© 2012 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.
10/03/12 10:45 PM ET
Cabrera cements place in history with Triple Crown
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
Savor this. Don't argue about its elements, don't quibble over its merits. Appreciate it for what it is: History. Miguel Cabrera has locked up the American League Triple Crown and made history in a sport steeped with it. He found his rightful place among some of the game's giants by completing a statistical achievement unseen in 45 years. You want to knock the Triple Crown's components as outdated and arbitrary? You have a fair argument. You want to assert that the Triple Crown should not automatically equal an MVP Award? You can make a compelling case. But if you want to tell the people entrenched in this game and the fans for whom those stats still resonate that the Triple Crown doesn't matter, well, that's an argument you'll simply never win.
You're better off holding on to the history that was made here in 2012, history that was clinched Wednesday night in Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium. Because who knows when, or even if, we'll see another season like this: Home runs: Cabrera 44, Josh Hamilton 43, Curtis Granderson 43. Batting average: Cabrera .330, Mike Trout .326, Adrian Beltre, .321. RBIs: Cabrera 139, Hamilton 128, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Willingham 110. Only 10 players -- including two who did it twice -- have had a season like that since 1920. None of them are named Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. The last Triple Crown came from Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Even when the offensive numbers got gaudy -- and in many cases, ridiculous in the era before steroid testing -- no player could quite concoct the proper formula to lead his league in the game's three most readily recognizable offensive categories. It is true that two of those categories -- home runs and RBIs -- are rather redundant. After all, if you hit a home run, you drive yourself in. So there's one RBI right there. Home run hitters are inherently run producers, and RBI opportunities say as much about a player's supporting cast as they do about the player himself. It is telling that entering this 2012 season, no less than 40 players had led their league in both home runs and RBIs since Yaz's 1967 season, so the combination of those two elements of the Triple Crown hardly qualifies as rare. But to combine the power and run production with the batting average is what made Cabrera's season so special. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only four times since 1967 has a player led his league in batting average and RBIs -- Joe Torre in 1971, Al Oliver in '82, Todd Helton in 2000 and Matt Holliday in '07. Not once in that span did a player lead the league in batting average and home runs. Not until Cabrera, that is. It's the inherent rarity of that combination that cements the status of what Cabrera pulled off. Is batting average the fairest barometer of a player's plate performance? No. On-base percentage -- which, unlike batting average, accounts for walks -- is much fairer. Are home runs unquestionably the best barometer of a player's pure power? No. Slugging percentage might tell us more, especially when you consider the park factors at play in the homer tally. And RBIs? Well, we know that can be a fluky index, incumbent as it is on the availability of opportunity. So, sure, over the years, the statisticians have established fairer, more substantial means with which to evaluate performance and compare contributions than the "Holy Trinity" of home runs, batting average and RBIs. Some have proposed a "Modern Triple Crown," consisting of batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage -- but even this would have been pulled off six times by five players (Fred Lynn, George Brett, Larry Walker, Helton and Barry Bonds twice) since 1967. That's why the old-school Triple Crown still captures the imagination. Only six men since Yaz -- Cabrera included -- have managed to lead the league in home runs, batting average and RBIs at any point in their careers, let alone a single season (Manny Ramirez, Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Andres Galarraga are the others). To do it in a single season requires many stars to align. You must stay healthy, first and foremost, because otherwise the RBI total will lag. You must not be a one-dimensional power threat whose gaudy homer titles are accompanied by staggering strikeout marks. And as Cabrera himself has admitted, you need quite a bit of luck, given the reliance on those who set the table and the various statistical sways taking place around the league. For Cabrera to have all those elements in his favor and to have the kind of season he put together -- with a pitchers' park serving as his home base, with his team in a division title battle that went down to the wire and with all the increased scrutiny of the Internet era -- isn't just impressive, and isn't just further validation that he is trending toward a call to Cooperstown. It's history. And it was pretty cool to watch it all unfold.