Three players who could win the Triple Crown this year

With two months left in the regular season, there is a chance baseball history could be made this year. I count three players, as of this writing, with at least a shot at becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 43 years. While the odds are probably against any of these men prevailing, the fact they’re within range seems noteworthy in itself.

Miguel Cabrera, Josh Hamilton, and Joey Votto are each among the top six in their leagues for batting average, home runs and runs batted in, the three statistical categories that constitute the Triple Crown.

Here’s how the race looks currently:

Player League Batting Average Home Runs Runs Batted In
Miguel Cabrera AL .351, 2nd 26, 2nd 93, 1st
Josh Hamilton AL .362, 1st 23, 4th 75, 6th
Joey Votto NL .322, 1st 27, 1st 72, 5th

Of the three, Votto is statistically closest and might have the best shot. Hamilton appears too injury-prone to rack up sufficient home run and RBI totals, talented though he may be, and a reader pointed out that Jose Bautista has a fairly insurmountable home run lead, with 32 currently. The reader also said more American League hitters should emerge as batting crown contenders, such as Robinson Cano who does his best work in the second half.

Regardless, it interests me that this Triple Crown push is occurring in an oft-proclaimed year for pitchers. I wonder if there’s a correlation, or if it’s a fluke and if in any season, a few top players will be within range of the Triple Crown.

It doesn’t seem so outrageous that solid league-wide pitching could lower the offensive bar enough to make it easier for one or two outlying players to lead all three categories. This kind of thing has happened before. The last time baseball had a Triple Crown winner, when Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967, the American League had a 3.23 earned run average and a .236 batting average. The year before that, Frank Robinson won his Triple Crown in an American League that boasted a 3.44 ERA and .240 batting average.

Those seasons are nothing compared to 1968, when pitchers were so clearly favored that the height of the mound was subsequently lowered. In what may have been the greatest year for pitchers beyond the Deadball Era, the National League had a cumulative 2.99 ERA, a league-wide WHIP of 1.12 and almost another Triple Crown winner, with Willie McCovey nabbing the home run and RBI crowns but finishing a distant eighth in the batting race.

In fact, 2010 might not be enough of a pitcher’s year to favor a Triple Crown winner. Sure, a lot of pitchers were on pace to win 20 games as of the All Star break, and the NL batting average is a relatively puny .257, with the AL not faring much better at .263. But for some odd reason, the NL ERA is 4.38, while the AL ERA is 4.21. Of the 14 Triple Crown seasons in baseball history, just five came in years where the league ERA was above 4.00. Those seasons are:

  • Rogers Hornsby 1922 and 1925
  • Jimmie Foxx 1933
  • Lou Gehrig 1934
  • Mickey Mantle 1956

Granted, Triple Crowns have been won in years favoring hitters. Both seasons that Hornsby triumphed, the National League batted .292 overall. Also, it bears mention that the sample size of Triple Crown winners is so small, with 12 players in baseball history having accomplished the feat that it’s difficult to make determinations one way or another. (Side note: Wikipedia lists Hugh Duffy as having won the Triple Crown in 1894, while Baseball-Reference.com says he finished second in RBI that year. I’m deferring to the latter site. Someone should update Wikipedia, unless I’m missing something here.)

I don’t know if there’s any rhyme or reason regarding the Triple Crown. Still, I would love to see Cabrera, Hamilton or Votto prevail.

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