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September 8, 2010

Checking the Numbers

Triple Crown Update

by Eric Seidman

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As September kicks into gear and the playoff races begin to heat up, another race is piquing the attention of a large population of baseball fans. The difference is that the race to which I am alluding is not assured of producing a winner. In fact, it has not produced a winner since 1967, when Carl Yasztremski led the American League on the mighty triumvirate of batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Leading the league in each of these categories in the same season is referred to as the Triple Crown, and for the first time in quite a while, there exists a strong possibility that the feat will be achieved. Say what you will about the relative merits of the batting average and RBI stats, but cliché saber-oriented rants aside, leading the league in all three is incredibly impressive.

Last week, I dusted off my trusty old simulation in order to run through the remainder of the season upward of 10,000 times for every player who could conceivably win one of the legs. At the time of the initial run, both Albert Pujols and Joey Votto were ranked first or second in the National League in each of the stats, leading many to believe that one of those NL Central first basemen would be the one to accomplish the feat. There was also the Infante Clause to deal with, in that the Braves utility man held a whopping lead in the BA department but did not yet qualify for the leaderboard. Even if he fell short of the requisite 502 plate appearances, hitless ABs are added to his tally to see where he stood.

After running through the season 10,000 times and adjusting for the phantom AB stipulation, Infante won the batting title about 72 percent of the time, with a Triple Crown occurring in only 7.7 percent of the runs. Of those 777 seasons, Pujols led the league in all three categories 663 times. The feat appeared to be a relative longshot, but Pujols was far and away the favorite. Carlos Gonzalez did not take home the prize in any of those seasons, but he remained the dark horse candidate as he was the only other player to rank in the top five in all three categories. At the behest of some commenters, I am going to keep everyone up to date each week on where players stand with regards to the Triple Crown because it seems like something new develops every other day on the leaderboards.

For starters, much has changed between the publication of the original article on September 1 and now. On September 1, here were some of the numbers and ranks:

Name

BA

HR

RBI

Albert Pujols

.316 (5)

35 (1)

95 (2)

Joey Votto

.327 (2)

32 (3)

97 (1)

Carlos Gonzalez

.326 (3)

29 (5)

91 (3)

Omar Infante

.341 (1)

7

38

Martin Prado

.317 (4)

15

58

Placido Polanco

.307 (7)

6

43

Starlin Castro

.315 (6)

3

40

Adam Dunn

.266

33 (2)

88 (4)

Dan Uggla

.286

29 (5)

83 (8)

Prince Fielder

.269

28 (6)

69

Mark Reynolds

.216

32 (3)

83 (7)

Casey McGehee

.286

20

86 (6)

Adam LaRoche

.272

23

87 (5)

There were three players within striking distance of each category (Pujols, Votto, CarGo), one potential spoiler in batting average (Infante), a couple of spoilers in the power departments (Dunn, Reynolds, LaRoche (!?), and McGehee), and then a few players who were longshots in their category but were still in the loop (Uggla, Fielder, Prado, Castro, Polanco). Here are the pertinent players and data entering Tuesday, September 7 (this is a very time-consuming process, so it will usually run a day behind stats-wise):

Name

BA

HR

RBI

Albert Pujols

.309 (6)

35 (1)

97 (2)

Joey Votto

.321 (3)

32 (3)

98 (1)

Carlos Gonzalez

.340 (1)

31 (5)

97 (2)

Omar Infante

.339 (2)

7

39

Martin Prado

.313 (5)

15

61

Starlin Castro

.317 (4)

3

40

Adam Dunn

.271

34 (2)

91 (4)

Dan Uggla

.284

29 (7)

87 (11)

Matt Holliday

.303

25

88 (7)

Corey Hart

.283

27

88 (7)

Ryan Howard

.275

26

88 (7)

Prince Fielder

.274

30 (6)

73

Mark Reynolds

.211

32 (3)

83

Adrian Gonzalez

.305 (8)

27

88 (7)

Adam LaRoche

.267

23

90 (6)

David Wright

.292

23

91 (4

In a week, Carlos Gonzalez has catapulted himself atop the batting average leaderboard, regardless of whether Infante currently qualifies. That is what going 16-27 to start off September will do. For the first time in a while, we actually have a player capable of challenging Infante, which is exciting with regards to programming the simulation engine. As CarGo illustrated, players can get smoking hot over the course of a week, but it feels fairly safe to suggest that none of the other batting average challengers are all that likely to suddenly vault up to the .340 range. I may eat these words next week, but that’s just my opinion right now.

Pujols and Votto did not homer last week, while Dunn blasted a dinger and Gonzalez added two. I know I’m being Captain Obvious here, but Pujols will need to pick his game back up in order to stave off Dunn and even Gonzalez. In the RBI department, Votto remains at the top, but he has knocked in a mere one batter more than both Pujols and the surging Gonzalez. Right now, CarGo leads in hitting and is a sac fly away from tying for the lead in RBI, while sitting four back in the home-run column and making him the most likely candidate for the crown. For someone else to unseat Gonzalez, he will need to get incredibly hot while the Rockies outfielder significantly cools off.

With the formalities out of the way, let’s run through the season another 10,000 times for each of the players. For a full description of the simulation, please refer to the following articles. The results are tabled below:

Name

% BA

% HR

% RBI

% ALL

Carlos Gonzalez

56.57

4.37

31.54

3.38

Joey Votto

2.39

34.01

45.02

1.57

Albert Pujols

0.10

44.06

22.82

0.08

As expected, these are the only three players to win the Triple Crown in any of the runs, but while it is very likely these names will appear at the top of leaderboards, the order is preventing Triple Crowns from occurring. Gonzalez is, as of right now, the odds on favorite to win the batting title, but the simulation has very little confidence in him out-slugging Votto, Pujols, or even Adam Dunn. Similarly, Pujols has a solid shot at the HR and RBI crowns, but he won the batting title just 10 times out of 10,000 runs. Aside from each other, Infante won the batting title 39 percent of the time, and Dunn out-homered everyone 12 percent of the time. Otherwise, this is a three-man race.

As I put the finishing touches on this article, however, Gonzalez hit a three-run homer, keeping his average high and pushing him into the lead for RBI. I’ll be back with another update early next week, but as of right now, there is a 5.03 percent chance of a Triple Crown occurring. If it does, it is very likely to be the man they call CarGo.

Eric Seidman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Eric's other articles. You can contact Eric by clicking here

11 comments have been left for this article.

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