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Friday, September 21, 2012

FanGraphs: Swydan: The Triple Crown Is Not Evil

Really? According to the latest isometrics…crusty aflatoxin-jazzed Yaz Bread is some pretty vile ####!

At the center of the debate is baseball’s triple crown, an incredibly rare achievement that is within reach for Cabrera. The fact that Trout is going to finish with the better season, regardless, has led many to pooh-pooh the fact that Cabrera has the chance to become just the 14th player since 1901 to win the elusive title. And while the triple crown in and of itself doesn’t signify greatness, it has only been won by great players. And most often, the league’s best player has won it.

...Which brings us back to this year’s MVP debate. Cabrera hasn’t been a better player overall than Trout this season. But rather than cutting down the triple crown, we really should be praising Trout’s season. Since 1901, there have been 12,000 qualified position player seasons. Fewer than 200 of them have posted 9 WAR or better, and Trout would be just the second (Alex Rodriguez, 1996) to do so before his age-21 season. That Trout is on pace to finish with a WAR that is so much higher than Cabrera’s is essentially uncharted territory.

The triple crown is, as Keith Law said in his Wednesday chat, a statistical quirk. It’s one that doesn’t account for the full breadth of a player’s contribution. And while Cabrera might pass Josh Hamilton in homers, the triple crown wouldn’t necessarily make him the player most deserving of the MVP.

Still, that doesn’t take away from the fact that winning the triple crown is incredibly rare. Yes, RBI is one of the categories — and yes, it doesn’t account for all of the nuances that more modern statistics do — but the triple crown is not evil. In fact, it’s actually pretty cool.

Repoz Posted: September 21, 2012 at 01:02 PM | 28 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: awards, history

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   1. AROM Posted: September 21, 2012 at 01:31 PM (#4242177)
The triple crown, worn on the three heads of Cerberus, would be very evil.
   2. Juan Uribe Marching and Chowder Society Posted: September 21, 2012 at 01:35 PM (#4242182)
What about the three-headed Targaryen dragon?
   3. AROM Posted: September 21, 2012 at 01:39 PM (#4242186)
At this point, Cabrera has had the better season as a hitter. Trout has been the better player thanks to his speed and defense. Still should be the MVP, but it's a lot closer than it was not too long ago when Trout was the best in the league at everything.

Going into August, Trout was hitting 353/411/608. Since then he's hit 274/360/452. If you knew at the beginning of the season a 20 year old with his other skills would OPS 812, you'd probably be pretty happy with that season. But after the hot streak he had in the middle of the season those numbers look like a fade.
   4. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: September 21, 2012 at 01:42 PM (#4242190)
Currently, Miggy is sitting at 170 OPS+ and WAR of 6.5--that would be, by a fairly wide margin, the weakest of all triple crown seasons:

Yaz 67: 193/12
Robbie 66: 198/7.3
Mantle 56: 210/11
TB 47: 205/9.6
TB 42: 216/10.2
Ducky 37: 182/8.1
Gehrig 206/10.1
Klein 33: 176/7.3
Foxx 33: 201/9.0
Rajah 25: 210/10.1
" 22 207/10.0
Cobb 09: 193/9.5
Lajoie 01: 198/8.3

EDIT: I guess it would be close to Chuck Klein's season
   5. BDC Posted: September 21, 2012 at 01:48 PM (#4242196)
It's pretty hard to win a Triple Crown and not also lead the league in both OBP and SLG. In lively-ball times that has been done by Foxx, Medwick, and Mantle – Mantle because Ted Williams led in OBP, and Foxx because Mickey Cochrane did; Medwick was fourth in his league in OBP behind Dolph Camilli, Johnny Mize, and Gabby Hartnett. Cabrera currently trails Joe Mauer and Prince Fielder in OBP. Interesting that three catchers figure in those few names; of course, catchers will never have as many PAs as the other league leaders, so they can slip ahead of somebody in OBP in more limited playing time. If they are really awesome at hitting, that is :)
   6. Juan Uribe Marching and Chowder Society Posted: September 21, 2012 at 02:22 PM (#4242240)
those numbers are, by definition, a fade.
   7. thetailor Posted: September 21, 2012 at 02:28 PM (#4242254)
And while the triple crown in and of itself doesn’t signify greatness, it has only been won by great players.


