Thursday, April 18, 2013
Greatness of Cabrera, Mauer and Kershaw
By Jayson Stark
Do we take greatness for granted? Sometimes, I think we do. Here are three men in this game who are so good, we need to stop and appreciate what we're watching -- especially because two of them are birthday boys:
Strike one: Miggy turns 30
Miguel Cabrera will celebrate birthday No. 30 on Thursday, as my friend, John Lowe, of the Detroit Free Press, reminds us. Wow. 'Bout time, huh?
I know the guy has won an MVP award, already racked up six top-five MVP finishes, made seven All-Star teams and won a Triple Crown. But has it really sunk in, for most of us, how incredible a hitter Miguel Cabrera has been at such a young age?
Miguel Cabrera is going for a third consecutive AL batting title.
John Lowe compares Miggy to Hank Aaron at the same age. Excellent company. But here's what's even more special:
Very, very, very few hitters who ever lived are in that company.
You want the complete list of hitters who had 300-plus homers and a slash line as good as Cabrera's (.318/.395/.560) on the day they exited their 20s? Here it comes:
Aaron (thanks to a .375 OBP) was actually a just-miss. So were Mel Ott (.315 AVG), Vlad Guerrero (.390 OBP) and some dude named Babe Ruth (284 HR). Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Alex Rodriguez were just beyond that pack. But you get the idea.
We're not just talking about good players. Or very good players. We're talking about iconic players. And Miguel Cabrera is one of them. More on Miggy:
• He's one of only 11 players who ever lived who hit this many homers before turning 30. The others: A-Rod, Ken Griffey Jr., Foxx, Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Pujols, Ott, Aaron and (of course) Andruw Jones.
• His 725 extra-base hits are the eighth most all time before age 30. The seven players ahead of him: A-Rod, Foxx, Griffey, Aaron, Pujols, Ott and Lou Gehrig.
• He's one of just six men in history with 1,800 hits and an average this high on the day he turned 30. The others: Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Aaron, Foxx and Joe Medwick.
• And he's one of only five players in history with 1,800 hits and an OPS this high (.955) on the day he turned 30. The others: Ott, Hornsby, A-Rod and Foxx.
I don't know where Miguel Cabrera is headed in his 30s and beyond. But if he's headed for statistical plateaus anywhere near where the other men on those lists wound up, we know one place he's headed:
Strike two: Mauer power
Speaking of birthday boys ... somewhere along the line, Joe Mauer (who turns 30 on Friday) seems like a guy who has mysteriously faded off most people's radar screens -- or, at least, off their list of the best hitters alive.
But he's reminding us these days that if you're one of those folks who decided he was a bust, based on one sub-Mauer-esque season at Target Field a couple of years back, it's time to take another look.
The Twins' sweet-swinging catcher has just finished ripping off back-to-back four-hit games this week. Here's some stuff you might want to know about that -- and about him:
• Only 10 other catchers in the past 75 years have had back-to-back four-hit games. Just 18 other catchers have done it in the live ball era. Here's the difference between Joe Mauer and all the rest of them: He's the only one who has done that twice. (He also did it on June 26-27, 2006.)
• Among the catchers who never had back-to-back four-hit games: Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Mike Piazza, Bill Dickey, Gary Carter, Gabby Hartnett or Mickey Cochrane. All but Piazza are Hall of Famers, by the way.
• Mauer hasn't played a single game in his 30s yet. But he already has more games (19) with four hits or more in his young career than Bench (12), Berra (14), Carlton Fisk (14), Jorge Posada (17) and all but eight catchers in the live ball era had in their entire careers.
• Just for future reference, in case Mauer can get four more hits Friday, you should know that only one American Leaguer in the past 60 seasons has ripped off three straight games with four or more hits. That was Tim Salmon, on May 10-13, 1994.
• Oh, and one more thing. Just to remind you of what an aberration Mauer's 2011 season was, since Opening Day 2012, he leads the American League (and, for that matter, all hitters not named Joey Votto) in on-base percentage (.416). And the only AL hitter with a higher batting average than him (.326) in that span is -- who else? -- Miguel Cabrera (.329).
So it's safe to say Joe Mauer didn't just remember how to hit again on Monday at 7 p.m. Recalibrate your radar screens. OK?
Strike three: K for Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw struck out the 1,000th hitter of his career Wednesday night. He's 25 years old. He's younger than Colin Kaepernick, friends. Heck, he's younger than Snooki.
So how rare is it to reach 1,000 whiffs this fast? This rare:
Clayton Kershaw has topped 200 strikeouts in each of the past three seasons.
• Only 15 other pitchers in the history of baseball got to 1,000 strikeouts before they celebrated their 26th birthday. Just one of them is an active pitcher. That would be Felix Hernandez.
• Besides those two, just four others have reached 1,000 K's that young in the division-play era: Dwight Gooden, Fernando Valenzuela, Bert Blyleven and Frank Tanana. Fun list.
• But now here's where this gets good: Of all the pitchers in history who reached 1,000 punchouts by age 25, only one did it in fewer trips to the mound than Kershaw (155). That was Gooden, who made it in only 145 appearances.
• And now, finally, let's take age out of this equation. In the history of baseball, just six pitchers have ever reached 1,000 strikeouts in fewer games than Clayton Kershaw. It's an excellent group:
That would mean, of course, that Nolan Ryan, Justin Verlander, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Pedro Martinez, Bob Feller, Walter Johnson and, well, pretty much the entire rest of the planet didn't rack up those whiffs the way Clayton Kershaw has, right out of the gate in his young career.
So does this guy's last name start with the right letter, or what?