Statistical breakdown reveals similarities between greats
By Roger Schlueter
Of all the players in MLB history, there is only one -- Hank Aaron -- who resides in the all-time top 10 in all of the following categories: runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, total bases and extra-base hits. Aaron, who turns 82 years old today, resides even closer to the top in most of these selected departments: fourth in runs; third in hits; second in home runs; and lifetime leads in RBIs, total bases and extra-base hits.
To many, Aaron's accomplishments seem unapproachable, but there is one active player who has been matching strides with Hammerin' Hank in a number of columns: Miguel Cabrera.
For example, the conclusion of Cabrera's age-30 season (in 2013, when he garnered his second straight American League MVP Award) saw him ahead of Aaron's production (through his age-30 season) in doubles and RBIs, and not too far off in hits (behind by 90), extra-base hits (trailing by five), runs (trailing by 116), total bases (behind by 162) and home runs (behind by only one). Like Aaron, Cabrera had begun as a 20-year-old. Like Aaron, Cabrera had cruised along at an impressively high altitude, seemingly immune to precipitous dips or even unbalancing updrafts. And like Aaron, Cabrera had been notably healthy, averaging 157 games per season from 2004-13. But in order to maintain this parallel path, one cannot really take a break, for Aaron remains perhaps baseball's greatest metronome, shrugging off the advancing years to issue the same exceptional line season after season.
Cabrera's 2015 campaign represented a stumble in this comparative exercise. He played in fewer than 148 contests (119) for the first time since his rookie season (when he debuted in his team's 75th game of the year), and as a result saw his counting stats sag. And when a player does that even for one year, a comparison against Aaron will suffer for it. Let's take a look at how Cabrera and Aaron now match, through each player's age-32 season.
All told then, the past couple of seasons haven't done that much to change the counting stat mirror imagery authored between these two all-time greats. It's still remarkable to state: Cabrera is holding his own with, and sometimes surpassing, the only player to be in the top 10 in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, extra-base hits and total bases.
Cabrera's mark on the game -- his current narrative position and potential endpoint -- commands strong attention even when Aaron's magnetic pull is removed from the compass. Not surprisingly, those two -- Cabrera and the man who turned 82 on Friday -- are surrounded by names that dazzle. Among all players in history through their respective age-32 seasons, Cabrera ranks:
• 31st in runs, between Robin Yount and Roberto Alomar (who also celebrates a birthday on Feb. 5).
• Eighth in hits (Aaron is third; both are ahead of Pete Rose, who is 26th).
• 12th in home runs (Aaron is eighth; between those two lie Frank Robinson, Babe Ruth and Mel Ott).
• Fifth in RBIs (the top four: Jimmie Foxx, Alex Rodriguez, Lou Gehrig and Ott).
• Sixth in extra-base hits (the top-five: Foxx, Rodriguez, Pujols, Gehrig and Aaron).
• Sixth in total bases (the top-five: Rodriguez, Foxx, Aaron, Pujols and Ott).
When Aaron completed his final season in 1976, he ranked first or second all-time in runs, hits, homers, RBIs, total bases and extra-base hits, and held the sixth-place slot in doubles. Cabrera's final place in these categories remains unknown; to continue his dance with Aaron's statistical legacy, there's a lot of compiling left to do. We'll check back in a year.
Roger Schlueter is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.