Miguel Cabrera’s 3,000th Hit Put Him in Exclusive Company

Detroit Free Press

Miguel Cabrera had to wait a couple of extra days to make history, thanks to a hitless afternoon capped by a controversial managerial decision and then a rainout. Nonetheless, on Saturday afternoon he collected his 3,000th career hit with a single off the Rockies’ Antonio Senzatela. In doing so, he joined some elite company as not only the 33rd player to reach 3,000 hits, but also the seventh to do so as a member of the 500-homer club and the third to reach both of those round numbers with a career batting average of .300 or better. The other two? Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. You may have heard of them, and even if you don’t put much stock in batting average, you have to admit that’s about as cool as company gets.

What’s more, Cabrera actually owns the highest batting average and on-base percentage of the seven players who have both milestones, with a wRC+ that trails only Mays and Aaron:

Players with 500 Home Runs and 3,000 Hits
Player 500th HR Total HR 3000th Hit Total Hits AVG/OBP/SLG wRC+
Hank Aaron 7/14/68 755 5/17/70 3771 .305/.374/.555 153
Willie Mays 9/13/65 660 7/18/70 3283 .301/.384/.557 154
Eddie Murray 9/6/96 504 6/30/95 3255 .287/.359/.476 127
Rafael Palmeiro 5/11/03 569 7/15/05 3020 .288/.371/.515 130
Alex Rodriguez 8/4/07 696 6/19/15 3115 .295/.380/.550 141
Albert Pujols 4/22/14 681 5/4/18 3308 .297/.375/.544 141
Miguel Cabrera 8/22/21 502 4/23/22 3002 .310/.387/.532 143

For all of his struggles over the past half-decade, Cabrera would still have to go 0-for-352 to drop his batting average to .299. Even with those struggles and his lack of defensive value (he’s 102 runs below average in terms of Defensive Runs Saved, inlcluding 11 below in just 847.1 innings at first base since 2018), he ranks 11th in JAWS among first basemen (68.8/44.8/56.8), in no danger of slipping below Palmeiro (13th at 71.9/38.9/55.4) or Murray (16th at 68.7/39.2/53.9). And while he may be the last to reach 3,000 hits for some time given the dearth of candidates (Dan Szymborski put Jose Altuve, who has 1,783 hits, at 34% and Freddie Freeman, who has 1,723 hits, at 28% last September), he’s hardly the least.

Cabrera collected his milestone in front of 37,566 fans in the first inning of Saturday’s doubleheader opener at Comerica Park. Fittingly for a player who has taken great pride in his ability to use the whole field, he did it by poking a groundball through the right side of the infield:

Cabrera’s 500th home run, at the Rogers Centre off the Blue Jays’ Steven Matz last August 22, was an opposite-field shot as well.

Cabrera joined Ty Cobb and Al Kaline as the other players to reach 3,000 hits as Tigers. As ESPN’s Marly Rivera pointed out, he’s the first Venezuelan to reach 3,000 hits and the seventh Latino, after Roberto Clemente, Rod Carew, Palmeiro, Rodriguez, Adrián Beltré, and Pujols. Of the last five players to reach 3,000 hits, Ichiro Suzuki is the only one who isn’t Latino.

As an 11-time All-Star, four-time batting champion, two-time MVP, and Triple Crown Award winner, the 39-year-old Cabrera didn’t need 3,000 hits to secure his spot in the pantheon, but the milestone has been a long time in the making. He collected his 2,500th hit on September 18, 2016, near the end of his 14th season in the majors, and in doing so became just the eighth player to reach that milestone by the end of his age-33 season. His five-plus seasons since then have largely been a slog, as he’s batted just .265/.336/.400 for a 98 wRC+. A groin strain and a pair of herniated discs limited him to 117 hits and a 93 wRC+ in 130 games in 2017, a ruptured left biceps tendon cut his ’18 season short at 38 games, and he played in just 84% of Tigers games over the past three seasons.

Cabrera entered last season needing 134 hits and 13 homers to reach the two major milestones, and he projected to become the first of the seven players to do so in the same season. But as I noted at the time, he didn’t have much margin for error when it came to his hit total given the drop in his batting average and his propensity for injury. Indeed, he missed 13 games in April due to a left biceps strain, didn’t get his batting average above .200 for good until June 14, and finished the year with a meager .256/.316/.386 line, leaving him 13 hits short.

Though he has yet to produce much power — no homers yet, and just two doubles — Cabrera collected 12 hits over his first 11 games, including three in his first three plate appearances on Wednesday night against the Yankees. He had one more shot at concluding his chase on Wednesday night, but Clay Holmes struck him out swinging. On Thursday afternoon, Jordan Montgomery gave up a steep but routine fly ball in his first plate appearance, then struck him out twice. With the Yankees trying to keep their deficit at 1–0 late, Cabrera came to bat against lefty Lucas Luetge with runners on second and third and two outs in the eighth inning, but manager Aaron Boone elected to issue an intentional walk — something Cabrera hadn’t received since September 10, 2020 — to face lefty Austin Meadows. It was a questionable move but not an entirely indefensible one, as decline-phase Cabrera has been much stronger against lefties than righties (135 to 104 in term of wRC+ since 2016), though as Ben Clemens wrote, loading the bases was a particularly bad idea. The walk backfired spectacularly when Meadows blooped a ball into center field for a two-run double.

As for Cabrera, he took the intentional pass in stride, attempting to calm the Comerica fans:

Afterward, he told reporters, “This is baseball, you know? It was a lefty behind me at the plate… To walk me intentionally, that’s part of the game. I went 0-for-3, but we got a chance to win. Beautiful.”

