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June 29, 2005

Can Of Corn

Anti-Triple Crown Contenders

by Dayn Perry

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If you've given even fleeting attention to the current major league baseball season, you're no doubt aware that Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee has at least an outside shot at claiming the Triple Crown. If Lee pulls it off, he'd be only the 15th player since 1900 to lead his league in batting average, home runs and RBI. The weaknesses of batting average, home runs and RBI as evaluative tools are legion, but, like most flawed statistics, they are telling at the margins. If you're leading the league in these categories, you're going to be a productive player regardless of what the more evocative statistics say. Of course, the same applies to the other, uglier end of the continuum.

A slightly rarer and thoroughly less distinctive honor is what we might call the "Anti-Triple Crown," i.e., when a batter with a qualifying number of plate appearances finishes last in the league in batting average, home runs and RBI.

This latter indignity is pertinent because, at present, Tony Womack of the Yankees and Cristian Guzman of the Nationals both have reasonable shots at "winning" the Anti-Triple Crown. Here's a list of those players to plumb such depths since 1900:


Year     League       Player               PA     AVG     HR     RBI
1914     AL           George McBride       552    .203    0      24
1915     NL           Herbie Moran         493    .200    0      21
1919     NL           Jack Smith           435    .223    0      15
1920     AL           Ivy Griffin          495    .238    0      20
1929     NL           Freddie Maguire      518    .252    0      41
1931     NL           Freddie Maguire      513    .228    0      26
1945     NL           Woody Williams       523    .237    0      27
1956     AL           Willy Miranda        508    .217    2      34
1970     AL           Mark Belanger        518    .218    1      36
1971     NL           Enzo Hernandez       606    .222    0      12
1979     NL           Ozzie Smith          627    .211    0      27
1981     NL           Ivan DeJesus         450    .194    0      13
2003     AL           Ramon Santiago       507    .225    2      29

Some observations on these data before we level our gaze at "Guzmack":
  • Freddie Maguire of the Boston Braves is the only player to claim two ATCs, but Mark Belanger came painfully close to nabbing a second one in 1973, when he ranked last in HR and RBI but only fourth-from-last in AVG.

  • It's bad enough to win an ATC, but to do it in '45, when military conscription had badly thinned the herd of major league-caliber ballplayers (as Woody Williams did), is a whole other stratum of shame.

  • Odd as it may seem, in Ozzie Smith we have a Hall of Famer and an ATC winner.

  • The grisly numbers of Ivan DeJesus were actually helped along by the fact that he played his home games in Wrigley Field, which was quite a hitter's haven in 1981. On the road that season, DeJesus slugged .217 and logged only 3 RBI for the entire year (albeit a strike-abbreviated year).

  • How, exactly, does one get 606 plate appearances in a season and drive in only 12 runs? Ask Enzo Hernandez, who did just that in 1971. Certainly, the Padres' NL-worst team OBP of .291 didn't help, but the real culprit is the fact that Hernandez batted .182 with runners in scoring position and was 0-for-9 with the bases loaded. At one point in '71, Hernandez went from July 2 to Aug. 25 without recording a single RBI. Joe Shlabotnik would be proud.

  • On the list of ATC near-misses we have Vince Coleman in 1986, who in 670 plate appearances ranked last in HR and RBI and third-from-last in AVG. To contend for an ATC is bad enough; to do so as a defensively underwhelming corner outfielder is a mortal sin.

As for Womack and Guzman, here's how they currently stack up:


Player          AVG/Rank          HR/Rank          RBI/Rank
Womack          .239/93rd of 105  0/T-Last          11/Last
Guzman          .200/Last         3/T-83rd of 104   13/T-99th of 104

As you can see, Womack has significant ground to make up in the AVG department. However, he still has a shot. Bottom feeders John Buck and Aaron Boone or Casey Blake could easily fall short of qualifying, and others like Richard Hidalgo, Steve Finley and Tino Martinez are likely under-performing in terms of AVG. Still, much needs to happen. Womack's tied with Scott Podsednik and Jason Kendall in the homers category--it's entirely possible someone in the AL will finish without a single bomb. Womack's RBI tally is only one shy of Nook Logan's, so that'll be a tight one, as well.

As Guzman goes, he's last in AVG, by a full 19 points, so that mark appears safe. The HR race looks untenable for him at first blush, but only two homers separate him from the anti-lead. Guzman also has a couple of factors in his favor with regard to making up ground in the RBI chase. One, he's batting low in a lineup that has general OBP issues and playing in a park that suppresses scoring; two, many of the players behind him figure to get less playing time as the season wears on.

(As a tactical aside, why in the name of all that is holy does Guzman have four intentional walks? The answer, of course, is that he often bats in the eight hole, and many NL managers are beholden to the idea that the eighth hitter should be walked in situations of critical mass to get to the pitcher's spot. But if your reliever can't retire the likes of Guzman, why is he on the roster?)

So if schadenfreude on the individual level is your thing and your HACKING MASS team isn't cutting it, there's something to follow for the balance of the season. Viva la Guzmack!

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