To be the best in baseball, three things are required: production, consistency and honesty. The player has to produce at an elite level, maintain that production over his career and do so without using any illegal substances. There is no better recent example of that than Detroit's Miguel Cabrera.
He has been an elite hitter almost since he entered the league, never had a poor season and has stayed out of any steroid allegations or investigations.
Cabrera is part of an unbelievably talented generation of hitters and yet he stands out based on the criteria outlined above.
I can't make that allegation without proof, of course.
If Cabrera is a great hitter, he has to have great stats. He can't be the best without hitting like it.
Everyone knows about Cabrera's 2012 MVP season, but, just for fun, let's rehash it. He hit .330 to go with 44 home runs, 139 RBIs and a .999 OPS. He won the triple crown.
And as far as advanced stats, he was equally as impressive. His wins above replacement (WAR) was 6.9, fifth in the league. His isolated power, a measurement of a player's raw power, was tied for second in the league. He also led the league in weighted on-base average, which distinguishes between differing values of hits.
And the scary part? 2013 might be even better than 2012. Currently he's on pace to best 2012 in every statistical category, including the sabermetrics.
When Cabrera is on, no one in baseball can hold a candle to him.
Someone might say well 2012-13 are just his two best seasons. Of course they're going to be great. Plenty of guys have a couple good years, that doesn't make them divine hitters.
That person would be right. The difference between Cabrera and other hitters is not just that his best is close to unbelievable but, rather, when he's not his best, he's still excellent.
Let's look at Cabrera's "worst" season. That would be 2004, his second season. He was 20, turning 21, and—looking at his stats—his age is evident. He set a career-high in strikeouts, and didn't walk much.
But he still managed to hit .294 with 33 home runs, 112 RBIs, with an OPS of .878 and a WAR of 3.2. It's hard to call that season anything close to bad, seeing as he was still elite.
That's the poorest of his 10 years.
That was only his second season in the majors, and he was still improving his game. He wasn't the player we know now.
Since he turned into the Miguel Cabrera we all know, there is only one year that looks worse than the others. That would be 2008, his first year in Detroit after being with the Marlins for five years.
Many of his stats took a hit when compared to 2007. His batting average fell from .320 .292, he walked less, his OPS fell off by 80 points and his WAR was down to 2.6. By Miguel Cabrera standards, it was a rough year.
But again, it wasn't really a bad season.
He still hit 37 homers, knocked in 127 runs, and despite his batting average drop his wOBA was still good for top 30 in the league.
It looks like the problem in 2008 was getting used to the changes of league and team, based on his pre/post All-Star splits.
His batting average jumped after the break, and—in roughly 60 less at-bats—he hit more home runs and had more RBIs. It just took him some time to get adjusted, and his season numbers fell off because of that.
The point is that Cabrera is unbelievably consistent. With those two "bad" years included, here is a run down of Cabrera's career worst years by statistical category. (Rookie year excluded).
He had a .292 average in 2008, 30 home runs in 2011, 105 RBIs in 2011, 148 strikeouts in 2004, 64 walks in 2005, .878 OPS in 2004 and 2.5 WAR in 2005. Those are the worst stats he has ever put up.
Players have won Silver Sluggers with stats worse than that.
The final piece of evidence to his best hitter of the generation title is that he's clean. He has never been linked to a steroid scandal, or PEDs or anything of the sort. There isn't any indication that he's cheating.
People might be waiting with "contender" names on the tips of their tongues, saying what about this guy or that guy. If I missed someone, put him in the comments. We'll run down through some obvious ones here.
We have to eliminate Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez as both of them have been linked to PEDs. Ramirez was suspended in 2009, and Rodriguez admitted to taking PEDs over the course of three years. And he's also currently in the middle of another investigation.
That leaves guys like Albert Pujols, Mark Teixeira and Adrian Beltre. These are the guys who have been around long enough and have the production to be considered. We'll also include Lance Berkman and Vladimir Guerrero in the discussion.
Of the players listed below, who is the best hitter?
Berkman has too many sub-.300 years and sub-30 home run years compared to Cabrera. Teixeira's peak was really only four years, while Cabrera's is nearing 10. Beltre has a level of consistency, but lacks the superstar consistency that Cabrera has.
This is where the comparisons get a bit harder. Vladimir Guerrero's only flaw is his longevity. He had an amazing peak of play, but nearing his 10th great year in 2008 his production dropped off whereas Cabrera's game shows no signs of slowing down in his 10th year.
That might be nitpicking but at this point we're distinguishing between all-time greats, so nitpick is all we can do.
The only other knock against Guerrero are injuries, and, though he only once missed significant time, Cabrera has never played less than 150 games outside of his rookie year.
Onto Pujols, who truly is the standard. The three-time MVP is the pinnacle of precision and professionalism.
Albert Pujols had a 10 year stretch that was unbelievable, similar to Cabrera. The only difference between the two is at the tail end of each player's stretch.
Pujols dropped off a bit in 2011 in batting average, home runs, RBI, OPS and WAR. He got even worse in 2012. People are worried that Pujols might be the next grossly overpaid aging superstar, if he isn't already.
Cabrera on the other hand looks to only be getting better.
His 2012 Triple Crown was historical, and 2013 is making 2012 look like child's play. He might not quite be the machine Pujols was, but as of right now it looks like he is aging more gracefully.
Of course in five or six years someone might say Mike Trout or Bryce Harper or Manny Machado is the best hitter of the generation, not Cabrera. But until then I side with Barry Bonds, one of the greatest hitters of all time.
He's definitely the best. It's not rocket science here.
He's the best. By far. Without a doubt. The absolute best.
Love him or hate him, Bonds knows hitting and baseball. If he says Cabrera is the best of his generation, people listen. And so do I.