Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cabrera Is Better Than The Triple Crown

At this time last year, Tigers fans were closely tracking Miguel Cabrera's batting average, home runs and Runs Batted In as he closed in on baseball's first Triple Crown in 45 years.  It was a special moment when the Tigers slugger finally secured the home run portion of the crown on the final day of the season.  The final numbers were fantastic - .330/44/139 to go along with a .393 on-base percentage and .606 slugging average. 

Despite leading the league in the three most popular batting categories, it was not Cabrera's best season.  He had more Batting Runs and a higher OPS in both 2010 and 2011 but missed out on the Triple Crown because other hitters had better years in one or more of the the three Triple Crown statistics.  Still, the Triple Crown was a memorable achievement of great symbolic and historic significance.  If nothing else, it helped him gain more attention for his awesome hitting talent which Tigers fans have been admiring for the past few years.

This year, the defending American League MVP is chasing another Triple Crown which would make him the first player to accomplish that feat in two consecutive years.  He is leading the league in batting (.360) and RBI (120), but trails Orioles first baseman Chris Davis in home runs 45 to 40.  He has been picking up the home run pace as of late, but Davis is not slowing down.

I would never better against the Tigers superstar, but chances are he won't win the Triple Crown this year because Davis happens to be having a monster season in one of the categories.  Don't worry though.  Cabrera's season transcends the Triple Crown.  This is an absolutely epic season regardless of whether he leads in three arbitrary numbers.

More advanced statistics which measure his total batting performance give us a good idea of just how dominant he has been.  He has a .478 Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) which is more than 30 points ahead of his nearest competitor - Davis at .444.  Last year, Cabrera's wOBA was "only" .417.  

Moreover, Cabrera's Adjusted Weighted Runs Created (wRC+) of 208 tells us that he he has created 108% more runs than would be expected by an average hitter in 522 plate appearances. Davis is second at 183.  Last year, Cabrera had a 166 wRC+.

Cabrera is not just having a great season though  He is having one of the best hitting seasons of most our lifetimes.  His wRC+ is higher than any American League player in a full season since Mickey Mantle (217) and Ted Williams (223) in 1957!  Only Bonds in 2001-2004 did better in the National League.

Going back further, Cabrera's wRC+ was surpassed in only 18 seasons in the major league history and all the names ahead of him were absolute legends - Bonds, Lou Gehrig, Rogers Hornsby, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Williams.  The highest wRC+ ever for a Tiger was Ty Cobb's 206 mark in 1910.

In franchise history, Cabrera is closing in on Norm Cash's franchise record of 76 Batting Runs in 1961.  He currently has 62 which translates to 81 over a full season.  He is also on line for the best slugging average in team history (.688 to Hank Greenberg's .683 in 1938). 

If you prefer to stick with the traditional numbers, Cabrera is on pace for .360/52/156.  That is mind-boggling no matter how deeply you like to dive into statistics.  Among Tigers, only Greenberg hit more homers (58 in 1938) and RBI (183 in 1937 and 170 in 1935), but he batted no higher than .337 in any of those seasons.

So, anyway you slice it, Cabrera is having a season for the ages.  He might not win the Triple Crown, but his season has been so amazing that reducing it to a Triple Crown discussion would be almost disrespectful.

Data for this post were extracted from FanGraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Lee: It's been a real pleasure watching Miggy this year. That said, it would be pretty cool if he won a second Triple Crown! Let's hope Chris Davis slows down a bit. Cheers, Kevin

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  2. I'm kind of hoping he does not win the Triple Crown. I want this season to stand on its own and not be lumped with last season. Plus, I like the saber storyline of winning the TC last year, but doing even better this year without the TC. :-)

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  3. Hi Lee: Fair enough. I think I know where you're coming from, for the most part because I've been reading your blog and learning from it for so many years. It ought to be sufficient to say he is having a historically good year. But that's why it's cool when triple crown or MVP awards align with sabremetrics. Everybody's happy, though perhaps it doesn't further dialogue about what's *really* significant. Anyhow, Go Tigers! Cheers, Kevin

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  4. He's also blowing away Alex Rodriguez in the production value to salary ratio. His agent should demand a lot more money!

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