When Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera won the Triple Crown last year by leading the league in batting average, home runs and Runs Batted In, he became the first to do so since Red Sox outfielder Carl Yatrzemski in 1967. It was also the first time the Triple Crown winner was broadly questioned by statistical analysts who now use different statistics to evaluate hitters. It was clearly a memorable event from a historical perspective and traditional Tigers fans were understandably miffed that some seemed to be devaluing Cabrera's accomplishment. Personally, I am a traditional enough fan to have enjoyed the feat when it happened, but there were also some things about it that bothered me.
Many regarded Cabrera's season as extraordinary because he won the Triple Crown, and it was a special season symbolically, but it wasn't a remarkable season for him. He hit for a higher On-Base Percentage plus Slugging Average (OPS) and had more Batting Runs in both 2010 and 2011, two statistics which better measure a player's individual batting contribution that the Triple Crown statistics. He missed out on the Triple Crown those years because other players happened to have great seasons in the triple crown categories at the same time.
Cabrera is off to an even better start this year and there is talk about another Triple Crown. That would make him the first back-to-back triple crown winner in history which would be really cool. Suppose though that he has a monster season which surpasses anything he has ever done this and doesn't win the Triple Crown? He could bat 375 with 45 home runs and 160 RBI, and miss the crown because teammate Prince Fielder hits 46 homers. Does his Triple Crown season remain special?
There is no perfect way to summarize a players batting performance, but the triple crown statistics have become outdated as the ultimate measures of success. Most readers of this blog understand the limitations of the batting average/ home runs/ RBI trio. For anyone who needs a refresher, I discussed them in an earlier post. The Triple Crown idea is still appealing, but it would be more meaningful with a more modern trio of statistics.
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 much better than the traditional numbers 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.
The Triple Crown should also exclude summary statistics such as OPS. The purpose of the triple crown is to combine three different batter qualities, rather than have one number which mashes everything together. I also don't want anything which includes estimates such as Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) even if it weren't a summary metric. This is a good measure of batting talent, but I want something that traditional fans can actual count or calculate.
What is needed is a trio which is comprehensive and
relevant but simple enough so as not to turn away the masses. 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 generally not 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, that's my Alternative 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. Unlike the traditional crown, it does not fail to reward walks and extra base hits which are not homers. It considers both
excellence and playing time and it's simple.
It turns out that Cabrera did not win the Alternative Triple Crown last year. He finished first in batting average (.330) and Total Bases (377), but was second in Times On Base to (274 versus 284 for Fielder).
This year, Cabrera is leading the league in all three categories with a .387 batting average, 114 Total Bases and 90 Times on Base.
So, let the Alternative Triple Crown watch begin.