Years from now, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera will be remembered as the two best hitters of their generation. It would be comparable of past debates about Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays, Ted Williams and Stan Musial, and Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx. Both Pujols and Cabrera have won an MVP, batting title, multiple home run crowns, and a World Series. The past couple of seasons, Cabrera has clearly been the better hitter. When talking about careers and how to project in the future, it gets a little more interesting.
Career Numbers of Pujols and Cabrera
AVG OBP SLG R H 2B HR RBI TB
Pujols .321 .410 .599 1418 2330 523 488 1485 4347
Cabrera .321 .398 .568 1028 1927 406 349 1213 3408
Right now, Pujols has the edge in career numbers, but he has also played two and a half more seasons. Pujols debuted at age 21 with the Cardinals in 2001 and Cabrera debuted with the Marlins at age 20 in mid-2003. Cabrera isn't far behind in many statistics, but Pujols has a big edge in career home runs. Pujols has a 139 home run advantage and it will be hard for Cabrera to catch up. It's certainly not impossible, but Pujols has 8 seasons left on his megadeal with the Angels. Cabrera does have the advantage of being 3 years younger and without the lingering injuries Pujols deals with. Pujols play has been in decline, and one has to wonder if the injuries(plantar fasciitis in left foot, bad right knee, elbow problems) have finally taken its toll on him.
Cabrera flew under the radar when he played for the Marlins, who don't have much of a fan base. He won a World Series his rookie year, but has yet to win another. He did return to the World Series last season, but the Tigers were swept. Pujols won the World Series in his sixth season in 2006 and again in 2011, his final season with the Cardinals. In the 00's, Pujols was universally seen as the better player among the two. Cabrera was almost as steady and productive, but not quite as good. He also dealt with some drinking problems when he was younger. Cabrera has grown up since he first was traded to the Tigers from the Marlins. Since the beginning of 2010, there is no doubt that Cabrera has been the superior player.
Cabrera/Pujols from 2010-present
AVG OBP SLG R H 2B HR RBI TB
Pujols .290 .366 .617 347 613 136 122 373 1117
Cabrera .340 .426 .529 398 707 153 140 460 1284
Pujols decline has been more pronounced since he joined the Angels prior to the 2012 season, but his numbers were falling off his last season in St. Louis. Then, some thought the contract situation was the problem just as last year's struggles could of been blamed on adapting to a new league. This year, it's obvious he is declining, but injuries could have a role in that. I don't think Pujols has declined to a .240 hitter this soon, at age 33. Cabrera has been on the rise as Pujols has been on the fall. He has taken it to a different level the last few seasons. Cabrera has a .340 average since 2010, which is 50 points higher than Pujols. There career averages are the same. Cabrera's power numbers are also better since 2010. Cabrera's on pace for his second 40 home run season, but Pujols has had 5.
Cabrera already has 90 RBI's this season and could have a ridiculous number by year's end. He has a 87 RBI advantage on Pujols since 2010. Cabrera won the Triple Crown last year, and is in the running for it again this year. Cabrera won the batting title last year, hitting .330, but is currently batting .368 this year. He leads the AL in RBIs as well, but is behind Baltimore's Chris Davis in home run. Pujols led the league in home runs and RBIs in 2010, and the batting title in 2003, but could never get all three in one season. Comparing these two from 2010 on is a little unfair to Pujols because it leaves out two MVP seasons in 2008 and 2009. 2008 was Cabrera's first season in Detroit. Here's a look below.
Cabrera/Pujols from 2008-current
AVG OBP SLG R H 2B HR RBI TB
Pujols .308 .397 .572 571 986 225 206 624 1833
Cabrera .328 .407 .589 579 1085 223 211 690 1949
Even with Pujols two MVP seasons, Cabrera's numbers are superior over the last six seasons. There closer with the extra two years, but Cabrera still has a 20 point advantage in average. I think it is very possible that Cabrera finishes with a better average and on base pct. for his career than Pujols. He has a shot to surpass him in counting stats, although it will be hard to catch up with Pujols in home runs. At age 30, Cabrera is having one of the best seasons of his great career. Pujols is at a crossroads of his career. He has some lingering injuries that he needs to get taken care of. It's unclear if he will bounce back or become a player like Griffey, who wasn't as good in his 30's due to injury.
Most certainly, both of these players will be in Cooperstown someday. If Pujols can get healthy and regain his form, Cabrera will have a tougher time catching up. Pujols still has 8 years left on his deal that carries on until he's 41 years old. There's no telling what kind of production the Angels will get out of Pujols in those years or if he finishes the contract. They could be looking at a A-Rod situation that the Yankees are dealing with now. Cabrera's contract with the Tigers goes for two more seasons after this year. He will be 32 when it runs out. Cabrera will get another deal, but I think teams might be leery of giving a player over 30 a ten year deal after seeing Pujols and A-Rod. Regardless of what happens, Pujols and Cabrera will always be linked as two of the greatest hitters of their generation. History will decide which one has the better career, but it wouldn't surprise me if Cabrera ended up with better numbers.