MLB Triple Crown: No Complex Math Required

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Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera contends for the MLB Triple Crown this season. (AP)
Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera contends for the MLB Triple Crown this season. (AP)

Miguel Cabrera may win the Triple Crown.

Not the one that requires three brilliant performances over the course of several weeks in Kentucky, Maryland, and New York, though confusion on that point is understandable. But while three four-legged champions won horse racing's Triple Crown in the seventies, baseball's most recent Triple Crown winner, Carl Yastrzemski, earned that distinction back in 1967.

Miguel Cabrera looks to be home free in RBI's, so next week, if he can bang out one more homerun than Josh Hamilton can, and if he can keep his average atop the heap, he will finish the season as the American League's leader in the three batting categories that have mattered since some forgotten historian first began attaching numbers to baseball.

Happily, despite the explosion of more precise measures of a player's value over the course of the past several decades, those three categories still constitute the Triple Crown. Aspiring Triple Crown winners do not have to lead their leagues in slugging percentage, or on-base-plus-slugging-percentage, or in total bases, or in adjusted batting wins, or in any other category requiring the use of calculus.

For homeruns and runs batted in, you only need be able to count. To determine batting average, you need division, but determining batting averages is how lots of us learned how to do division, so that's okay.

The other stuff is fine for the sort of baseball fans who are real or frustrated accountants…the sort of baseball fans likely to miss a double play on the field because they're tapping away on something electronic in order to determine the value of the potential double play to the pitcher's win probability added coefficient on Sundays when the second baseman is hung over…just in case that double play does happen. Because where would you be at the next gathering of Sabermetricians if you didn't have that figure at your fingertips?

Where you'd be…where you are, if you're me…is in a simpler place. That's why I'm happy that baseball's triple crown hasn't undergone a metamorphosis into the quintuple crown or the octo-crown or some other mutation of the bottom lines labeled batting average, runs batted in, and homeruns. Maybe that's old-fashioned, but I won't say I'm sorry for my bias, any more than I'll apologize for ignoring the sushi bar at the ballpark on my way to buy peanuts and crackerjack.

This segment aired on September 29, 2012.

Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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