Baseball BeatAugust 23, 2010
A Trio in Line for Triple Crown
By Rich Lederer

I went to the Reds-Dodgers game yesterday afternoon and watched Joey Votto walk and score a run in the first inning, slug a solo home run in the sixth, and line a two-run single in the ninth as Cincinnati beat Los Angeles 5-2 to stay atop the NL Central by 3 1/2 games.

Votto is leading the National League in batting average (.323), on-base percentage (.422), and slugging average (.592). He also ranks third in HR (29) and second in RBI (86) and has an outside chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski turned the trick for the Boston Red Sox.

For the most part, only Albert Pujols, who is in the hunt for the Triple Crown himself, stands in Votto's way. Pujols ranks first in the NL in HR (32) and RBI (89), fourth in AVG (.316), and second in OBP (.411) and SLG (.592). He has never led the league in RBI despite reaching 120 or more in six of his nine campaigns and never having fewer than 103. Albert has ranked first in HR, AVG, and OBP once each and SLG three times.

Over in the American League, Miguel Cabrera is second in AVG (.341), and first in OBP (.435) and SLG (.645). He also leads the league in RBI (102) and is in second place in HR (31). While it would appear that Miggy could win the AL Triple Crown, it must be noted that he trails Jose Bautista by seven home runs. If the latter returns to earth or gets hurt or traded to an NL club, then perhaps Cabrera would have a shot at winning the Triple Crown. Otherwise, he might have to settle with capturing the Triple Crown of rate stats. Joe Mauer (.365/.444/.587) accomplished the latter feat last year, joining Barry Bonds (2002 and 2004) and Todd Helton (2000) as the fourth player to do so in the past ten years.


While it is unlikely that either Votto or Pujols *and* Cabrera will win the Triple Crown this year, there is a reasonable chance that one or two of these first basemen could win the Triple Crown of rate stats. If either Votto, Pujols, or Cabrera had a monster finish and won the traditional and rate stats Triple Crown, he would become only the ninth player to produce this double since 1900. (Tip O'Neill — no, not this one — was the first in 1887.)


Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby — perhaps the greatest left- and right-handed hitters, respectively, in the history of the game — won the traditional and rate stats Triple Crown in the same season twice each.

Only three Triple Crown winners failed to lead their leagues in OBP or SLG. As it turns out, the culprit was OBP every time. In 1956, Mickey Mantle had the misfortune of playing in the same league at the same time as Williams and fell short in OBP (.464 to .479). In 1937, Joe Medwick finished fourth in OBP, trailing leader Dolph Camilli (.446), Johnny Mize (.427), and Gabby Hartnett (.424). In 1933, Jimmie Foxx was edged in OBP by Mickey Cochrane (.459). (In 1878, Paul Hines led the NL in AVG, HR, RBI, and SLG while placing fifth in OBP.)

While all the hitters who won the traditional and rate stats Triple Crown in the same season are in the Hall of Fame, only three were named Most Valuable Player in that year: Yaz, Robby, and Hornsby (1925). Williams lost the MVP to Joe DiMaggio in 1947 and Joe Gordon in 1942. Gehrig succumbed to Cochrane in 1934 and Klein to Carl Hubbell in 1933. There was no NL MVP in 1922 and no award winners in 1909 and 1901. Mantle, Medwick, and Foxx, the other three Triple Crown winners, all won their league MVPs.

Only Yastrzemski, Robinson, and Mantle won Triple Crowns and played for a pennant-winning team. All three were named MVPs that season.

Meanwhile, Votto or Pujols could become the first NL Triple Crown winner since Medwick in 1937. As noted above, Cabrera could become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Yaz in 1967. Votto or Pujols could win the Triple Crown on a team that just might win the NLCS. If so, history would suggest that whoever pulls it off would be a lock to win the NL MVP this year. Cabrera, on the other hand, will be fighting history, as well as a number of other worthy candidates, including Robinson Cano and Josh Hamilton, both of whom are enjoying career years and playing for division-leading teams.