It doesn't? Would it be possible to win the Triple Crown and not have a year that someone would consider great? I doubt it. 50 home runs and 150 singles, with no other extra base hits?
   8. TomH Posted: September 21, 2012 at 02:30 PM (#4242261)
If only years ago we had just said the TC was OBP, SLG, and R+RBI.....
   9. ecwcat Posted: September 21, 2012 at 02:34 PM (#4242267)
Nah, to make you guys happy back in 1905 it should have been fWAR, OPS+, and some other relative stat which is not grounded in reality.
   10. Tom Nawrocki Posted: September 21, 2012 at 03:29 PM (#4242357)
Klein 33: 176/7.3


I'm surprised Cabrera's doesn't grade out higher than Klein's, because at first blush, Klein's looks like the weakest of the Triple Crowns: a .368 average is pretty boss, but 28 homers and 120 RBIs are nothing special. Klein had put up higher HR and RBI totals in each of the previous five seasons. Plus, of course, he was playing in a notorious hitter's park.

I guess it just goes to show how quickly the offensive level faded in the NL in the early 1930s.
   11. Willie Mayspedester Posted: September 21, 2012 at 03:32 PM (#4242362)
If Cabrera gets the triple crown and the Tigers get past the White Sox then he will win the MVP (assuming the Angels miss the playoffs in this case). If both teams miss the playoffs I think it will be a dead heat if Cabrera gets the triple crown. If he misses the triple crown then Trout gets it.
   12. SandyRiver Posted: September 21, 2012 at 03:57 PM (#4242413)
EDIT: I guess it would be close to Chuck Klein's season

For Cabrera to win the TC (assuming Trout, Hamilton, Encarnacion, et.al. don't fall off cliffs), he'll probably need to finish with OPS+ in the low-mid 170s and WAR a bit over 7, even closer to Klein
   13. SandyRiver Posted: September 21, 2012 at 03:57 PM (#4242414)
EDIT: I guess it would be close to Chuck Klein's season

For Cabrera to win the TC (assuming Trout, Hamilton, Encarnacion, et.al. don't fall off cliffs), he'll probably need to finish with OPS+ in the low-mid 170s and WAR a bit over 7, even closer to Klein
   14. Fernigal McGunnigle has become a merry hat Posted: September 21, 2012 at 04:39 PM (#4242486)
those numbers are, by definition, a fade.


We can quibble over this, but I think that if you think a guy is a true talent 820 OPS guy and he hits for an OPS of 1020 for a couple of months you call the 1020 a hot streak rather than the 820 a fade.

Would it be possible to win the Triple Crown and not have a year that someone would consider great? I doubt it. 50 home runs and 150 singles, with no other extra base hits?


Not something that would happen in real life, but the weirdest OOTP season I've seen was a player named David Terry who was playing on a computer team. He won the triple crown in a year in which he came close to league records for caught stealing and GDP, had a comically low walk number (15 or so), and had the lowest league-leading home run total in my organization's history. He did this as a below-average LF playing in a bandbox stadium and hitting behind the guys who finished #1 and #2 in OBP. Imagine a late-career Jim Rice trading 30 walks for base hits and also attempted 80 SBs and you get the idea. He had an OPS+ in the low 120s and the computer rated him as something like 5 runs above replacement for the year, even with the triple crown. If something like that had happened in real life it'd be obvious to most everyone that it wasn't a great season, and the smarter observers would realize that it was actually a pretty bad year.
   15. Bourbon Samurai in Asia Posted: September 21, 2012 at 05:13 PM (#4242540)
That would be awesome if there was an actual triple crown that you could get and keep until the next guy to win it.
   16. Booey Posted: September 21, 2012 at 05:27 PM (#4242551)
Would it be possible to win the Triple Crown and not have a year that someone would consider great? I doubt it. 50 home runs and 150 singles, with no other extra base hits?


The only way I could see it happening is if the player had a high average but rarely walked, played poor D, and milked an offensive ballpark for all it was worth, so those hits and homers weren't really as valuable as they normally would be.

Dante Bichette in 1995 is the example that comes to mind. Led in HR and RBI, finished 3rd in average. So if Gwynn and Piazza hadn't had such great years, Bichette would have won the Triple Crown with a slg heavy 130 OPS+ and a whopping 1.0 WAR.

