With 400th home run, Miguel Cabrera on pace to be one of all-time greats

Miguel Cabrera belted his 400th career home run on Saturday and is on pace to become one of baseball's all-time leaders
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Miguel Cabrera hit the 400th home run of his career on Saturday afternoon, a solo shot off the CardinalsTyler Lyons, in the top of the first inning at the new Busch Stadium. In doing so, he broke Andres Galarraga’s record for home runs by a Venezuelan player and, at 32 years and 28 days old, became the eighth-youngest player of any nationality to reach the 400 home run milestone.

Among the players who reached 400 home runs at a later age than Cabrera are the top four men on the all-time home run list and six of the eight men to reach 600 home runs in their careers: Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Jim Thome and Sammy Sosa. Meanwhile, of the seven men to reach 400 home runs faster than Cabrera, none finished their career with fewer than Jimmie Foxx’s 534. The obvious implication here is that Cabrera is a long way from his final resting place on the all-time home run list.

In his 11 full major league seasons, Cabrera has averaged 34 home runs a year. If he did that for just five more years, this one included, he would finish his age-36 season with 560 home runs, good for 15th all-time assuming Albert Pujols, currently at 526, surpasses that figure first. Given that Cabrera is currently on pace for 44 home runs this season, a total he reached in both 2012 and '13, that average of 34 doesn’t seem like a terribly unrealistic expectation. If he is able to reach 560 by the end of his age-36 season, averaging just 20 per year in his age 37 and 38 seasons would put him at 600. Given that Cabrera is signed through his age-40 season with vesting options for his age-41 and -42 seasons, he seems like an extremely good bet to at least reach that milestone before he’s finished.

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Using Bill James’s “favorite toy” formula, which calculates the chance of a player reaching a particular statistical milestone, Cabrera is a lock to reach 500 home runs, has a 33% chance of reaching 600, a 5% chance of reaching 700 and no chance of besting Bonds’s all-time record of 762. To put that in context, according to James’s method, Pujols, 35 years old with 526 home runs, only has a 50% chance of reaching 600, while Cabrera has a better chance of reaching 700 home runs than either Pujols or Alex Rodriguez, the latter of whom who already has 663.

Players can decline quickly in their mid-to-late 30s, and Cabrera, a slow, big-bodied player who has had surgery on the lower-half of his body in each of the last two off-seasons, could very well experience a sharp decline in the coming seasons. Still, barring a catastrophic injury, it would be very surprising to see his final home run total fall short of 600, and not just because his current contract is guaranteed through the age of 40.

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Cabrera is, quite simply, one off the best hitters in major league history. His career 154 OPS+ entering Saturday’s action is tied with those of Frank Robinson, Manny Ramirez and Joey Votto for 25th all-time among hitters with 3,000 or more plate appearances. Robinson is an inner-circle Hall of Famer. Ramirez would have been had he not tainted his career through the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Votto, meanwhile, is a good illustration of just how great Cabrera has been thus far in his career. Cabrera is less than five months older than Votto, but made his major league debut more than four years earlier and has thus far made 89% more plate appearances in his career than Votto, who has hit less than half as many home runs (170 to be exact). As great as Votto has been when healthy, there’s no real comparison between the two players’ careers.

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Since Cabrera made his debut in June 2003, only Pujols (163) and Votto have equaled or bettered Cabrera’s OPS+ among hitters with 3,000 or more plate appearances over that span, and only Pujols and Adrian Beltre have accumulated more wins above replacement (per Baseball-Reference.com) than Carbrera’s 61.3. Only Ichiro Suzuki has collected more than Cabrera’s 2,230 hits since June 2003, and not even Suzuki has bettered Cabrera’s major league leading .320 career batting average among hitters with 3,000 or more PA over that span.

Speaking of Cabrera’s career hit total, using James’s favorite toy, Cabrera is not only a lock for 500 home runs, but has a 71% chance of reaching 3,000 hits in his career. That’s a better chance than Pujols, who has a 318-hit lead on him. The list of hitters with 500 home runs and 3,000 hits in their career is currently just four names long: Aaron, Mays, Eddie Murray and Rafael Palmeiro. Rodriguez should join that group later this year (he needs just 31 more hits). Pujols should get there eventually, and Adrian Beltre—who is 36, has 2,641 career hits and hit his 400th home run on Thursday—has a shot as well. Still, at worst Cabrera should be the eighth man in major league history to achieve both milestones.

In terms of pure, all-around hitting ability and year-in, year-out consistency, the only contemporary hitter who can be fairly compared to Cabrera is Pujols. Pujols, one of the seven players to reach 400 home runs at a younger age than Cabrera, has clearly been the better player over the course of his career, but that is no more a slight to Cabrera than it was a slight to Lou Gehrig that he wasn’t as good as Babe Ruth. Having a superior contemporary doesn’t diminish Cabrera’s status as an all-time great. As impressive as it is that Cabrera has already reached 400 home runs, his ultimate impact on the game’s record book will make that total seem insignificant before he’s done.