Monday, August 26, 2013

Five Tigers Players, Five Amazing Tigers Seasons

I have a newsflash for you guys and gals. Miguel Cabrera is really good at baseball. Bet you didn’t know that.

His first two years in Detroit, 2008 and 2009, were impressive. Then the video game numbers started. In 2010, he finished second in the MVP voting with an OPS+ of 178, 19 points higher than his career best at that point. In 2011, He upped it to 179. Then last year, all he did was win the first Triple Crown by anyone since 1967.

And he’s outdoing himself again in 2013. Look at the following stats entering Monday’s game.

2013 Miguel Cabrera

.360/.450/.685/1.135, 42 HR, 128 RBI, 202 OPS+, 7.1 WAR.

That is insane. He leads the league in average, hits, RBI, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, total bases, wRC+, wOBA, and many other categories, I’m sure. This is something special. And he’s been doing it while injured to the point of not being able to run. Blood is seeping through his uniform at times. On the first pitch, he’s hitting .488 with 14 HR. With runners in scoring position, he’s batting .422. With RISP and two outs, bump it up to .455.

They can tell us that Don Kelly is Mister Heart and Hustle all they want…my vote goes to Miguel Cabrera. I hope you’re all enjoying this performance in 2013 as much as I am.

Miggy Poco’s amazing year got me to thinking about the other standout amazing individual seasons I’ve witnessed since becoming a Tigers fan in 1985. Cabrera’s 2013 ranks at the top. But I wanted to round out my Top Five with four other guys with four other years I’ll never forget.

1987 Alan Trammell

.343/.402/.551/.953, 28 HR, 105 RBI, 21 SB, 8.2 WAR, 155 OPS+

As I stated, 1985 was my first season watching Tigers baseball, but 1987 and Alan Trammell’s amazing year is what made me a fan for life. The Tigers spent the season in a pennant race with George Bell and his Blue Jays with Detroit winning the division in the last week of the season. I’ll never forget the Tiger Stadium crowd’s chanting of M-V-P during all of Tram’s at bats down the stretch. The Tigers took the division, but Bell got the MVP award.

Bell hit .308/.352/.605/.957 with 47 homers and 134 RBI. His OPS+ was 146 and his WAR was 5.0, much lower than Trammell’s. As you can see, Tram was the original Trout when it comes to WAR and the MVP. Of course, WAR wasn’t a stat that anyone knew about in 1987. But even at 10 years old, I knew Tram got jobbed by the writers in the voting. I think it’s a much bigger mistake than the one many baseball writers keep bringing up in the 2012 Cabrera/Trout race. But I don’t want to get into arguing that again…

Trammell never approached these numbers again. His only other season with a WAR above 6 was back in 1983 as 1987 was the last we’d see of superstar Trammell. In the nine seasons that followed, he played in over 128 games only once due to injuries. These injuries, in my opinion, are what have kept him out of the Hall of Fame.
1990 Cecil Fielder

.277/.377/.592/.969, 51 HR, 132 RBI, 6.6 WAR, 167 OPS+

The Tigers took a chance in 1990 on a hefty first baseman that had been playing in Japan after failing to make a mark with the Blue Jays, who were happy with Fred McGriff at first base. And I think it’s safe to say that it paid off for everyone involved. “Big Daddy” became the first player in MLB to crack the 50 homer mark since George Foster in 1977. Remember, this is in the days before PEDs when every clown and their brother could pull a Brady Anderson and smack 50 home runs out of nowhere.

Cecil, like Trammell, finished second in the MVP during his amazing season. But unlike Trammell, he lost to a guy that deserved it. Rickey Henderson, his 189 OPS+ and his 9.9 WAR were a deserving MVP winner. But finishing as the runner-up didn’t diminish the amazing impact year for Cecil or Tigers fans. Cecil made baseball fun again after a disappointing end to the 80's in Detroit.

Fielder put up a 4.0 WAR in 1991, but never topped 2.5 after that. He would go on to play in New York, Anaheim, and Cleveland after leaving the Tigers before retiring following the 1998 season. His equally powerful offspring currently occupies first base for the Tigers today.
2000 Bobby Higginson

.300/.377/.538/.915, 30 HR, 102 RBI, 5.2 WAR, 135 OPS+

Don’t groan. The year was 2000. We had somehow survived the Y2K crisis. Faith Hill’s “Breathe” dominated the music charts. And the Detroit Tigers hadn’t had a winning season since 1993 (and wouldn’t for another six years). We didn’t have much, but we had Bobby Higginson.

Higginson had emerged as a young star from 1996-1998. He would be hurt for much of 1999, but his 2000 was outstanding. He became one of only 19 players in MLB history with a .300 average, 100 runs, 30 home runs, 44 doubles, 100+ RBI, and 15 stolen bases in the same season. He had a cannon for an arm and was the sole bright spot on some miserable teams.

After putting up a 120 OPS+ in 2001, he fell apart. He wouldn’t be fully healthy ever again and while his salary escalated, his production fell off a cliff. Higginson retired after the 2005 season having never played on a winning ballclub.

He’s still my favorite player ever. Thanks for the good times, Bobby.
2007 Magglio Ordonez

.363/.434/.595/.1.029, 28 HR, 139 RBI, 7.3 WAR, 166 OPS+

How do you follow up the dramatic home run of 2006 that sent Detroit to its first World Series in 22 years? Well, Magglio did it by giving us the best overall season anyone had seen in Tigertown since Trammell’s 1987 campaign. 

He became the first Tiger to win the batting title since Norm Cash in 1967. His 54 doubles were the most by a Tiger since George Kell in 1950. His RBI total was the highest by a Tiger since Rocky Colavito’s 140 in 1961. In one more fun note, Ordonez hit two home runs in the same inning against Oakland that year, becoming the second Tiger in history to accomplish the feat. The other was Al Kaline in 1955. As Rod Allen would say, that’s a lot of black and white photos we’re bringing up here.

Ordonez, like Trammell and Fielder before him, would finish second in the MVP voting. While Tram got robbed and Cecil lost fair and square, Magglio’s isn’t as cut and dry. Alex Rodriguez’s numbers were superior. A-Rod put up a 1.067 OPS, a 9.4 WAR, and a 176 OPS+. But if you’re one of the folks that believe that PED users’ records shouldn’t count, Magglio’s your man.

Ordonez was never this great again. He did well in 2008 and hit for average in the two years that followed. But his power quickly disappeared. He got hurt a lot. And he became jokingly known as “Singlio” before retiring after the 2011 season. But for those that were around for the 2006 and 2007 rides, Magglio remains a hero forever in Detroit.

So yeah, Trammell, Fielder, Higginson, and Ordonez all provided some eye-popping numbers and some great memories. But none of it compares to the monster season that Miguel Cabrera is giving us right now.

Enjoy this, people. You’re never going to see another like this guy again. Never.

Note: As I'm finishing this, he just went deep again to tie the game against Oakland. Unbelievable. Miggy, we are not worthy.

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