It’s been 45 years since Major League Baseball had its last Triple Crown winner. The length of the drought is more fascinating than the fact that we’ve filled the vacated title. What was going on between 1967 and now? Did hitters become too specialized, with power guys and guys who got on base separated like church and state? Did the steroid era nullify the importance of batting averages? Perhaps most confusing of all, how did Barry Bonds not trip and fall into one?
When you consider the instances prior to Yaz’s Triple Crown, that each decade had at least one player lay claim to all three crowns; it appears that it is just dumb luck that it has taken so long. And worse luck for the man who would be king to win it in the era of sabermetric statistical analysis.
Three categories comprise the Triple Crown: home runs, runs batted in and batting average. While still decent measures of productivity, the value of such numbers is now weighted against the additional stats created by Bill James and his ilk. Today batting average is just a poor man’s on-base plus slugging, the venerable RBI has proven to be as telling of the quality of batters in front of a player as it is of the batter bringing them home and home runs are just one of the three “true outcomes”.
In other words, the Triple Crown is now the long form version of hitting for the cycle – surely impressive but ultimately unintentional. We’re left with, appropriately, a horse race.
Even before this shift in statistical analysis, an MVP was never a promise to the winner of a Triple Crown. Just ask Ted Williams or Lou Gehrig. But this year, Miguel Cabrera’s MVP credentials are in question exactly because of the new methods of measuring a player’s value. Sure Cabrera leads in the big three, but not in on-base percentage or isolated power or wins over replacement player or runs created over 27 outs.
Because of this, and a number of other reasons, Cabrera will unwittingly become the figurehead for “old school” baseball fans as nothing gets old-schoolers chili running hotter than home runs, RBI and batting average. Angel’s rookie Mike Trout will be the emblem on the flag of the new bred of stat geeks who’ll be chanting WAR as the ballots are handed out. On the sidelines are the hippies who keep asking what “value really means, man.”
The length of time since the last Triple Crown has bloated its mystique. After it finally happened we’re wondering what we were waiting so long for.
The King is dead, long live Yaz.