The 'real' Triple Crown

Finding the three traditional stats that best measure a player's value

Updated: September 25, 2012, 3:52 PM ET
By Dan Szymborski | Baseball Think Factory
CabreraRick Osentoski/US PresswireWhat's rarer than winning the Triple Crown? Doing so without leading the league in WAR.

For the third consecutive season, baseball has been seriously discussing the Triple Crown come September, despite it being 45 years since Carl Yastrzemski last managed to pull off the feat in 1967. Last year, it was Matt Kemp, who finished first in the National League in homers and RBIs, but finished behind Ryan Braun and Jose Reyes in batting average. In 2010, it was the troika of Albert Pujols, Joey Votto and Carlos Gonzalez fighting for the Triple Crown, all possessing realistic chances through most of the summer, but eventually crowding each other out by season's end.

This season, however, we focus on the American League, and with just over a week left in the season, Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera is in the driver's seat, leading the AL in batting average (.331), RBIs (133), and with 42 homers, only a single homer behind Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers. The Tigers just have nine games left in the season, so at this point, Cabrera's entrance into one of the most exclusive clubs in baseball history definitely appears to be more than a flight of fancy. (According to my model, he has a 46 percent chance of winning the Triple Crown. As hard as it is to pull off a Triple Crown, you have to like those odds.)

Cabrera's actually on the cusp of doing something even rarer: winning the Triple Crown without leading the league in wins above replacement. Mike Trout's amazing rookie season comes out significantly ahead of everyone in the AL, whether you use Baseball-Reference's WAR (Trout 10.4, Cabrera 6.8) or FanGraphs' WAR (Trout 9.5, Cabrera 6.9). By Baseball-Reference's reckoning, Cabrera would only be the second Triple Crown winner to not lead the league in WAR, the only other player being Paul Hines in 1878. Via FanGraphs, Cabrera would only be the fourth, with Hines, Ty Cobb and Hugh Duffy just missing the WAR lead in their Triple Crown years.

The fact that the Triple Crown doesn't correlate with WAR got me wondering, Is there a better Triple Crown, one that does a better job of measuring overall value? After all, choosing average, home runs and RBIs as the Triple Crown was somewhat arbitrary to begin with, and their is another trio of traditional stats that does a much better job of defining overall player value.