In 2012, Miguel Cabrera won the American League MVP, achieved the Triple Crown and bashed a career-high 44 home runs.
Albert Pujols, meanwhile, did none of those things.
Pujols, in fact, struggled so mightily in the early going of his inaugural season with the Angels—his triple-slash stats were an ugly .194/.237/.269 and he had zero homers before hitting his first four-bagger on May 6—that many were questioning just how much he had left.
Basically, if last year was the apex of Cabrera's career so far, it was also Pujols' nadir.
So which of these two hitters—two all-time greats who already are Hall of Famers—will wind up with more career home runs? Given the apparent stock up/stock down situation, it's worth pondering.
Let's start with this: Pujols currently has 477 career homers, while Cabrera has 323 (through Wednesday's games).
According to the back of this napkin, that means Cabrera is 154 home runs behind Pujols, which gives Big Al a pretty big head start. But just how big?
While we could explore all sorts of aspects, like park factors for the Tigers and Angels or average home run distance trends for Cabrera and Pujols, this "competition" comes down to two things: performance to date and age.
Think of it like this: Starting with this year, even if Cabrera were to duplicate his four best seasons of home run output so far (44 in 2012, 38 in 2010, 37 in 2008, 34 in 2007), that accounts for 153 long balls—which would still leave Cabrera one shy of Pujols' current total.
In other words, even if Pujols retired, like, yesterday, Cabrera would need to do better than his four best single-season homer campaigns in order to catch Pujols before the end of—wait for it—2016.
If that sounds challenging enough, it is. But then we also have to factor in age.
Just so happens, Thursday is Cabrera's 30th birthday, which means two things. First, happy three-oh, Miguel! But second, while Cabrera is only three years behind Pujols (who turned 33 on Jan. 16) in age, he's also already four Cabrera-best seasons behind Pujols in home run production, as we've established.
In other words, to catch Pujols, Cabrera not only needs to be at his most powerful going forward, he also needs to make up about an entire year's worth of yard work somewhere along the line, because while Pujols had 475 home runs at the end of his age-32 season last year, Cabrera will finish his age-32 season in 2015—not 2016, which is the year we mentioned above.
Put another way? Before turning 30, Pujols had 366 home runs. Before Cabrera turned 30 on Thursday, he'd hit 323. That puts Miggy 43 homers behind Pujols' pace—a number Cabrera has reached only once (2012) to this point in his career.
None of this is to say that Cabrera can't catch Pujols when all is said and done, just that he almost certainly won't. Now that Cabrera is 30, it's only going to get tougher. To wit, only 21 players have hit 30-plus homers in a season at least five times after turning 30 in the history of baseball.
If Cabrera is going to surpass Pujols, he's going to have to be the 22nd, and he's going to have to make more than a few of those seasons of the 40-homer variety. Essentially, Cabrera is going to have to make up for the disparity early in their careers—Pujols out-homered Cabrera 201 to 138 in their first five seasons in the majors—by hitting more homers at the end of his.
After all, Albert still has nine years left on his Angels contract to continue hitting homers, so it's not like he's retiring anytime soon to make things easier for Miggy.
All stats come from Baseball Reference, except when otherwise indicated.
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