MLB Detroit Tigers

10 Hitters Not Named Miguel Cabrera With the Best Chance to Win the 2013 Triple Crown

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Miguel Cabrera Likely to Win 2012 Triple Crown

Howard Smith - US PRESSWIRE

Since he debuted in the major leagues as a 20-year old in 2003, Miguel Cabrera immediately showed the potential to be one of the game’s best all-around hitters.

He was a regular as an MVP finalist by year three, and he’s accumulated five top-five finishes (this year will assuredly be his sixth) during his 10 years in the big leagues. Cabrera has taken his game to a whole new level in 2012, as he’s making a serious run at becoming the first hitter to win the Triple Crown in either league since Carl Yastrzemski did so in 1967.

With three games remaining, Cabrera is batting .329 with 44 home runs and 137 runs batted in. The batting average edges out Mike Trout by just four points, the home run total tops Josh Hamilton by one, and the RBI total tops Hamilton by 10. Barring a shocking RBI total, Cabrera has that category, and even if Hamilton ties Cabrera in home runs, Cabrera still gets credit for the Triple Crown (Yastzremski tied in 1967).

The batting average will be the toughest one to hold onto, considering both Trout and Cabrera should see at least 12 more plate appearances until the regular season’s end. Cabrera also leads in a slew of other categories – he’s first in slugging percentage (.608), OPS (1.001), extra base hits (84), and total bases (375), and he rates in the top five in his league in runs scored, hits, intentional walks, and WAR.

Cabrera is still just 29 years old and it’s definitely a possibility that he will threaten this historic milestone again. He’s stayed very healthy throughout his career and he’s as consistent as anyone in the game.

The following 10 hitters – plus a few extra that just miss – have similar skill sets to Cabrera and could put together this type of a run.

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10. David Ortiz

Howard Smith - US PRESSWIRE

The odds of a 37-year old player (38 by next year) winning a Triple Crown are not good, but then again, take a good look at Big Papi’s numbers in 2012.

When he wasn’t hurt, David Ortiz managed to rack up a .318/.415/.611 statline with 23 home runs and 60 RBIs in just 383 plate appearances. That’s a 1.026 OPS that actually edges out the marks posted by both Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout this season, although Ortiz couldn’t stay healthy enough to sustain that over a full year.

If he could put up one last gasp though, he might be able to do it, and the fact that he doesn’t play defense will prolong his career.

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9. Prince Fielder

Howard Smith - US PRESSWIRE

Even though he’s nearly 300 pounds, Prince Fielder has hit at a .313 clip for 160 games. He’s remarkably durable for a man of his size, having missed an average of just two games per season since 2006.

Fielder has averaged 37 home runs and 108 RBIs for the last seven seasons, and he now hits in a lineup that includes Miguel Cabrera, so RBIs won’t be a problem at all. Maintaining a batting average of that caliber will be difficult considering he has no speed, and he’s going to need to hit 20 points higher to win the Triple Crown.

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8. Bryce Harper

Howard Smith - US PRESSWIRE

If this was written about players that can win a Triple Crown sometime in the future, Bryce Harper would probably be number one on the list. But by next year, he will still be just 20, and physically, he won’t have his maximum power yet.

Harper’s stats this year are impressive for a player of any age, let alone a teenager: He hit 22 home runs, stole 17 bases, posted an .817 OPS, and played fine defense out in the outfield. I have no way of projecting Harper’s numbers for next season, but if he can do that at the age of 19, who knows what he can do in the future?

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7. Giancarlo Stanton

Howard Smith - US PRESSWIRE

In terms of raw power, Giancarlo Stanton should have no problem eclipsing 40 home runs for the majority of his prime years in major league baseball.

Stanton hit 37 home runs this season in 121 games. That’s a ridiculous total, and it projects to over 50 for a full season. He’s still just 22 years old and will probably get more power.

In the post-steroid era (for the most part), players aren’t going to hit 50 home runs like they used to. But Stanton has a chance to do that regularly. The batting average obviously will be the question, and he’s at .290 this year which puts him tied for 26th in the National League among players with at least 400 at-bats.