Edit: though he finished 2nd in the MVP voting, so I guess voters at the time did think it was a great season. Maybe people just didn't understand park effects back then?
   17. AROM Posted: September 21, 2012 at 05:34 PM (#4242561)
Coke to Booey. The perfect storm triple crown season made me think of Bichette too.
   18. Walt Davis Posted: September 21, 2012 at 06:18 PM (#4242596)
If Bichette had won the triple crown, I'm sure he would have written a letter to Bud to ask to be declared inelgible due to playing in Coors.
   19. vivaelpujols Posted: September 21, 2012 at 10:03 PM (#4242706)
Single season WAR leaderboard over the past 5 years:

http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2012&month=0&season1=2008&ind=1&team=0&rost=0&age=0&filter;=&players=0

Cabrera 2012 is on the second page, about the 45th best season over the past 5 years. Now he's got 10 games left, so he could still crack into the top 35.
   20. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: September 21, 2012 at 10:18 PM (#4242713)
The only way I could see it happening is if the player had a high average but rarely walked, played poor D, and milked an offensive ballpark for all it was worth, so those hits and homers weren't really as valuable as they normally would be.


Someone get Jeff Francoeur to Colorado STAT!
   21. valuearbitrageur Posted: September 21, 2012 at 11:19 PM (#4242739)
At this point, Cabrera has had the better season as a hitter. Trout has been the better offensive player thanks to his speed


I think people keep missing the really amazing part of Trout's season. He's been the best OFFENSIVE player in baseball. Stealing 43 and getting caught only 5 times is a significant value. Leading the league in grounding into double plays is a significant demerit for Cabrera.

You don't have to count his fine defense to establish that Trout is the best player in baseball, that's how amazing his season is.
   22. bjhanke Posted: September 22, 2012 at 07:29 AM (#4242796)
"The only way I could see it happening is if the player had a high average but rarely walked, played poor D, and milked an offensive ballpark for all it was worth, so those hits and homers weren't really as valuable as they normally would be.


Someone get Jeff Francoeur to Colorado STAT!"

Amusing, but I've thought ever since Coors opened that this might be possible. Not for Francoeur, or anyone like that, but Juan Gonzalez or Vladimir Guerrero or someone like those two might have a real chance. The biggest trick would be to keep any power guys from being in front of the Big Gun in the lineup, when your ballpark is encouraging power for everyone. If one of the guys ahead of you is also hitting 25+ homers, your chances of wining the RBI title drop a lot. Klein, milking the Baker Bowl, on a really bad team, whose next-best homer hitter hit a grand total of nine, is probably the closest. - Brock Hanke
   23. BDC Posted: September 22, 2012 at 10:05 AM (#4242828)
Wow, that Bichette example is amazing. Even for a bad fielder and low-percentage baserunner, to get 1.0 WAR out of a .340/40/128 near-Triple-Crown season is head-slapping. But the B-Ref "AIR" factor for Bichette that year was 129, so there was a hilarious amount of inflation going on.
   24. McCoy Posted: September 22, 2012 at 10:45 AM (#4242841)
Cabrera has managed to post a higher OPS than the previous month 4 months in a row now. He's managed to post a higher BA 3 months in a row so far. No fade for him.
   25. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: September 22, 2012 at 11:04 AM (#4242852)
But the B-Ref "AIR" factor for Bichette that year was 129, so there was a hilarious amount of inflation going on.

I still vote for this season as the most astonishing home/road split in MLB history
   26. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: September 22, 2012 at 11:10 AM (#4242857)
although this one might be more astonishinger
   27. Booey Posted: September 22, 2012 at 08:20 PM (#4243315)
Amusing, but I've thought ever since Coors opened that this might be possible. Not for Francoeur, or anyone like that, but Juan Gonzalez or Vladimir Guerrero or someone like those two might have a real chance. The biggest trick would be to keep any power guys from being in front of the Big Gun in the lineup, when your ballpark is encouraging power for everyone. If one of the guys ahead of you is also hitting 25+ homers, your chances of wining the RBI title drop a lot. Klein, milking the Baker Bowl, on a really bad team, whose next-best homer hitter hit a grand total of nine, is probably the closest. - Brock Hanke


Yeah, I agree. Pre-humidifier Coors was a Triple Crown waiting to happen. Walker and Helton were legitimately great hitters, but they weren't amongst the absolute best of the best of their era. If they could put up .370/45/145 type seasons in their peaks, the mind boggles at what even better hitters like Manny or Thomas or Pujols could have done if they'd played their prime in Colorado.
   28. DJS and the Infinite Sadness Posted: September 22, 2012 at 08:36 PM (#4243322)
The weakest Triple Crown would be Paul Hines, only 7th in the league in bWAR in 1878.

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