September 24, 2017

Pujols or Miggy?

June 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Sometimes in baseball, we don’t fully appreciate how genuinely great a player’s career is until it’s over, until we get to look at the breadth of their statistics as a whole, all the accolades they accumulated, all the highlights they left behind. Sometimes in baseball, we don’t know what we have until it’s gone.

Fortunately, with Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, that isn’t the case. With these larger-than-life hitting machines, we know we’re watching two of the greatest of all time. Every time they step to the plate, we know we might see something we’ll be proud to tell our grandkids we witnessed. Both Pujols’ sweet, smooth, mechanically brilliant swing, and Miggy’s violent, powerful, thunderous hack produce results that help them steadily climb the ladder of the great right-handed hitters in history.

Albert is mere days away from becoming the ninth member of the 600 home run club, and Cabrera may very well be a member of the 500 fraternity a year from now. Barring serious injury, both players should finish with well above 3,000 career hits. Pujols is a three-time National League MVP (finishing second in the voting four additional times), while Cabrera was American League MVP back-to-back in 2012-2013 and finished in the top five another five other times. Pujols is a six-time Silver Slugger; Cabrera has seven. Pujols is a two-time Gold Glover at first. Cabrera became the first man since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to win the elusive Triple Crown. Both Pujols and Cabrera are surefire locks for Cooperstown.

Pujols is reaching the twilight of his career and, hobbled by recurring foot injuries, is approaching the end of the trail. Miggy is still a hitting machine, but at 34, regression is likely to occur soon. So…when it’s all said and done…which of the two generational talents will be remembered as the better player?

 

Let’s examine their 162 game averages according to baseball-reference.com:

Pujols: .308/.391/.569, .960 OPS, 155 OPS+, 611 AB, 111 R, 188 H, 40 2B, 39 HR, 122 RBI, 7-10 SB, 80 BB, 71 SO

Cabrera: .320/.398/.559, .958 OPS, 154 OPS+, 607 AB, 101 R, 194 H, 40 2B, 34 HR, 120 RBI, 3-5 SB, 78 BB, 118 SO

 

As the stats show, the two outstanding sluggers are remarkably similar. To attempt to differentiate the two based on their 162 game averages would be criminal. Therefore, let’s cross that line and dive a little deeper.

Pujols won a batting crown in 2003 with a .359 average and placed in the top ten in batting average on ten occasions. Cabrera has won four batting crowns and placed in the top ten in batting average eleven times. Pujols is first in Runs Created amongst active players, and 17th all time (2,049). Cabrera is second among active players and 46th all time (1,742). Pujols’ career Win Probability Added of 74.4 is good for first among active players and seventh all time; Cabrera’s 60.3 WPA makes him second in active players and 16th all time. Pujols has been in the top 10 in baseball in Wins Above Replacement eight separate occasions, including four seasons in a row (2006-2009). His career WAR of 100.9 ranks first among active players and 30th all-time, in between Hall-of-Famers Christy Mathewson and Joe Morgan. Cabrera, three years younger, has played two fewer seasons. He has never had the base running intellect of Pujols and, while a decent enough outfielder and first baseman, was poor defensively at third during the 2012-2013 seasons. Despite this, he has accumulated four seasons in the top 10 in WAR and has a career WAR of 69.5 good for fourth among active players and 104th all time, between Hall-of-Famers Gary Carter and John Smoltz.

Pujols was the best player on two World Series championship teams. Benefitting from being a member of one of baseball’s historically great franchises, he has a terrific postseason track record. He’s been to the postseason on eight occasions and is a career .323/.431/.599 hitter with 19 homers and 54 RBI in October. In the 2011 World Series, he hit three home runs against the Rangers joining the Babe and Mr. October as the only players to do so.

Cabrera won one World Series championship in his first season with the Florida Marlins. Unfortunately, his teams have not had the consistency of Cardinal teams, and he didn’t return to the postseason until 2011. Still, he’s managed to rack up an outstanding 13 homers and 38 RBI with a solid, if not spectacular, slash line of .278/.368/.517.

Cabrera has more All-Star appearances and Silver Slugger awards than Pujols, and his lead in both categories is likely to increase since they play the same position in the same league. Cabrera became the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown. Cabrera has been a better and more consistent contact hitter for longer than Pujols, who has been just a .269 hitter since 2011. Cabrera is likely to make the postseason again in his career considering the general weakness of the AL Central, while Pujols’ is unlikely to make the postseason again before his retirement while playing for the lowly Angels.

When it’s all said and done, Pujols should be remembered as the better player. While team success isn’t the best way to measure a players’ personal merit, he was the best player on one of the best and most consistent teams from 2001-2011. He has hit 40 or more homers seven times, leading the league in 2009 and 2010. He has driven in 100 or more runs an incredible 13 times, leading all of baseball in 2010. He started his career of with ten straight seasons of a .300 average, 30+ bombs, and 100+ RBI. During his prime, he was one of the best defensive first baseman in baseball and a cerebral, underrated base runner. He has a legitimate chance to reach 700 career homers in addition to being a virtual lock for 3,000+ hits and 2,000+ career RBI. Hank Aaron is the only other person in history to do so. And he is one of only 10 players in baseball history to win three or more MVPs.

The similarities between these two all-time-greats are extraordinary. Pujols, at the age of 37, is slowing down even though his power and run-producing abilities are still there. Cabrera is 33 years old and is showing no sign of slowing down at the plate. There’s no doubt we’re watching two of the greatest hitters of all time, living legends who take the field every night. When he decides to hang up his spikes, Cabrera will be remembered as one of the most feared and productive hitters ever. Pujols will be remembered as one of the most feared and productive baseball players ever.

 

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference as of 6/1/17

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