But as his swing develops more, his line drive rate increases, and if he gets a little bit of luck on his side, he could definitely turn in a .340 season.

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6. Matt Kemp

Howard Smith - US PRESSWIRE

Matt Kemp has already led the league in home runs and RBIs, and he batted .326 last season. That’s a pretty intriguing prospect for a future Triple Crown winner.

Kemp struggled to stay healthy this season but he still batted .307 with 23 home runs and 69 RBIs in 443 plate appearances. I don’t think he’s a 40-homer guy so the league high for home runs would have to be low but Kemp could definitely win the batting title.

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5. Mike Trout

Howard Smith - US PRESSWIRE

Mike Trout had a pretty monster rookie season in 2012, and he’s currently at .325 with 30 home runs and 83 RBIs. Project that to 162 games, and that comes out to 35 home runs and about 100 RBIs.

I don’t think he’s going to have much of a problem hitting .320 or .330 in the future and he’s only going to gain more power as he gets older. What he will struggle to get is the RBI total, as he hits leadoff. If the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim move him down in the lineup to the third spot, his RBI total will skyrocket.

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4. Albert Pujols

Howard Smith - US PRESSWIRE

Albert Pujols isn’t quite the hitter he was back in his glory days with the St. Louis Cardinals when he won three National League MVP awards and he finished runner-up four more times.

Pujols batted .331/.426/.624 with 41 home runs and 123 RBIs per season from 2001 through 2010 before “dropping off” to .294/.356/.531 with 34 home runs and 102 RBIs per season from 2011 through 2012.

But don’t think he could never hit .320 or .330 or even better again. He’s still an incredibly talented hitter and if you throw away his treacherous starts each of the last two seasons, he’s the Pujols of the old.

Pujols in 2011 (June 1 and after): .318/.383/.613, 28 HR, 69 RBI

Pujols in 2012 (June 1 and after): .313/.376/.583, 22 HR, 77 RBI

Those are pretty similar numbers and if he can avoid his rough start during the 2013 season, he’s got a shot.

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3. Josh Hamilton

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The only thing keeping Josh Hamilton from being higher is that he’s incredibly streaky, and he can’t possibly expect to win a Triple Crown with a slump like he had this year.

Check out his season:

April 6 – May 16: .404/.458/.838, 1.296 OPS, 18 HR, 45 RBI in 35 games

May 17 – July 29: .204/.285/.408, .693 OPS, 10 HR, 38 RBI in 57 games

July 30 – Oct 1: .291/.361/.548, .948 OPS, 15 HR, 44 RBI in 54 games

That’s a tale of three stories. Hamilton was unsustainably good, then treacherously awful, and then his normal self. If he can produce part 1 or part 3 over a full season, he’s got a very good chance to win the Triple Crown.

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2. Joey Votto

Howard Smith - US PRESSWIRE

The top two hitters on this list are Joey Votto and Ryan Braun, and it’s tough to separate the two. But Votto loses out by a hair, simply because he doesn’t quite have the consistency of Braun or the raw power.

Neither is a 50-home run guy but Votto has only hit 30 once. This year can’t be held against him because he was injured, but he hit “only” 29 home runs in 2011, 25 in 2009, and 24 in 2008. Votto has topped out at 113 RBIs and reached 100 twice, which is very good, but it’s not going to win a Triple Crown.

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1. Ryan Braun

Howard Smith - US PRESSWIRE

Ryan Braun is remarkably consistent, steroids or no steroids.

He hit .332 with a .994 OPS in 2011, then followed that up with a .321 season and a .994 OPS in 2012. He’s led the National League in OPS each of the last two seasons, and that’s a true measure of just how good of a ballplayer he is.

Braun has averaged 34 home runs and 107 RBIs per season since he came up to the big leagues in 2007, and he has a .314 batting average to go with it. He’s batted .300 in five of his six major league seasons and topped .320 four times. If anyone is going to do it, he’s the guy.