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Debate Team: Miguel Cabrera vs. Joey Votto

For 10 consecutive seasons, fantasy baseball has had Albert Pujols dominate the first base position like no one else. However over the last couple of years, 27-year-old Miguel Cabrera has earned himself “Pujols-lite” status as he has gained the reputation of a high-average hitter with 35-home run power. Well, it’s time to welcome another 27-year-old to the discussion. Joey Votto has catapulted himself to the first round after a monster 2010 season and it’s between him and Cabrera on who will take over when Pujols inevitably breaks down in his mid-30′s. Chris and I discuss who should get drafted first.

Round 1

Chris: If there is one player that most closely resembles Pujols it’s Cabrera. In fact, he has a batting average of .326 over the past two years, which is better than Pujols’s batting average of .319 over that same time span. Since Cabrera made the move from Florida to Detroit three years ago he has averaged 97 R, 36 HR and 119 RBI to go along with a .314 batting average. The scary thing about Cabrera is that he’s still just 27 years old and is about to reach his prime in terms of power. He is already the second-best first baseman in fantasy and hasn’t fully reached his full power potential. As a result he is a sure-fire top-3 pick and anchor to your fantasy team.

George: Chris, you mention that Cabrera and Pujols are very close in comparison, but the one major difference between the two is stolen bases. Last season, Votto swiped 16 bases, which lead all first basemen, and was two more than Pujols. How many bases did Cabrera steal? Three. Votto is on-par with Cabrera in every other category (.324 BA, 106 R, 37 HR, 113 RBI) as they are both batters who can hit for power and a high average, but it’s clear that Votto has the advantage in the speed category. If he has another successful season in 2011 we might be calling him the heir to Pujols’ throne rather than Cabrera.

Round 2

Chris: You’re right that Votto stole more bases than Cabrera last year, however I’m not entirely convinced that Votto will become a perennial 15+ base stealer. After all, he stole only four bases in 2009 and seven bases in 2008. You also mention that Votto is on-par with Cabrera in BA, R, HR and RBI. But you don’t mention that he was only on-par last year. Between 2008 and 2009, Votto averaged 76 R, 25 HR, 84 RBI and 6 SB to go along with a .309 average. In those same two years Cabrera batted .308 and averaged 91 R, 36 HR, 115 RBI. And oh by the way since Cabrera and Votto are both 27 years old, they were the same age in 2008 and 2009. As you can see, the difference between Cabrera and Votto is consistency. Votto has only had one great year whereas Cabrera has been consistently great since 2004. Cabrera has also averaged 158 games since ’04 while Votto has only averaged 144 games in his three big league seasons.

George: Both sluggers might be the same age, but by 2008 (Votto’s rookie year) Cabrera had already played in four full seasons. Votto has struggled with depression and anxiety issues in the past, but has still put up career averages of .314 BA, 89 R, 30 HR, 90 RBI and 9 SB.  It’s often said that players don’t fully take off until their third season and if Votto’s 2010 was any indication of what he will bring in future seasons, there is no reason why he can’t be taken ahead of Cabrera in drafts. As for the steals, it’s impossible to predict if he will repeat his 16-steal performance, but he did steal 24 bases in 136 Double-A games in 2006 and 17 bases in 133 Triple-A games in 2007. He might not steal 16 bases every year, but it’s not crazy to think he will be in the double-digits.

Round 3

Chris: I agree that Votto is a threat to steal double digit bases but I don’t want to rely on him doing so because that is the only way he outperforms Cabrera next year. I think we can both agree that Cabrera and Votto are worthy of early picks and shouldn’t slip past the beginning of the second round. But to me, the first couple rounds are all about minimizing risk and I believe Cabrera is less of a risk than Votto. Cabrera has consistently put up exceptional numbers year in and year out so you know what to expect from him in 2011. Votto on the other hand has only had one exceptional year and I do have some reservations about his power totals that year. In 2010 his HR/FB ratio of 25% was the highest in the league. The next closest was Jose Baustista and his 54 home runs at 21.7%. While 25% isn’t a totally fluky number, it is considering that Votto’s previous high HR/FB ratio was 18.5%. Before even thinking about taking Votto over an established stud like Cabrera, I need to see more than one great year from him.

George: It’s true that there aren’t many players as consistent as Cabrera. While Votto may join that crowd in a couple of years, he hasn’t been around long enough to gain that type of respect from fantasy owners. However, in his three years of professional ball, Votto has steadily increased his ISO (.209 to .276) and his walk percentage (10% to 14%). He has done all this while maintaining a steady strikeout rate (~21%) and line-drive rate (~23%). He has shown no reasons for us to doubt that he can continue to produce at an elite level. With a lineup that includes Jay Bruce, Drew Stubbs and Brandon Phillips it shouldn’t be hard for Votto combine for 200+R/RBI with similar power numbers. If you feel like “rolling the dice” with Votto, draft him ahead of Cabrera and gain that extra edge in steals in your league. Remember, only three first basemen (Votto, Pujols and James Loney) stole at least 10 bases in 2010.

Check out our other articles from the Debate Team series:

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About the author: George graduated with a degree in Journalism, but instead of walking at his graduation, he walked down the aisle at his wedding. He’s been playing fantasy baseball for over a decade and his interest and knowledge in the sport is as big and growing as his eyebrows are bushy…and growing. (@BaseballProf)

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