Cabrera taking his place among greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history

Rogers Hornsby, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Miguel Cabrera are among the best right-handed hitters in baseball history.

Rogers Hornsby, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Miguel Cabrera are among the best right-handed hitters in baseball history.

You’ll forgive us Tiger followers if we find ourselves at a loss for adjectives. Amazing, unbelievable, incredible, awesome: none of those words seem to be enough when trying to describe Miguel Cabrera, the best hitter in baseball. What Miggy is doing this season really does leave you speechless.

On Saturday, Cabrera hit a line drive home run into the right field corner in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Tigers a walk-off home run against the pesky Kansas City Royals. It was just the latest in a long string of key hits for the Tigers All-Star third baseman. Here’s a quick review of recent history:

On August 7 in Cleveland, Miggy belted a two-run homer in the 8th to turn a one-run deficit into a one-run lead. The Tigs won the game in extra-innings, part of a four-game sweep that spanked the Indians firmly into second place. Two nights later, on August 9, the Tigers were trailing the Yankees by two in the 9th when Cabrera came up to face Mariano Rivera, universally acclaimed as the greatest closer in history. After fouling not one – but two – pitches off his leg, and hobbling around like your Aunt Harriet after stepping in a mole hole, Miggy sent a Rivera pitch deep (and I mean DEEP) to straightaway center for a home run. As Rivera watched it sail out, he mouthed the word, “Wow.” The next day, Cabrera homered again, off Phil Hughes, giving the Tigs a 2-0 lead in a game they eventually won. On Sunday, in the finale against the Yankees, Cabrera met Rivera again in the 9th with the Tigers trailing, with the same result – a home run. It was the first time a batter had ever homered in consecutive at-bats against the heralded Yankee pitcher. In his very next at-bat, Cabrera homered again, off Chris Sale in Chicago, which gave him homers in four straight games. Two days later, with his team in a 3-0 hole, Cabrera blasted a three-run dinger off John Danks in the third inning to tie the game. Detroit went on to win the contest. He hit the walk-off on Saturday against the Royals, another in his first at-bat on Sunday, and followed that with a line drive RBI-single in the third inning as Detroit took three of five from the Royals, holding them at arm’s length in the AL Central.

After all of that (coming in just a 12-day stretch in August) have you thought of any appropriate adjectives? Don’t worry if you can’t, because we’re witnessing one of the greatest hitters and greatest seasons in baseball history. Amazingly, after winning a triple crown in 2012, Cabrera is topping it with an even better season. He’s going to easily win his third straight batting title, lead the league in RBIs too, and has a chance to reach 50 homers. Only Chris Davis of the Orioles stands in his way of an unprecedented second straight triple crown. It’s to the point now where we can start asking ourselves where Cabrera rates among the greatest hitters in the history of baseball.

Many of the very best hitters in baseball history were left-handed: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, and Stan Musial at the top of the list from that side of the plate. As great as Cabrera is, he will never reach the heights of The Bambino, The Kid, The Peach, The Iron Horse, or Stan the Man. But that’s nothing to be embarrassed about. But when we look at the greatest right-handed hitters in history, Miggy has vaulted himself into a very select group at the top of the heap.

Here’s a quick look at the 10 best right-handed hitters ever and how Cabrera compares:

Frank Thomas
A lumbering behemoth, Thomas had a lightning quick bat and great strike zone recognition. He was more of a pull hitter than Miggy, and he also was more selective, allowing borderline pitches to go by. But like Cabrera, Thomas could hit for average (he won a batting title), while also hitting home runs. “The Big Hurt” fell off dramatically in his 30s, so it will be interesting to see if Cabrera does the same. Overall, with Cabrera’s ability to go the opposite way, he has the edge over Thomas.

Joe DiMaggio
Cabrera’s home run on Sunday tied him with DiMaggio on the all-time home run list. Though the Yankee Clipper was a much better all around ballplayer, one who could roam center field, throw, and run the bases, Cabrera is still statistically very comparable as a hitter. DiMaggio never won a triple crown, but he did win all three categories (batting, home runs, RBI) in his career. Given that he missed three prime seasons to serve in World War II, I’ll give DiMaggio an edge over Cabrera.

Dick Allen
Probably one of the most forgotten and underrated sluggers in baseball history. Allen played during the 1960s and early 1970s, when offensive numbers were way down, so his career .292 average and .534 slugging look modest compared to other eras. But Allen was a monster, and in many ways he was similar to Cabrera in his ability to hit for average while still showing great power. Allen nearly won the triple crown in 1972 when he led the AL in homers and RBI and finished third in batting for the White Sox. Allen only had 11 prime seasons though and was pretty much done as a threat by the age of 33. Edge to Miggy.

