HRs, so it would still look very good. But three years from now, it may look like .285, 25 HRs… still good, but not good for the money he’ll be making. And so it goes.

    I don’t think Cabrera is a good candidate for extended excellence like Mays, Aaron, Williams or Musial. He trends towards being heavy and 33 year olds tend to get heavier, not lighter. Heavier players start to break down, so I see injuries playing a part. Still, he could surprise me. I thought he was pretty fat his last year with the Marlins & saw him flaming out. But, he slimmed down some, appeared to get his drinking under control & so his immense talent has shown brightly. Maybe he’ll show up at spring training one year 15 lbs lighter and ready to kill. It could happen. I just see it being more likely that he’ll start the decline in the next year or two.

    We always see these stretches as somehow being endless. That next year it will continue, and then the year after that. But he’s had a great run already. For most players, even those at this level, father time catches up.

    Reply
  12. Rich

    My recollection is that Edgar Martinez was moved to DH because of injuries, not because he “was so bad at defense that he couldn’t even play it at all”.

    Reply
    1. adam

      It was sort of both. He had a major injury in the early 90′s (’93 maybe) that left him ridiculously slow and probably more susceptible to future injuries.

      You know who is at fault for Edgar not being in the hall of fame? The Seattle Mariners. They didn’t make him a regular until he hit his mid-late 20′s.

      Reply
  13. Cathead

    It’s interesting that Joe’s GRHE list does not include A-Rod. He’s not even in the subsequent discussion anywhere in the article. I wonder where he will show up on Joe’s list; or maybe he’s not even on it.

    Reply
    1. RPMcSweeney

      I had a somewhat similar thought, but checking his stats, ARod was great—but not quite as great as these guys. For example, his best season, by OPS+, would’ve only been Pujols’s 5th best season, while Pujols’s second worst season was better than ARod’s career average. ARod’s greatness (PEDs notwithstanding) comes from his very, very good hitting as a shortstop.

      Reply
  14. Weebey

    I guess it depends on what you are trying to answer, but I always took the GRHE and similar questions to be basically peak questions, not career ones. It is related to the points Joe made in the Santana/Halladay post: Frank Thomas was “Frank Thomas” for eight full seasons. Surely that is more than enough time for him to demonstrate how good a hitter he was. And, while it is closer than I thought it would be before I checked, Thomas at his best was probably a slightly better hitter than Mays or Aaron were at their best. So I think he certainly breaks into the discussion.

    Conspicuous in his absence: from 1992 to 2000 Mark McGwire hit 286/434/679 for a 188 OPS+. This is almost certainly the best sustained performance from a right handed hitter since integration (“best”, not most valuable, since McGwire missed a lot of time.) Yes, steroids, but it’s pretty clear Joe isn’t disqualifying people for roids.

    Without timelining, I don’t think anyone comes close to Hornsby.

    Reply
    1. Ross

      Agree that I think The Big Hurt is getting a little bit underrated in this discussion. He had the decline phase beginning in his early 30′s (exactly what should happen to someone who isn’t using steroids), but he still had a long and VERY high peak. For his first EIGHT seasons, his numbers were .330/.452/.600 and a 182 OPS+. The OPS+ is particularly impressive when thinking about the juiced era he played in and the fact that Frank was vocally anti-steroids even during his active playing career, a very rare thing.

      His best four-year stretch is hard to determine since he was so good consistently over that decade, but I’ll go with 1994-97 where he went .339/.463/.638 with a 186 OPS+. Those numbers are better than the four-year peaks listed above for both Cabrera and Pujols (and Aaron and Mays, but those guys are harder to compare directly).

      I also want to mention that while injuries took away a lot of games in his 30′s, Thomas finished 3rd in MVP voting in 1991 at age 23 and 4th in voting in 2006 at age 38 (obviously won it twice in between). Finishing top-5 15 years apart is pretty impressive.

      Reply
      1. Ross

        By comparison Hank Aaron is the model of productive longevity and he had the same length of time between his first and last top-5 MVP finishes (1956-1971).

        Reply
    2. Ian R.

      The thing is, where do you draw the line for a great peak? At its most extreme, one could argue that every right-handed hitter who ever hit a grand slam is in the discussion as the greatest of all time. After all, at his absolute peak, he was as good as a hitter can ever be. What does it matter that that peak was just one at-bat?

