Ranking Miguel Cabrera and Every Member of MLB's 500 Home Run Club

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistAugust 23, 2021

Ranking Miguel Cabrera and Every Member of MLB's 500 Home Run Club

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    On Sunday afternoon, Miguel Cabrera took Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Steven Matz deep in the sixth inning for his 13th long ball of the 2021 season.

    With that, the 500 home run club gained its 28th member.

    Already a sure-fire Hall of Famer and one of the greatest right-handed hitters in MLB history, Cabrera is a living legend, but where does he rank among the 27 other guys who went deep at least 500 times?

    Based on their complete career body of work, not just their power-hitting prowess, we've ranked each member of the 500 home run club.

    It's a list of some of the greatest sluggers the game has ever seen. Being No. 28 on this list still makes you part of an exclusive club and one of the greatest home run hitters of all time.

    Players have been lumped into tiers for ease of analysis, and we'll count up from the bottom.

    Off we go!

1990s Sluggers

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    Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire
    Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwireSTEPHEN JAFFE/Getty Images

    28. Sammy Sosa (609 HR)
    27. Rafael Palmeiro (569 HR)
    26. Gary Sheffield (509 HR)
    25. Mark McGwire (583 HR)

    What to make of the Steroid Era...

    It's not as simple as just casting everyone linked to performance-enhancing drugs aside and completely ignoring their careers. Those players still have a place in baseball history, and they deserve to be recognized for better or worse.

    Sammy Sosa hit 243 of his 609 home runs during the four-year span from 1998 to 2001, and while he is the only player in MLB history with three 60-homer seasons, he also ranks fourth on the all-time list with 2,306 strikeouts and his defense in right field was a constant adventure during the second half of his career.

    Likewise, Rafael Palmeiro averaged 42 home runs and 122 RBI while logging a 140 OPS+ during the eight-year stretch from 1995 through 2002, and all of that production came after his 30th birthday. His numbers look great with 3,020 hits and 569 home runs, but it's hard not to connect the dots between that late-career success and his failed PED test.

    With lightning-quick bat speed, Gary Sheffield was one of the most feared sluggers of his era, but he also dealt with a variety of injuries while suiting up for eight different teams over the course of his 22-year career. He won a batting title in his age-23 season and finished his career with a 140 OPS+ while slugging 509 home runs and tallying 60.5 WAR.

    Mark McGwire is the face of the Steroid Era in many ways, but he also set a single-season rookie record with 49 home runs as a lanky slugger with the Oakland Athletics in 1987. He was a prolific power hitter before the presumptive start of his juicing. His 583 home runs came at a clip of one every 10.6 at-bats, the greatest career mark in baseball history, comfortably ahead of Babe Ruth (11.8) and Barry Bonds (12.9).

Mr. October vs. Big Papi

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    David Ortiz
    David OrtizWINSLOW TOWNSON/Associated Press

    24. David Ortiz (541 HR)
    23. Reggie Jackson (563 HR)

    Mr. October vs. Big Papi. Two legends from two of the sport's marquee franchises, and two players whose careers are surprisingly comparable.

    Here's a look at their career regular-season stats:

    • Jackson: 139 OPS+, .262/.356/.490, 2,584 H, 563 HR, 1,702 RBI, 73.9 WAR
    • Ortiz: 141 OPS+, .286/.380/.552, 2,472 H, 541 HR, 1,768 RBI, 55.3 WAR

    Jackson was a more well-rounded player who swiped 228 bases and contributed on defense in right field, but Ortiz has an edge in on-base ability and power production.

    It's their October resumes that make them uniquely comparable:

    • Jackson: 77 G, .278/.358/.527, 18 HR, 48 RBI, 5x World Series winner
    • Ortiz: 85 G, .289/.404/.543, 17 HR, 61 RBI, 3x World Series winner

    Both provided iconic postseason moments and helped their teams win multiple tiles, but both also had clear shortcomings. Jackson is the all-time leader in strikeouts, and Ortiz was one-dimensional as a designated hitter for the bulk of his career.

    In the end, Jackson gets the nod for being a more complete player, but their careers were remarkably similar.