Note: Rob Neyer points out that Omar Infante could pose a problem for Votto (or Pujols) in batting average. It is my belief that Infante will cool down the stretch owing to a combination of reverting toward his career average, playing every day, and the toll of the long season for a utility player who hasn't appeared in 100 games in a single season since 2005. Nonetheless, it adds an interesting wrinkle to the NL Triple Crown this year.

Update: Dan Szymborski of The Baseball Think Factory quantifies the likelihood of Votto, Pujols, and Cabrera winning the Triple Crown with Albert given a 16.7% chance, Miggy 1.8%, and Joey 0.8%. Insider subscription required. I might be inclined to take the better than 100:1 odds on Votto.


"Meanwhile, Votto or Pujols could become the first NL Triple Crown winner since Klein in 1933"

or Medwick in 1937?

Good catch, Paul. I have fixed that mistake. Thanks.

Nice work Rich.

On Medwick: failed to lead in OBP as you pointed out, missing on the rate stats triple crown, but led the league in runs, hits, doubles, SLG, OPS, OPS+, & total bases, in addition to the 3 traditional triple crown categories, while also hitting 10 triples. While I love the advanced stats, a season like Medwick had in '37 is one reason not to solely use them to judge players.

I've got to throw this in about Stan Musial: no triple crown won, but his '48 season was one of the best ever. He did win the rate stats triple crown that season, while leading the NL in : runs, hits, doubles, triples, RBI, avg, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. He was just one measly HR away from winning the traditional triple crown.

Thanks, AaronB. Medwick and Musial both had seasons for the ages in those years. Musial also led the NL in times on base. As a result, he led the league in what I affectionately termed the Quad that year: OBP, SLG, TOB, and TB.

Speaking of the Quad, among the Triple Crown winners, Lajoie, Cobb, Hornsby (1922), Klein, Gehrig, Williams (1942), Robinson, and Yastrzemski also led their leagues in TOB and TB. Cobb, Gehrig, Williams, and Yaz actually the entire majors in each of the Quad categories.

Among non-Triple Crown winners, Honus Wagner (1908), Babe Ruth (1919, 1921, 1923, 1924, 1926), Jimmie Foxx (1938 rather than 1933), and Musial (1943) topped the majors in the Quad categories in the year highlighted. There have been several other Quad winners for their league only, as pointed out in one of my first articles in 2003.

Thanks for the link to the 2003 article, I hadn't seen it.

Williams in 1942 should be 36 HR 137 RBI

Thanks, gdc. I changed the table to correct that error.

Let's abolish the whole concept of batting average as a significant stat...honestly, guys slapping the ball, not taking walks, winning batting titles, or getting to the Hall because they accumulate base hits. I mean Ichiro is a great all-around player....who doesn't walk or drive the ball for a significant percentage of EBH. It's making contact to a fault
How about a New Big Five?

"How about a New Big Five?

XBH and TB are highly correlated [.92, using 2000-2009 data, all player seasons min 450 AB]. And each of those are highly correlated to SLG [XBH .88 and TB .86]

Further BB is the bulk of the difference between OBP and AVG, so if you have OBP, having AVG or BB tells you just about the same thing. I would keep AVG, since you can ballpark a hitters walking and power skills with OBP-AVG and SLG-AVG respectively.

My vote for four [basic] metrics would be PA, AVG, OBP and SLG. Or if you want to go super basic- AB, BB, H and TB.

Eric R.:
Excellent points on correlation....How about one more:

Extra Bases on Long Hits + Base on Balls/PA

Might be a good measure of contact, batting eye, patience, and power ?

If you want to combine counting and rate stats, why not focus on the four components of what I termed the Quad: OBP, SLG, TOB, and TB? These simple, straightforward stats account for hits, walks, hit by pitch, extra-base hits, and plate appearances. I like the fact that they measure quantity and quality. Put me on charge and I would focus on these four stats and any hitter who leads their league in each of these categories would win the Quadruple Crown.

Rich, You stated that "Major League Baseball has never had two Triple Crown winners in the same season." Later, you showed that Foxx and Klein both won in 1933, in the same city no less.

You're absolutely right, Bob. Foxx and Klein won the Triple Crown in 1933 and both played for teams in Philadelphia. I have deleted the sentence you highlighted. Thanks.