A Trio in Line for Triple Crown
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.