Pre-1990s Stars

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    Ernie Banks
    Ernie BanksUncredited/Associated Press

    22. Eddie Murray (504 HR)
    21. Willie McCovey (521 HR)
    20. Harmon Killebrew (573 HR)
    19. Ernie Banks (512 HR)
    18. Eddie Mathews (512 HR)

    Switch-hitter Eddie Murray was just the third player in MLB history with 3,000 hits and 500 home runs at the conclusion of his 21-year career, and his 274 home runs during the 1980s trailed only Mike Schmidt (313) and Dale Murphy (308) for the decade.

    With an imposing 6'4" frame and a sweet left-handed swing, Willie McCovey shared the middle of the San Francisco Giants lineup with another legend in Willie Mays. He logged a 147 OPS+ in 22 seasons, and he won NL MVP honors in 1969 when he hit .320/.453/.656 with 45 home runs and 126 RBI.

    When he retired following the 1975 season, Harmon Killebrew ranked fourth on the all-time home run list. The Washington Senators and Minnesota Twins star launched 40 home runs eight times during his career, leading the league in long balls six different times. He won AL MVP in 1969 and was a 13-time All-Star.

    Those three slot in just behind a pair of 1950s superstars in Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews.

    At a time when the shortstop position was still a defense-first spot, Banks was a rare slugger who won back-to-back NL MVP awards in 1958 and 1959. He is one of the best athletes in pro sports history to never play a single postseason game.

    Despite spending the bulk of his career playing in the shadow of Hank Aaron, Mathews is an all-time great in his own right. His 96.1 WAR trails only Mike Schmidt (106.9) among all third basemen in MLB history.

Where Does Miggy Fit?

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    Frank Thomas
    Frank ThomasFocus On Sport/Getty Images

    17. Jim Thome (612 HR)
    16. Manny Ramirez (555 HR)
    15. Miguel Cabrera (500 HR)
    14. Frank Thomas (521 HR)

    Burly slugger Jim Thome is one of 61 players in MLB history with a .400 on-base percentage for his career, making him more than just a one-dimensional slugger. He had 12 seasons with 30-plus home runs, piling up 612 home runs and 1,699 RBI in an underrated 22-year career.

    Another player with a PED cloud hanging over his head, Manny Ramirez ranks 19th on the all-time list with 1,831 RBI, and he had 12 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons as one of the most consistent run producers in baseball history. He also hit .285/.394/.544 with 29 home runs and 78 RBI in 111 postseason games.

    It's easy to forget those two were teammates.

    The leg up that Miguel Cabrera has on those two and several others ranked below him is the simple fact that, for a window of time before Mike Trout burst onto the scene, a case could be made that he was the best player in baseball. That's not something that could be said about anyone below him on this list.

    In terms of stats and career resume, Frank Thomas is the player who most closely compares to Miggy. Let's look at the numbers:

    • Cabrera: 145 OPS+, 500 HR, 1,784 RBI, 68.9 WAR, 2x MVP
    • Thomas: 156 OPS+, 521 HR, 1,704 RBI, 73.8 WAR, 2x MVP

    That's a big enough OPS+ edge to give Thomas the nod, but their careers are surprisingly similar.

Legends of the Game

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    Albert Pujols
    Albert PujolsIcon Sports Wire/Getty Images

    13. Frank Robinson (586 HR)
    12. Mel Ott (511 HR)
    11. Mike Schmidt (548 HR)
    10. Alex Rodriguez (696 HR)
    9. Albert Pujols (676 HR)
    8. Jimmie Foxx (534 HR)

    Two of the most underrated players in MLB history, Frank Robinson and Mel Ott both deserve to be mentioned among the 25 best players to ever play the game.

    Robinson is still the only player to win an MVP award in both leagues, and he also claimed the Triple Crown in his first season with the Baltimore Orioles in 1966 when he hit .316/.410/.637 with 49 home runs and 122 RBI while leading the O's to a World Series title.

    A big leaguer shortly after his 17th birthday, Ott hit .304/.414/.533 in his 22 MLB seasons, and on top of his 511 home runs, he also ranks among the all-time leaders in runs scored (1,859, 15th), RBI (1,860, 13th) and walks (1,708, ninth).

