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August 17, 2005

Can Of Corn

The Even Newer and More Improved Triple Crown

by Dayn Perry

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In last week's column, I proposed a revised hitter's Triple Crown, one that made notional improvements upon the current troika of batting average, home runs and RBI. I chose on-base percentage, slugging percentage and plate appearances as the components of the New and Improved Triple Crown (NITC). Well, the inclusion of plate appearances raised many a hackle among readers, and when that happens it's usually a sign I've fouled something up.

I included plate appearances for two reasons: one, you need some sort of counting metric to balance out the rate stats, and, two, it's an indicator of health and durability, which are most assuredly vital skills. The problem, however, is that plate appearances are team- and batting order-dependent. Not to the degree of RBI, certainly, but they're nevertheless too mucked up by external factors to merit a place in the NITC. So mea darn culpa on that one, and thanks to all who helpfully called me on it.

Anyhow, this week I've decided to revisit the NITC, this time as the Even Newer and More Improved Triple Crown (ENMITC). I've decided to retain the general design of the traditional Triple Crown (i.e., two counting stats and one rate stat), but flesh it out with statistics a far cry more evocative than AVG, HR and RBI. To do this, I'm going to use total bases, times on base and OPS. I'm not entirely fond of the lattermost metric, for reasons other than the fact that it's a mathematical non sequitur. However, OPS does have strong thumbnail value, and it's certainly superior to AVG, OBP or SLG in isolation. Total bases? It's a good indicator of power, and like all counting stats it contains an inherent measure of playing time. Times on base? A counting proxy for OBP.

Well, it turns out the ENMITC rubric is a far more accommodating one than the short-lived NITC. Here's the list of hitters who've led their leagues in total bases (TB), times on base (TOB) and OPS since 1900:


Year    Hitter             Lg.   TB     TOB    OPS
1901    Nap Lajoie         AL    350    269    1.106
1906    George Stone       AL    291    267     .918
1906    Honus Wagner       NL    237    243     .875
1908    Honus Wagner       NL    308    260     .957
1909    Ty Cobb            AL    296    270     .947
1910    Sherry Magee       NL    263    278     .952
1911    Ty Cobb            AL    367    300    1.088
1913    Gavvy Cravath      NL    298    237     .974
1914    Benny Kauff        FL    305    291     .981
1915    Gavvy Cravath      NL    266    241     .902
1915    Ty Cobb            AL    274    336     .973
1917    Ty Cobb            AL    335    290    1.014
1919    Babe Ruth          AL    284    246    1.114
1920    Rogers Hornsby     NL    329    281     .990
1921    Babe Ruth          AL    457    353    1.359
1921    Rogers Hornsby     NL    378    302    1.097
1922    Rogers Hornsby     NL    450    316    1.181
1923    Babe Ruth          AL    399    379    1.309
1924    Babe Ruth          AL    391    346    1.252
1924    Rogers Hornsby     NL    373    318    1.203
1926    Babe Ruth          AL    365    331    1.253
1928    Babe Ruth          AL    380    313    1.172
1932    Chuck Klein        NL    420    287    1.050
1932    Jimmie Foxx        AL    438    329    1.218
1933    Chuck Klein        NL    365    280    1.025
1933    Jimmie Foxx        AL    403    301    1.153
1934    Lou Gehrig         AL    409    321    1.172
1938    Jimmie Foxx        AL    398    316    1.166
1939    Johnny Mize        NL    353    293    1.070
1940    Johnny Mize        NL    368    269    1.039
1942    Ted Williams       AL    338    335    1.147
1943    Stan Musial        NL    347    294     .988
1945    Tommy Holmes       NL    367    298     .997
1946    Stan Musial        NL    366    304    1.021
1946    Ted Williams       AL    343    334    1.164
1947    Ralph Kiner        NL    361    277    1.055
1947    Ted Williams       AL    335    345    1.133
1948    Stan Musial        NL    429    312    1.152
1949    Ted Williams       AL    368    358    1.141
1951    Ted Williams       AL    295    313    1.019
1952    Stan Musial        NL    311    292     .970
1953    Al Rosen           AL    367    290    1.034
1956    Mickey Mantle      AL    376    302    1.169
1963    Hank Aaron         NL    370    279     .977
1966    Frank Robinson     AL    367    279    1.047
1967    Carl Yastrzemski   AL    360    284    1.040
1970    Carl Yastrzemski   AL    335    315    1.044
1978    Jim Rice           AL    406    276     .970
1981    Dwight Evans       AL    215    208     .937
1981    Mike Schmidt       NL    228    189    1.080
1994    Jeff Bagwell       NL    300    216    1.201

As you can see, it's not all that uncommon of a feat; only 15 players have won the traditional Triple Crown, but transpose that figure into 51, and you'll have the number of batters who have won the ENMITC. Still, no one's pulled it off in a full season since Jim Rice in '78, and no NL hitter has claimed the full-season ENMITC since Hank Aaron in '63.

It's also worth noting that, of the traditional Triple Crown winners since 1900, only Joe Medwick in 1937 and Rogers Hornsby in 1925 failed to also win the ENMITC during the same season. What might surprise some of you is that none of the recent Barry Bonds iterations has won the ENMITC. That's because his ridiculously inordinate walk totals have served as a drag on his total base tallies. For instance, here are his NL total base rankings since he began his perhaps fraudulent run of excellence in 2001:


Season          NL rank in total bases
2001            3rd
2002            7th
2003            15th
2004            16th

How is it possible, as Bonds did in 2004, to log a qualifying number of plate appearances, slug .812 and still finish outside the top 15 in total bases? Well, you'll have to walk 232 times.

Anyhow, as the ENMITC races in 2005 go, it's possible we'll have winners in both leagues for the first time since 1947, when Ralph Kiner and Ted Williams roamed the earth. In the NL this season, Derrek Lee of the Cubs tops the loop in total bases and OPS, but he trails Albert Pujols by nine in times on base. Over in the junior circuit, Alex Rodriguez may be better positioned than Lee to win the ENMITC: he has a 36-point lead over Yankee label-mate Jason Giambi in OPS (yes, Jason Giambi, once hurtling fecklessly toward the Sarlacc that is Triple-A Columbus, is now second in the AL in OPS), leads Derek Jeter by 10 in times on base and trails the slumping Miguel Tejada by only four in total bases.

In Lee's favor, however, is that he's on pace to become the first player since Stan Musial in 1948 to record at least 400 total bases and reach base at least 300 times in the same season. Of course, he could reach both of those milestones and still not win the ENMITC.
Related Content:  Rogers Hornsby,  Ty Cobb,  Jimmie Foxx,  Ted Williams,  Al,  Nl,  Triple Crown

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