      A slightly less absurd example: Albert Belle was ridiculously good in 1995. He hit 50 homers and another 50 doubles, and he did it in a strike year. That’s a hell of a peak – is he the greatest RHH of all time?

      Sammy Sosa in 2001 had one of the 10 or so best offensive years ever for a right-handed hitter. Is he in the discussion for greatest RHH of all time? Heck, Mike Trout just tied for the sixth-best season for a RHH, by offensive WAR, ever. Too soon to start calling him the greatest of all time? (Sidenote: Three of the seasons ahead of him and one of the ones he tied with belong to Rogers Hornsby. Wow.)

      What constitutes a peak? Is it two years? Five years? Eight years? Even if it’s eight years, what do you do with Hank Aaron, whose peak was twice that long? Do you throw out half his career and declare that Frank Thomas was just as good?

      In my view, the greatest of all time is a player who can sustain that greatness year after year after year. Thomas may have been slightly better than Aaron at his best, but Aaron had the better offensive career.

      Reply
      1. Ross

        That’s why I’m not arguing against Aaron as being the greatest RHH ever. No other player has been as great as he was for that many years. He never had that one standout peak because he was one of the best players in the league every season from 1955-73. That’s a long time.

        Typically, a reasonable peak is considered to be the best seven-year stretch. I was responding to the four-year peak because that’s what Joe had listed above, but I think that’s much too short and many, many players have put together four straight great seasons. Certainly a great seven-year peak doesn’t make a player the best of all-time, but it helps to understand how a player could completely dominate for several seasons. For Aaron, you wouldn’t say he dominated any one stretch, but that he was a really great player for almost two full decades.

        My point is just that I think Thomas gets tossed aside too easily when making these comparisons, especially with Pujols and Cabrera. It’s really just a case of recency bias – Thomas’ decline phase is fresher in our minds than his first decade of dominance and Cabrera is dominating right now so he suddenly seems like the best ever. We’re not even three years removed from when everyone was convinced Pujols was the all-time great and he’s already getting knocked off the list.

        It’s hard to make the comparisons until careers are complete, but here are a couple:

        Cabrera (career to date, 11 seasons): 1660 games, .321/.399/.568, 154 OPS+, 1995 hits, 799 walks (2794 times on base), 365 HR, 412 2B, 1064 runs

        Thomas (first 11 seasons): 1530 games, .321/.440/.579, 169 OPS+, 1755 hits, 1188 walks (2943 times on base), 344 HR, 361 doubles, 1083 runs

        Pujols (first 11 seasons): 1705 games, .328/.420/.617, 170 OPS+, 2073 hits, 975 walks (3048 times on base), 445 HR, 455 doubles, 1291 runs

        Well, anyway, I guess Pujols is pretty darn good too. It was after the 11th season that both Thomas and Pujols began to deal with injury issues and started declining. We’ll see over the next few years how Cabrera hold up as he enters into his 30s. His main edge on Thomas to this point is actually his durability and he’s got some catching up to do before we should catapult him above Pujols on the all-time list.

        I’m saying this as a guy who loves all three players. I just think we should remember how dominant some of these guys were.

        Reply
  15. Herb Smith

    Probably my favorite Ken Tremendous put-down of a clueless sportswriter. This was 6 full years ago:
    From Kurt Streeter of the LA Times (who was discussing who the Angels should try to land i
    that off-season):
    “And please be leery of the Marlins’ cherubic Miguel Cabrera. The guy has a sweet swing, but he’s in danger of eating himself off the ball field and onto a fat farm. If you insist on signing him, put more weight incentives in his contract than a breakfast buffet has sausages.”

    KT: You know, one story got written about how the guy is heavier than he used to be, and now everyone just says “Stay away — he’s fat!”

    .320/.401/.565
    .326 EqA
    Consecutive seasons of above-150 OPS+: 3
    Age in human years: 24

    He can be as fat as he wants if he’s going to do that for my team. The man is 24. He’s not a great defensive 3B, but…he’s 24. Twenty-four years young. Here is his baseball-reference.com “Most Similar By Age” breakdown:

    21: Hank Aaron
    22: Hank Aaron
    23: Hank Aaron
    24: Hank Aaron

    Yeah. Stay away from that guy.

    Reply
  16. Alejo

    I don’t think Miggy will age gracefully. Hopefully he will but he is a heavy guy with troublesome knees.
    he is already a HoFer though.

    Reply
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