Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Miguel Cabrera and the Alternative Triple Crown

There has been a lot of talk about the possibility of Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera winning the triple crown this year.  This of course means leading the league in batting average, home runs and Runs Batted In.  Cabrera currently leads in batting average (.3302) by a hair over Angels rookie Mike Trout (.3298).  His three RBI tonight give him 116 for the season which puts him in the lead over Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton (114).  Cabrera trails the leaders in only the home run category.  His 35 bombs places him fourth behind Hamilton (38), White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn (38) and Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (37).  

Winning the triple crown is a rare feat.  It has been accomplished only 13 times since 1901, nine in the AL and four in the NL.  The last one to wear the crown was Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 when he hit .327/44/121.  The only Tiger to do it was the legendary Ty Cobb who batted .377/9/107 in 1909. So, it would be quite an accomplishment if Cabrera were able to pull it off.

Remarkable as it would be though, I am not a fan of the statistical trio which defines the triple crown.  First, Runs Batted In is a team dependent statistic which favors players on superior hitting teams.   A batters position in the line-up also influences his RBI total.  A lead off hitter usually has fewer opportunities to drive home runs than a clean-up hitter, since the generally weaker 7-8-9 hitters bat in front of him.  The RBI leaders at the end of a season are as likely to be the players with the most opportunities as the players most proficient at hitting with men on base. 

Players have much more control over batting average and home runs than RBI, but those measures leave out too much information.  None of the triple crown numbers address bases on balls, doubles or triples which I think is a problem. So, I want to come up with a set of numbers that is more balanced and fair.

Some have proposed that the increasingly popular slash line metrics (batting average/ on-base percentage/ slugging average) be used as the new triple crown.  This trio provides a good summary of offensive production combining the ability to hit for average, to get on base and to hit for power.  I don't like this threesome any better for the triple crown though.  The problem with the slash line statistics is that they are all rate statistics which do not address playing time.

So, I want something different - a trio which is comprehensive and relevant but simple enough so as not to turn away more traditional fans.  I'll stay with the slash line theme, but I'll tweak it so that it incorporates playing time.  The counting statistic equivalents to BA/OBP/SLG are hits/times on base/ total bases which are three basic enough statistics.  To stay parallel with the traditional crown, I'll use one rate statistic and two counting metrics

I don't like using hits as a counting metric because it is biased in favor of players who rarely draw walks, which is not generally a positive attribute. While the hits leader is usually a very good batter, it's better to stick with batting average.  Since there is really nothing about accumulating times on base and total bases which can be considered negative, those can be left as counting statistics. 

So, there you have it.  The new triple crown - batting average, times on base and total bases.  It addresses everything that a good hitter does - hit for average, get on base and hit for power.  It considers both excellence and playing time and it's simple.

It turns out  that Cabrera has as good , if not better, of a chance to win the alternative triple crown as the traditional one.  As mentioned above, he leads the league in batting average.  He has a commanding lead with 312 total bases.  The closest hitters are Hamilton and Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano with 284.  Finally, the Tigers third baseman trails teammate Prince Fielder 240 to 233 in times on base. 

So, maybe Mr. Cabrera can win two crowns - the traditional one and the new creation.

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