Jimmie Foxx
One of the greatest hitters ever – period. Foxx won a triple crown and he led the league in lots of categories in the 1920s and 1930s. He was a real beast (that was his nickname). His career OPS+ (on base percentage plus slugging adjusted for the league and ballparks) is 163, the third highest among right-handed hitters. Cabrera isn’t quite in his class, unless he maintains his current pace for a few more seasons.

Frank Robinson
A really good all-around player who often gets forgotten, Robinson ranks among the top 20 players to ever play the game. His career OPS+ is 154, just a tick below Cabrera’s 155. Too early to tell if Cabby rates ahead of Robby.

Hank Greenberg
The big difference between Cabrera and Greenberg is the batting average. Greenberg hit .313 for his short career, while Cabrera is over .32o in an era where averages are lower than in Hammerin’ Hank’s time. Overall, given his ability to go to all fields, I give a slight edge to Cabrera.

Albert Pujols
For a decade, Pujols put up numbers that were eye-popping – 40 homers, 120 RBI, .320 average, 1.000 OPS year after year. For whatever reason, his numbers have dropped off a lot in his 30s, and it doesn’t look like Albert will ever be as Phat as he once was. His career OPS+ is at 165 in 2013, but that will dip a lot more the longer he plays. We’ll need to see more from Cabrera before we know if he can surpass what Pujols did.

Rogers Hornsby
About eight decades after he played his final game, Hornsby is still considered by many to be the greatest right-handed hitter in history. For good reason: he hit .358 for his career, won two triple crowns, captured a pair of home run titles, and was twice league MVP. Over a five year stretch he hit /402 while averaging 42 homers and 29 home runs a season. At the age of 30 he took on the role of player/manager and led the Cardinals to their first World Series title. He has a case for the title of greatest right-handed hitter ever.

Willie Mays
Mays at 156 and Aaron at 155 (in OPS+) are comparable numbers-wise to Cabrera. But style points also count, and Mays did everything with a flare. He won a batting title, won home run titles, hit 50+ homers, and he was great for a loooong time. Cabrera will need to put together 7-8 more years of  great production to be in the same class, but it’s possible. But that says more about how great Mays was than anything missing from Cabrera.

Hank Aaron
Is it possible that Cabrera is as good as Hank Aaron? Yes it is. The two share many traits. Both could pull the inside pitch as well as anyone. Both had very strong wrists. Both batters could cover the outside of the plate and go the other way with power. Both Aaron and Cabrera were overshadowed by other players for part of their careers (Aaron by Mays, and Cabrera by Pujols). Both players were also heroes in midwestern cities that were crazy about baseball. Aaron broke Ruth’s home run record almost as a postscript to his career – he was just so excellent for so long at hitting for power, but he was never considered a pure home run hitter, not like Mays or Mantle or McCovey. Cabrera hits his share of homers, but he scares the hell out of opposing pitchers not because he’s a slugger, but because he can hit almost any pitch somewhere for a base hit.

Once his career is done, Cabrera will rate somewhere in the middle or near the top of these 10 other great right-handed batters. Should he continue at his pace of 2012-13, there’s no reason he can’t challenge Aaron, DiMaggio, Foxx, Hornsby, Mays, and possibly Pujols among the very best.

Where do you think Miguel Cabrera rates among right-handed hitters all-time?

10 replies on “Cabrera taking his place among greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history

  • John B

    Miggy is deserving to be compared to some of the greats mentioned here, but he’s still got a long way to go (hopefully). I know Prince is good and is inked in a long term contract, but 3rd base is wearing Miggy down. Trade Prince to the Mets for David Wright and get the Mig Monster back on 1st.

  • Gary Steinke

    Good stuff for debate, and I don’t think there will ever come a time when everyone will agree that any one player is the best. Yankees fans will go with the Babe or DiMaggio, Braves fans will go with Aaron, Cardinal fans Hornsby, ect. Two years ago this Tiger fan would’ve picked Ty Cobb as the greatest player, but today I’m not even sure he’s the greatest Tiger. What Cabrera is doing is just amazing, and I’m thankful to be a Tiger fan living in the Detroit area, so I can see him play daily. The price of a ticket to get into Comerica Park is worth it just to watch Cabrera hit. John B says Cabrera has a long way to go, and I ask, a long way to go for what? If something were to happen to Cabrera (God forbid), and he couldn’t play another game he’d still go to the the HOF(a la Kirby Puckett). Baseball fans sit back and enjoy Cabrera, because players like him only come around every 30-40 years. To Tiger players…kick Cleveland ass this coming weekend!

