2023 SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards: Voting Open Now!

Here we are. It's Game 162 and Detroit's Miguel Cabrera is on the verge of winning the Triple Crown. The breakdown: he has a commanding lead in RBIs (139 to Josh Hamilton's 128), is in first place all alone in home runs (44 to Hamilton's 43), and leads in batting average by seven points (.331 to Mike Trout's .324). In order for Cabrera to lose out on this historic achievement, Josh Hamilton would have to hit two home runs to Cabrera's zero this evening (or three-to-one, etc) or Cabrera would have to go 0-for-4 while Trout goes 4-for-4. Neither are all that likely to happen, especially since Cabrera has the luxury of sitting down whenever he likes tonight to preserve that batting average.

With the Triple Crown such a likely possibility—the first one in 45 years, remember—some seem to be wondering why the feat isn't getting enough attention. Now, to be fair, Cabrera's chase is definitely being talked about. It's a top news story on all major sports networks, websites, etc., and people are definitely discussing it online and at the bar. But this is a rare feat, one that hasn't happened since the mound was lowered, and one that is rightly associated with some of the greatest players in baseball history. Usually, when baseball experiences such an historic event, the media goes crazy. Think Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Think Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron. Think Derek Jeter and 3,000 hits. Think Cal Ripken and Lou Gehrig. Miguel Cabrera and the Triple Crown aren't being ignored, but they certainly aren't being talked about like that.

Some people might blame this on the MVP debate. All this talk about Mike Trout and his overall excellence (and the related tearing down of Cabrera as nothing more than a big bopping statue). WARP vs. RBI. Nerds against the real fans. Some might say it's because he's from Detroit and not one of the media centers like New York or Los Angeles. Some even claim more nefarious reasons.

Maybe there's some truth to these explanations, but it's much simpler than all of that. The Triple Crown, by its very nature, is a surprising and unpredictable feat. With Barry Bonds chasing Hank Aaron, or even Jeter going for #3,000, they are countdowns. We know that they're going to happen and we can celebrate each tiny step there. They never, ever catch us by surprise. The Triple Crown, however, is impossible to seriously consider even a month out. A player heading into September leading the batting title by ten points and home runs and RBIs by 5 or 10 apiece cannot be assured of winning the Triple Crown. A bad week at the plate, an injury, a hot streak by an opponent—anything can happen to knock someone off the board. Just look at Cabrera two weeks ago. No one was certain even then that he would be close to the crown today. There's also the fact that, in the last couple of years, we've seen a few players approach the Triple Crown late into September but not break through (Matt Kemp was a contender last year, Joey Votto the year before).

In short, we just have a hard time believing that anyone will be able to join the likes of Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, and Ducky Medwick until it actually happens. And now it's actually happening. Let's stop analyzing it and enjoy the ride.

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"The Triple Crown, by its very nature, is a surprising and unpredictable feat."

That's been said a lot the last week or so. But in history it's happened more often than the best player in baseball being in his age-20 season and showing complete dominance offensively (game's best), on the basepaths (game's best), and in the field (among the game's best). Trout's 2012 is even more surprising and even more unpredictable.

For the Triple Crown winner, folks will rationalize the scarcity of the Triple Crown. For the player who is the game's best at age 20, folks will rationalize not voting for him on the shaky grounds that "he has plenty of time to win more." It's not until writers stop rationalizing and start voting for the best player--and there's a clear-cut one this year--that we'll get the kind of progress in the MVP ballot that we got when 13-12 Felix beat a trio of 19 or better game winners for the CYA.
I think Larry's point is, why do we need to make the comparison?

Miggy is almost certainly going to get the triple crown. That's amazing! Mike Trout is putting together one of the best single in the history of baseball as a 20-year-old. That's amazing! Sure, those few who vote on MVP awards have to decide which is more amazing. But the rest of us don't. We should appreciate that we get to see 2 amazing feats in one year, not get bogged down in flame wars over who is more amazing.

I think we've all conditioned to knee-jerk every discussion involving Cabrera, the Triple Crown, and Trout to be an MVP debate. Larry was very careful to try and not make this column about the MVP award. But understandably, we fall into the habit.
I think a part of it is that it kind of crept up on us. A lot of times, when we see Triple Crown stories late in the year, it's a guy having a career year into August or September and gradually fading, leaving us to wonder if he can hold on. In this case, for the most part, Miguel Cabrera's had a fairly typical Cabrera year, so it was kind of a gradual shift from, "Miguel Cabrera is once again proving himself one of the best hitters in baseball" to "Hey! Cabrera could actually win the Triple Crown this year!" around the time when the focus is more on postseason and awards (which explains why a lot of the focus is in contrast to Trout).
The Miggy-Trout debate is so good for baseball. It brings attention to the great individual athletes within the sport. I thought Larry's post was spot on. Cabrera's run has gone a little bit under the radar....Verlander was talking on Monday about the absence of national media around Cabrera. Regarding the MVP, my head says Trout, my heart says Cabrera. While I certainly embrace the analytical approach to player evaluation, I also have a hard time shedding the ties to history that the Triple Crown evokes. When I hear "Triple Crown" and I can't help but think of Yaztrzemski cards in my spokes and whiffle ball tournaments in the backyard. Dang, this sport is great!
The Tigers are in the playoffs and the Angels aren't, thus Cabrera wins the MVP. They'll compare Trout's batting average, HR and RBI to Cabrera's and pick Cabrera.

Not the way I'd vote, but that's how most voters will vote.

Then we'll get a month of articles from sabremetricians about how wrong that decision was and be an anecdote for all future MVP awards.