A large part of this year’s AL MVP narrative revolves around Miguel Cabrera’s “winning” the Triple Crown this year, an incredibly rare feat that hadn’t been done since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and has only been done 16 times in the history of the game. Make no mistake; leading the lead in average and home-runs is very difficult, as it has been for most of the game’s long history. Babe Ruth never won a Triple Crown despite a career .342 batting average; he only led the league in hitting one year. Most high-average players are power-starved and would never have a shot at winning the home-run title.
However, as any sabermatrician would tell you, the triple crown is a collection of three relatively flawed hitting statistics that basically should have no meaning in the evaluation and analysis of a player. Home Runs are the “cleanest” of the statistics but aren’t necessarily the best indicator of power in a hitter. Runs Batted In are greater measures of the efficiency of the batters ahead of the hitter getting on base than of his own hitting prowness, and Batting Average treats a bunt single and a towering home-run as the same “hit” while calculating the statistic.
So, is there a better Triple Crown out there, using modern baseball statistics? And, if we found three replacements how would Cabrera’s MVP case look?
If you took the three stats in the current Triple Crown and tried to “improve” them, I think you’d end up replacing Batting Average with Weighted On Base Average (wOBA), you’d replace home-runs with either Slugging Percentage or perhaps more directly with the Isolated Power (ISO), and you’d replace RBIs with the Weighted Runs Created (wRC) statistic. Hitting prowness is replaced with the wOBA statistic, which acknowledges that getting on base via a hit or a walk is more important than just the hitting portion. Power measurements are more accurately displayed via the ISO than by the simplistic Home Run category (which is heavily dependent on the home-park of the player). And the “run creation” aspect that RBIs attempts to measure is more accurately displayed by the wRC statistic.
How would the AL’s top 5 in each of these three “Modern Triple Crown” categories look (data pulled from Fangraphs.com leader board splits for advanced hitting stats for 2012):
Interesting. Cabrera would nearly win the “Sabr-Triple Crown” as well, and if you replaced ISO with Slugging he would have (Cabrera easily led the AL in slugging). His MVP competitor Mike Trout fares pretty well here: he was 2nd in wOBA, 10th in ISO and 4th in wRC (where his lack of a full season hurts him the most, since wRC is a counting statistic over an entire season). But make no mistake; Cabrera’s year at the plate still looks incredible. Keep this in mind when you make “Trout for MVP” arguments; yes Trout’s base-running and fielding prowness gives him a ton of adavantage in the all-encompassing WAR statistics, but voters don’t really care about your fielding when it comes to measuring MVP-calibre seasons at the plate. And the above stats show that Cabrera’s triple crown is no fluke. And, as I pointed out in my awards prediction piece on 10/22/12, Cabrera has a few more things going for him that will sway voters (especially the “old school” types who still view the MVP as a “valuable player” and not a “best player” award).
Also of note in these lists: Edwin Encarnacion continues to have monster production years in relative obscurity of the bottom of the AL east. And notice the #4 and #5 ISO guys in the AL? Why yes its former Nationals Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham. People forget just how good the Nats 3-4-5 hitters where when these two guys and a healthy Ryan Zimmerman were in the lineup. Too bad they never had any pitching to go with them.
Lets pull the same information for 2012 in the National League:
Ryan Braun clearly had a monster season at the plate, winning the modern Triple crown (again, had we replaced ISO with slugging Braun wins again, leading the league in slugging by more than 40 points). In the “normal” Triple Crown Braun finished 3rd in batting, first in homers and 2nd in RBIs, not really even close to Buster Posey’s league leading BA of .336 to ever have a triple crown in his sights.
But we all know Braun has zero shot at an MVP (now or forever in the future most likely) by virtue of the off-season drug testing snafu. Which is a shame; not that Posey won’t completely deserve the award, but Braun’s season at the plate should be noted.
What do you think of the “Modern Triple Crown?” Should I be looking at different stats?