    Mike Schmidt is the consensus greatest third baseman in MLB history. He hit 30 home runs in 13 of his 18 seasons, leading the league in long balls eight times, and he also won 10 Gold Glove Awards. He won NL MVP three times and spent his entire career in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.

    A prodigy who went No. 1 overall in the 1993 draft out of high school and debuted the following year, Alex Rodriguez is a three-time MVP winner, 14-time All-Star and 10-time Silver Slugger winner who helped reinvent the shortstop position before settling in at third base with the New York Yankees. He was a superstar before his ties to PEDs and the Biogenesis scandal, but it's hard to rank him any higher.

    This group of legends concludes with two of the greatest right-handed power hitters and best first basemen in MLB history in Albert Pujols and Jimmie Foxx.

    Foxx was a three-time MVP winner who hit .325/.428/.609 with a 163 OPS+ playing in Babe Ruth's shadow, while Pujols rattled off 10 straight .300-BA, 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons to begin his career. His production dipped during his time with the Angels, but his 3,294 hits and 676 home runs speak for themselves.

Ken Griffey Jr. vs. Mickey Mantle

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    Ken Griffey Jr.
    Ken Griffey Jr.Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    7. Ken Griffey Jr. (630 HR)
    6. Mickey Mantle (536 HR)

    If Willie Mays is the greatest center fielder in MLB history, who is No. 2?

    There's a case to be made for Ty Cobb in that conversation, but most would go with either Mickey Mantle or Ken Griffey Jr. for the next spot on that list.

    Let's start with the stats:

    • Griffey: 136 OPS+, .284/.370/.538, 630 HR, 1,836 RBI, 83.8 WAR
    • Mantle: 172 OPS+, .298/.421/.557, 536 HR, 1,509 RBI, 110.2 WAR

    That's a bit more decisive than some might expect.

    Both players dealt with injuries during the second half of their career, so Griffey doesn't get a pass for the time he missed due to his all-out style of play in the outfield.

    That .421 on-base percentage is the number that really sticks out for Mantle, and his 1,733 walks are good for eighth on the all-time list. A difference of more than 50 points in career on-base percentage is hard to overlook, and it's enough to more than make up for Griffey's advantage on the defensive side of things.

    Mantle is the right choice, but it's a fun debate, and these guys are two of the most iconic players in the history of the sport for a reason.

The Mt. Rushmore of MLB Hitters

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    Willie Mays
    Willie MaysAnonymous/Associated Press

    5. Ted Williams (521 HR)
    4. Hank Aaron (755 HR)
    3. Barry Bonds (762 HR)
    2. Willie Mays (660 HR)
    1. Babe Ruth (714 HR)

    That's right, I put five faces on my Mt. Rushmore. It's my article, and there is plenty of unused room on that mountain.

    If not for the fact that he missed three seasons in the middle of his prime fighting in World War ll, Ted Williams would have an even more compelling case for the title of greatest player in history. He is the last player to hit .400 in a season, and his .344 career average is the best all time by a player with 500 home runs. He's the best pure hitter to ever play the game.

    With 25 All-Star selections and 15 30-homer seasons, Hank Aaron was the most consistent power hitter the game has ever seen. He is still baseball's all-time leader in RBI (2,297) and total bases (6,856), and he's third on the all-time hit list (3,771). On top of his 755 home runs, his .305 career average also ranks sixth among members of the 500-homer club.

    That brings us to the Barry Bonds of it all.

    Steroids or not, he was one of the most dominant offensive players ever. Even before his otherworldly stretch of dominance in the early 2000s, he was a sure-fire Hall of Famer and one of the best five-tool players the game has ever seen. With seven MVP awards and 162.7 WAR, there is no denying his production.

    For me, it's a coin toss between Willie Mays and Babe Ruth for the honor of greatest player in baseball history.

    The fact that Ruth began his career as a dominant pitcher before out-homering entire teams during his early days with the Yankees is impossible to ignore, but he also did it pre-integration, and Mays was undoubtedly a more well-rounded player who won 12 Gold Gloves in center field.

    Call them 1 and 1A if you prefer, but Ruth gets the nod from me for changing the game as the first real power hitter.

         

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.

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