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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. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Meurso

Fantastic Eric. And Gonzalez has already added another HR and 3 more RBI since you wrote this while no one else helped themselves much, boosting his chances further.

Sep 08, 2010 06:34 AM
rating: 1
 
BurrRutledge

I like these articles, Eric.

I'm curious what PECOTA had to say about CarGo in this spring's evaluations. Is his overall performance as big a surprise as Bautista's HR explosion?

Sep 08, 2010 07:35 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

PECOTA had his 90 percentile as .312/.385/.550 with 25 HR and 20 SB, which he has surpassed so far. Bautista's 90 percentile was .275/.373/.494 with 25 HR. So... I'd say Bautista's is much more improbable. I think most understood CarGo would be a very good player, if not a star, whereas Bautista went from journeyman to Dunn.

Sep 08, 2010 07:46 AM
 
CRP13

Just think how good CarGo would be if he played ALL his games at Coors. Home: 394/440/801 Road: 288/310/450.

I'm surprised more isn't being said about those ridiculous splits. Has anyone with his number of AB ever had that huge a disparity between his home/road numbers? I'd be interested to see a list. Too bad his numbers and BABIP scream for a regression in 2011.

Sep 08, 2010 09:07 AM
rating: 1
 
misterjohnny
(925)

I am very wary of these simulations. While I don't know the math, it appears to me that the simulations don't properly account for the extreme variations in performance on a week to week basis.

Looking at the Playoff Odds simulations, mid year you have a team with 90% likelihood to make the playoffs. 10 days later they are 40%. It seems to me they weren't 90% to begin with if they are going to be 40% in just a short period of time.

same goes for this. Lots of players get hot. Just glancing at my fantasy baseball league, Hunter Pence (?!?) hit 435 with 2 HR and 10 RBI in a week (Tuesday-Monday). Stanton, Tulo, Heyward, Howard, all hit 3 Home Runs. Corey Hart hit 4! Utley had 11 RBIs. There is just too much variation to put any stock in these simulations, imo.

Sep 08, 2010 09:25 AM
rating: -2
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

MisterJohnny, I linked to articles I previously wrote that explain the background of this particular simulation. I specifically set it up to alleviate concerns similar to yours. If you don't want to put much stock in it, that's your prerogative, but it was set up to account for wide variations. There are runs where Pujols faces an inordinate amount of #5 or worse starters, just as there are times when CarGo sees 70% aces or #2s. Anything can happen.

Don't confuse this with the playoff odds simulation, however, as they are not the same thing. So, thanks for the concern, but I assure you it's already accounted for.

Sep 08, 2010 10:09 AM
 
beatkilla

While much has been made recently in regard to Carlos Gonzalez' extreme home/road splits, I find it interesting that he has enjoyed so much success this season while maintaining a poor BB/K ratio (at last glance he was at 5.7% BB vs. 21.4% K). Is there any historical precedent for a season this good with similar components?

Sep 08, 2010 10:35 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Eric Seidman
BP staff

You guys with the H/R and BB/K splits are just begging for a CarGo-centric Seidnotes column.

Sep 08, 2010 10:42 AM
 
StatFreak101

And is that a bad thing? :)

Sep 08, 2010 11:55 AM
rating: 2
 
CRP13

Would be interesting. I haven't yet seen beatkilla's "much has been made recently...home/road splits", but I've been out of pocket. Did I miss an article on this?

Sep 08, 2010 13:35 PM
rating: 0
 
fawcettb
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Geez. None of this is going to happen. Let's move onto something worth analyzing, eh?

Sep 08, 2010 17:02 PM
rating: -11
 
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