Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Miguel Cabrera: AL's Answer to Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols is an elite offensive performer, a hitting robot who's track record of consistent excellence  has earned him his nickname as "The Machine." This winter he's due for a massive paycheck, and as long as he's not substantially older than he claims to be he should be worth every penny for the team (probably the Cardinals) that lands him.

And while he's arguably one of the best hitters of all time, I would argue that Miguel Cabrera, who's been an absolute monster since his first full season in 2004, has been his equal at the dish over the past three seasons, over which his .332/.421/.598 line is actually better than Prince Albert's .313/.409/.583.  Pujols has a significant edge in home runs, but in every other department Cabrera is just as good if not better.  And even though Cabrera has been plagued by off-the-field issues they don't interfere with his coming to the park everyday; he's averaged 158 games played since 2004 with a low of 150 over that span, a number still higher than Pujols' game played totals in 2006, 2008, and 2011.

Some interesting parallels for their careers:

-They are dominant righthanded sluggers in the same mold as Manny Ramirez (high batting average, excellent plate discipline, plenty of power, and they pile up RBI and runs)

-Pujols plays in the NL Central and Cabrera plays in the AL Central, both in parks that are better for pitchers than hitters

-They both enjoyed good rookie seasons; Pujols won the NL Rookie of the Year, was selected to the All-Star team, finished fourth in the MVP race and won a Silver Slugger while Cabrera, despite playing only 87 games (full season numbers project to 39 doubles, 22 homers and 115 ribbies), finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year race and earned some MVP consideration for helping push the Marlins into the postseason, where Josh Beckett stifled the Yankees and locked up Florida's second World Series title in seven seasons.  Apparently Chicago Cubs fans are still bitter about this

-At one point or another, both have played in left field and at the hot corner before finally settling down as slugging first basemen.  They have won a Silver Slugger at each position.

-Five times Cabrera has finished in the top five of the MVP vote without walking away with the trophy. Pujols has suffered this pain in six different offseasons,, although four of them followed superlative years from Barry Bonds.

-They both hit well in October, are World Series champs, ground into a lot of double plays (at least a dozen per season for each of them), don't get hit by many pitches (aren't pitchers challenging them inside?) and earn their fair share of intentional walks

-Beginning in 2004 both have eclipsed 30 big flies and 300 total bases every year

-In 2009 they earned almost identical salaries of approximately $14,400,000

-They have led their leagues in doubles, RBI and batting average once (this shocks me)

The major difference is that Pujols, a three-time NL Most Valuable Player, is much more of a complete player than Cabrera, who is still in search of his first MVP award.  Although Phat Albert doesn't possess blazing speed, he knows when to pick his spots and has become an effective and efficient basestealer.  Beginning with his first MVP campaign in 2005 he's averaged ten steals per year (nabbing fourteen or more three times) with a 76 percent success rate.  Cabrera, on the other hand, has never reached double digits in the steals department (he fell one short in 2006) and has only 29 career thefts, or one-third of Pujols' total. 

On defense, Pujols is a also plus defender.  He's worked hard to improve his D and it's paid off; baseball-reference says he's been worth 11.3 dWAR in the field, meaning he provides an extra win with his glove every year, and he's been recognized with a pair of Gold Gloves.  He's certainly on par with other slick fielding first basemen such as Mark Teixeira and Adrian Gonzalez.  Cabrera is not nearly as athletic or agile around the bag, and his -5.4 career dWAR (he's been below zero every year of his career) indicates that he's more of a liabilty with the mitt.  He'll probably never win a Gold Glove, and if Victor Martinez wasn't the full-time DH in Detroit, Cabrera would be the perfect man for the job.

So even though Cabrera has been significantly less valuable than Pujols--his 39.7 bWAR since 2004 pale in comparison to Pujols' gaudy total of 65.1--in 2010 and 2011 Miggy earned nearly 50 percent more in wages than his NL counterpart.  I guarantee you won't be able to say the same thing in 2012.

So does Miguel Cabrera=Albert Pujols? Of course not, but offensively it's pretty darn close.

And that's quite an accomplishment.


  1. My vote for the two would be the Machine, but Miguel is undeniable. Now that Miggy has a triple crown and two straight MVPs, the two's resumes are even more comparable than ever. With Pujols now past 500 blasts and Miguel knocking doubles at a near-record pace, all I can do is wish many more years of slugging for the two sluggers.

    1. Agreed. Pujols>Cabrera and its really not close. A better hitter and much better all-around player. People forget that before the lower body injuries hampered his speed, Pujols was a Gold Glover at first (twice) and was capable of double digit steals. He's stolen nearly 100 in his career and rarely gets caught when he does steal now (22 for his last 26).