  • Dan Holmes


    No doubt Miggy is a HOFer right now. I think he needs 5 more years of great play to be considered among the very great hitters like Aaron, Hornsby, etc.


  • Rick

    first let me say as usual Dan great job! Always enjoy reading your articles. However what no one has mentioned is how that idiot Leyland continues to play him while he is hurt. I know some of you will say he’s ok or it’s his choice but the reality is it IS Leyland’s responsibility to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself. I honestly thought that would be his dumbest move of the season but playing Victor at catcher over the weekend was completely insane! Does that idiot NOT know V Mart has bad knees? To risk him under the guise we may need him in a Nat League park is INSANE! My guess is he realizes the ONLY the Tig’s don’t win this year is if he screws it up. SO now he’s pushing his #4 and $5 hitters to the brink of breaking down so he will have an excuse when HE blows the championship! Like I have said in the past I hope I’m wrong as Mr I deserves a title but with Mr I know everything and it’s MY way I just don’t see it happening.

  • Dan Holmes

    I have been thinking the same thing about Cabrera’s injury. According to Mario and Rod on the broadcasts, the trainer says that Miggy can’t get hurt any more by playing through it, that it doesn’t impede his progress to recovery. So, there’s that.

    I don’t have a problem with VMart catching, in fact I’d like to see him catch 1-2 games per week. His knees aren’t THAT bad. He caught for a long time, and I don’t think catching a few games here and there is going to reduce his ability to hit or his longevity. Lord knows we need some offense from the catcher position. Also, he’s adequate defensively. Avila, in my opinion, is VASTLY overrated defensively, he’s always getting hurt, and he’s a mess at the plate.

    Maybe Leyland is playing Cabrera too much (I think he hurt Avila in 2011 when he played him for about 45 days straight). I am not a big Leyland supporter, but they seem poised to win their third straight division title, so I must begrudgingly admit that Smoky is doing something right.

  • J.D.

    If Cabby has ten more years of production comparable to his first ten, his stats would support a claim of BEST right handed hitter EVER. BUT, since he, Pujols and Thomas all played in the PED/HGH era, their accomplishments will always be SUSPECT to some. Perhaps that should not be the case since MANY of the pitchers they were facing were no doubt getting some “EXTRA ASSISTANCE”. So perhaps it’s a “wash” and all the great offensive performances of the PED/HGH era should not be scoffed at but taken literally!!!! That said, how can people arbitrarily ignore Barry Bonds accomplishments? To date, I consider Babe Ruth to be the greatest baseball player who ever lived not only because of his awesome offensive stats, but also because of his accomplishments on the mound.

  • Dan Holmes


    Good points about the PED era. Who knows who’s clean? I can’t blame anyone for being suspicious of everything.

    Babe Ruth, by the numbers at least, is the greatest player ever. But he was left-handed. Which right-handed hitter do you rate #1?


  • J.D.

    Dan: That’s a tough question. Sometimes I think people forget to differentiate between greatest hitter and greatest player (like in Cabby’s case, they refer to him as the current greatest player when I think they mean current greatest hitter). I guess I’d go with Hornsby, although I never saw him play. His stats are remarkable and I always thought that was the consensus. But was he a “hitter” or “player”? Mays and DiMaggio seem to fit the complete “player” mold. In any regard, I enjoyed your article and am sure that all of the candidates you mentioned are worthy of consideration. Can’t think of anyone you left out and comparisons like this are what make baseball great.

  • Nick

    Pujols has never been linked to drugs. That’s not to say he never did them, but until he’s linked to them, there is nothing suspect about what he did, and he had at least four seasons that were superior to Miguel’s 2013 season. To those who cite three consecutive batting titles – who cares? Batting average has been proven to be a pointless statistic. It doesn’t show whether the hitter has line drive or home run power, nor does it indicate on-base%.
    To Miguel’s credit, most people need to be put in their place about the old-timers. The pitching back then was never as good as it is today, and Miguel constantly has to face fresh relief or starters on five days rest, whereas players like Foxx, Hornsby, Dimmaggio, Ruth, Gehrig, etc. faced tired starters who pitched on 3~days rest, and completed games even when completely shot. …Let’s not forget the exclusive era that kept out HOF caliber African American players, resulting in a watered-down league.

    Cabrera is a damn good hitter, and has taken it up a notch the last few years. His durability is becoming an issue now, though, and he’s hitting his peak right now. For now, Pujols has the best decade of hitting for a RH hitter, and Hank Aaron still holds the best RH hitting career.

Comments are closed.