The Triple Crown

The term Triple Crown carries a lot of gravitas in the sports world. There’s the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, which hasn’t been won since 1978. In the 34 years since, there have been 12 horses* that have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, but all have failed to win at the Belmont Stakes.

*Spectacular Bird, Pleasant Colony, Alysheba, Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Charismatic, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, Big Brown, and I’ll Have Another. Thanks, Wikipedia.

In baseball, the Triple Crown drought goes back even longer. Carl Yastrzemski last won the award in 1967. For the most part, no one has made a serious run at the Triple Crown since. Until Miguel Cabrera, this year.

I never thought that I would ever see a baseball player win the Triple Crown. With 30 teams, there are many more teams and players to compete against. In 1967, there were 46 players in the American League that qualified for the batting title. This year, there were 82.

Guys who hit home runs are not supposed to win batting titles. In the American League this year, 15 guys hit 30 home runs. Five hit above .300. Cabrera hit .330.

Clearly Miguel Cabrera is a special player. He has been for awhile. In fact, before this year, he had already led the league in batting average, home runs, and RBI’s in three separate seasons. If there was one guy in baseball to break the drought, it was going to be him.

But this year’s Triple Crown brings a bit more intrigue because, you could argue (and I would) that Miguel Cabrera was not the best player in the league. No, that would be the rookie Mike Trout, who probably had the greatest rookie season of all time. By WAR he was the most valuable player since Cal Ripken in 1991.* And he’s younger than me.

*That’s if you exclude the steroid-inflated Barry Bonds years from 2001-2004.

Here’s what Mike Trout did: he stole 49 bases in 54 attempts – a ridiculous 91% mark. He was a tremendous fielder, robbing home runs and making sliding catches that few other outfielders could make. He was the best base runner in baseball. He led the league in runs. The Triple Crown does not account for these numbers. WAR does.

Cabrera will win the MVP because there are still many old-fashioned writers who are disillusioned by advanced baseball stats. Plus, Cabrera’s team won the division while Mike Trout’s Angels are going home.

It’s a fascinating discussion – how do you measure player value in baseball? What does the term most valuable player even mean? It’s such a subjective question, and everyone has a different opinion. But it’s a discussion worth having. I’m sure it will only heat up as the sport meanders through this month of October.

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