09/26/12 12:14 PM ET
Triple Crown still a tremendous achievement
Sure, there are plenty of other relevant stats, but if it was easy, everyone would do it
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
It's an accomplishment to be celebrated, a spectacular collision of good fortune and achievement. That it has been done 15 times in 135 seasons is a testament to its difficulty.
No player has done it in 45 years, and some of us fell in love with this game in that Red Sox summer of '67.
We imitated Carl Yastrzemski's stance and his swing. We dreamed of someday seeing that little bandbox of a ballpark in Boston.
If Miguel Cabrera becomes the 14th player in 134 years to win a Triple Crown, he'll join a list that includes Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig and Ty Cobb. Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby are the only players to do it twice.
No matter how sophisticated the metrics become, if a player finds himself on a list with Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams, he has done something special.
To lead a league in batting average or home runs is still a big deal. Yes, batting average does still matter.
Are there better ways to evaluate players? Absolutely.
I've read "Moneyball" a dozen times. It's a brilliant story, a brilliant piece of writing and reporting.
Billy Beane forever changed the way teams evaluate talent. Incredibly, there are still people who discount data-driven analysis.
No one is suggesting scouts shouldn't have a role in the evaluation of players. Anyone doing that is also an idiot. But the smart teams are taking advantage of tools that simply didn't exist 50 years ago.
No player should be evaluated just on his batting average, home runs and RBIs. But they matter.
As one of the game's most accomplished general managers told me earlier this season, "It all still matters. You have to look at all of it."
Are batting average and RBIs as revealing as OBP, OPS, WAR, etc.? No, they are not. There's absolutely no question that Mike Trout should be the American League's Most Valuable Player. There just are too many components to his game that Miguel Cabrera doesn't have.
That's not what the Triple Crown is about. It's about a player taking advantage of three different skill sets.
So few have been able to do it that it must be enormously difficult. To win a batting title is to produce hits, consistently and in bunches. Thanks to "Moneyball," it actually is more of an accomplishment than in previous years because the smart teams do a far better job at defensive positioning and pitch location.
Is it as important as OBP or OPS? No.
Don't ask me about "swing plane." I don't really get it, and the team that uses it is secretive about why it matters.
But that particular team -- OK, it's the Tampa Bay Rays -- has done more with less so often in recent years that it would be ridiculous to discount anything they do.
Home runs speak for themselves. They can be taken as part of a whole offensive package, along with doubles, walks, etc., but they're the most magical thing baseball has.
RBIs are another matter. They're partly about being in the right place at the right time. Then again, every baseball statistic has a team component wrapped into its core meaning.
Baseball players feed off one another, and if Miguel Cabrera wins a Triple Crown, he'll owe a debt of gratitude to Prince Fielder and others.
In the 30 years since my friend John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press came up with the statistic for a quality start, it has been ripped as being too easy to accomplish.
Yes, at its statistical base, it's allowing no more than three earned runs in six innings. Is that really a quality start?
Would seven innings and two earned runs be better? We can debate that one late into the night.
John's theory was that pitching in the modern game was about getting a team into the seventh inning within striking distance. In that way, the quality start holds.
Is it the final word? No, it is not. It's just one measuring stick for a game that has hundreds of them.
That's how it is with the Triple Crown. It's a fantastic accomplishment even if we have other ways of assessing a player.
Besides that, it's important to the history and fabric of the game. "Triple Crown" ties generations together.
Your grandfather once met Rogers Hornsby. Sixty years later, you're still captivated by Ted Williams.
For Miguel Cabrera to write his name into this chapter of baseball history would be worth a few fireworks.
He's one of baseball's most likable players, and his journey has not been a smooth one. His human failings have been exposed for all to see.
Still, his 10th big league season has shown again that he's one of the elite players in the game, a player good enough to build a franchise around.
He's a seven-time All-Star and a former batting, home run and RBI champion. He'll finish in the top five in MVP balloting for a fourth consecutive year.
Whether he wins the award will depend on how deeply voters dig into the available data and how they weigh it. Regardless, he has a chance to be remembered first and foremost as a Triple Crown winner.
He's atop the American League leaderboard in batting average and RBIs and trails Josh Hamilton 43-42 in home runs as of Wednesday morning.
Cabrera is close enough now to taste it and feel it and think about what it might mean. It comes at a time when the Tigers desperately need every victory to keep their playoff hopes alive.
All things considered, it's a pretty good way to finish a baseball season. Here's to Miggy and to the Triple Crown, whatever it really means.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.