Cabrera had to wait an extra day due to Friday night’s rainout but singled off the third pitch he saw from Senzatela. He added a two-run single in the sixth inning in what turned out to be a 13–0 rout, and then went 1-for-4 in the nightcap as the Rockies won, 3–2.

So now what? So long as Cabrera is swinging a hot bat — and even without the power, his .319/.377/.362 is good for a 120 wRC+ in this year of hitless baseball — he is likely to remain the Tigers’ full-time DH. He has yet to play the field this year, as top prospect Spencer Torkelson made the team out of spring training, took over first base, and has hit .217/.345/.435 for a 138 wRC+.

Cabrera’s defensive numbers don’t exactly make the case that he should be playing the field, and neither his projections (including a .251/.315/.378 line and -0.3 WAR via his Depth Charts forecast) nor his batted ball stats, which include a 55.9% groundball rate, 8.8% barrel rate, .241 xBA and .366 xSLG, suggest he can keep up even this singles-happy stretch. Then again, it was only two years ago that he had a .286 xBA and .515 xSLG and wound up with little to show for it — just a modest 103 wRC+ and 0.3 WAR in the pandemic-shortened season.

The problem for the Tigers is that Cabrera is making $32 million this year and is owed $32 million next year as well. The cost is sunk, but a team that aspires to end its streak of five straight losing seasons and seven without a postseason appearance may have to get real about his role. A Pujols-like arrangement, where he serves as the primary DH against lefties, might make sense if it comes to that point, and could even restore some of his luster.

Even with the Tigers already scuffling at 6–9 with both Matt Manning and Casey Mize on the injured list, Cabrera’s role is a problem for another day. For now, it’s a good time to celebrate one of this generation’s greatest hitters securing a particularly exceptional achievement.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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sadtrombonemember
20 days ago

Because he’s DHing and essentially a tortoise on the basepaths, Cabrera is roughly at replacement level so far.

Here’s a question for Jay, that might even be an article: When was the last time a player got his 3000th hit when he was still a legitimate star? Like, 4 WAR or greater? Jeter was very likely a functional baseball player when he got it, but I think he had fallen from “legitimate star” status. Same with Paul Molitor and Pete Rose and Carl Yasztremski, I think. And Cal Ripken and Adrian Beltre and Tony Gwynn and A-Rod.

The last one I can think of for certain is Hank Aaron, who topped 5.2 wins in 1973, a string of something like 17 consecutive 4+ win seasons (almost all of them over 6 wins, for that matter) and who broke 3K hits several years earlier. Is this it? Is Hank Aaron the last time someone broke the 3K barrier while they were still obviously a star (in terms of productivity?).

vslykemember
20 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Beltre got hit 3000 as part of his 2017 season, in which he had 2.5 fWAR in 94 games. That would work out to a 4 fWAR pace over 150 games, and he was coming off a 5.4 fWAR season, so I would say its Beltre.

sadtrombonemember
20 days ago
Reply to  vslyke

Hm, that’s an interesting one. So he’d get close to that on a rate basis, if not over it. Was he hurt that year?

vslykemember
20 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Yeah, he had leg problems that year and missed all of April and almost all of May.

sadtrombonemember
20 days ago
Reply to  vslyke

I’m not entirely sure that it counts under my original criteria, but it also doesn’t seem to not count. At the very least it deserves a mention.

Last edited 20 days ago by sadtrombone
Paul-SF
20 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Stars get injured. It doesn’t mean they’re not stars, especially if they produce at a star level for the time they’re on the field.

PC1970
20 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Beltre had 2.5fWAR & 3.8rWAR in 94 games the year he crossed 3000 hits. I guess he was on pace.

Pete Rose was probably still pretty good. He was on his original Cincinati run when he crossed 3,000. I think it was the same year as his 44 game hitting streak..though his WAR was 3.4rWAR/3.5fWAR..so he falls short.

Molitor hit .341 & had 225 hits & 113 RBI the year he passed 3,000, though again his WAR was short due to no defensive value & the high run scoring era in the late 90’s.

Last edited 20 days ago by PC1970
airforce21one
19 days ago
Reply to  PC1970

Doesn’t the “replacement” value in WAR get recalculated each year? If so, the high run scoring era wouldn’t matter.

Left of Centerfield
20 days ago
Reply to  Jay Jaffe

Stan Musial deserves a mention. He had 4.0 WAR the year he reached 3,000 hits. But he also missed a season due to WWII. Without that, he would have likely reached 3,000 the year before when he had 6.1 WAR.

Similar situation with Willie Mays who missed nearly two full seasons to the Korean War. Without that, he likely reaches 3,000 hits in 1967 or 1968. In 1967, he “only” had 4.1 WAR but in 1968 he had 6.7.

Last edited 20 days ago by Left of Centerfield
PC1970
20 days ago

Of course, no mention of missing years due to war would be complete without mentioning Ted Williams. Missed 3 full years for WWII & then played 43 of 308 possible games due to the Korean War.

Being somewhat conservative, likely missed 600 or so games. Give him the 650-750 hits he would likely have gotten & he probably hits 3000 hits during his 9.7 WAR 1957 season.

Last edited 20 days ago by PC1970
Left of Centerfield
20 days ago
Reply to  PC1970

Good catch! I was focused on guys who actually reached 3,000 hits so forgot about Williams.

Lanidrac
20 days ago

Heck, Musial and Williams would’ve both been part of this exclusive 3,000/500 club had they not missed the time they did to serve their country.

Lou Gehrig as well, had he not gotten ALS.

There are a lot of “if”s in baseball careers…

Last edited 20 days ago by Lanidrac
Lanidrac
20 days ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

A-Rod had a wRC+ of 129 the year he got it, and he hadn’t yet had a mark below 113 since he was 19 years old.