Taking absolutely nothing away from the phenomenal and potentially Triple Crown-winning season that Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera is having, it’s simply not as rare as what Mike Trout is doing for the Los Angeles Angels.
This won’t be a Sabermetric debate, as the term has taken on a whole new meaning this fall to now be classified as any statistic used to defend Mike Trout’s MVP campaign. No, even sticking with the same stats your grandfather would have read about in the evening paper during World War II, Trout’s season is still the one we’ve seen less of over baseball’s long history.
The possibility of a Triple Crown has brought a certain mystique to Cabrera’s season, and should he complete the feat, that attention will be well deserved. After all, baseball is a game with a rich tradition of statistics, and in no other sport are there such meaningful benchmarks as .400, 56, and 61 (yes, I still count that).
But if he completes his three-pronged quest, Cabrera will have done so with equal parts skill and luck.
Entering the final series of the season, Cabrera has a batting average of .329, 44 home runs, and 137 RBI’s, all of which individually would have made for a good season, and when put together, make for an incredible one. But in many seasons, those totals would have been enough to win their respective category.
Cabrera’s .329 batting average would have been good enough for a batting title in just one of the past eight American League seasons, and just two of the last 21. His 44 home runs are slightly closer to the historical norms, but still would have won him a home run title in just four of the past 17 years. His RBI total serves as the most dependable of the three, as it would have been good enough for the title in each of the past four seasons, but none of the ten-year stretch from 1996-2005 in the height of the steroid era.
Cabrera’s numbers, while great, have in fact been achieved many times before. There are 20 cases in baseball history of a player hitting at least .329 with at least 44 home runs, at least 137 runs batted in, and at least 109 runs. Twenty times in 112 years is pretty rare, but not as rare as what Mike Trout is doing.
Trout may not be dominating the categories that go along with a prestigious award like the Triple Crown, but his combination of power and speed is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in the game of baseball.
The list of players who have hit at least .325 with at least 30 home runs, at least 48 stolen bases and at least 129 runs scored is exactly one. Mike Trout.
Even if we take away the runs scored, a stat that indicates Trout’s ability to turn getting on base into actual runs but is also aided by hitting in front of Albert Pujols, and batting average, which is subject to significant swings and randomness, the list still grown to only three players. Only Barry Bonds in 1990 and Eric Davis in 1987 have put together the combination of hitting for power and stealing bases the way Trout has this season. And Bonds had the best batting average of the two at .301.
Cabrera’s feat is amazing and should be applauded, but it’s prestige is due only to the historic sentiment we feel towards the only stats we used to know. Somewhere along the line, someone decided that a Triple Crown would be batting average, home runs and RBI’s instead of batting average, stolen bases and runs scored.
And that decision, decades ago, is going to cost Mike Trout an MVP award.