Handicapping Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown Odds
Over the years, the Triple Crown has gotten to be like a .400 batting average or a 56-game hit streak. The last Triple Crown season happened 45 years ago, and signs pointed toward it never happening again.
We could be just nine days away from having to take these signs down.
As everyone is well aware at this point, Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera is making a strong push to become the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Presently, Cabrera is leading the American League in batting average at .331 and in RBI with 133. His 42 home runs are second only to Josh Hamilton, who hit his 43rd long ball of the season Monday night.
Cabrera has nine games left to surpass Hamilton's home run total, not to mention hang on to his leads in the batting average and RBI departments. If he does, he'll have done something that many baseball fans figured they would never get to see again (or in some cases, period).
But can Cabrera do it? For that matter, are the odds even in his favor? Good question. Let's have an immediate discussion.
Odds of Leading the AL in Batting Average
Cabrera's .331 batting average is tops in the Junior Circuit by a fairly comfortable margin. The next closest pursuer is Los Angeles Angels super-rookie/best player ever(?) Mike Trout, and he's only hitting .323.
Better yet for Cabrera, he and Trout are heading in opposite directions where their batting averages are concerned. Trout took a beastly .353 batting average into August, but he's hitting just .273 since. And through 21 games in September, Trout is hitting just .256. He's gone 0-fer in five of his last seven games, a notion that would have been laughable as recently as a couple weeks ago.
Cabrera, meanwhile, is hitting an even .350 since the start of August and an absurd .388 over his last 12 games. The Tigers have needed hits, and he's kept the hits coming.
However, while Cabrera may be pulling away from Trout, he's not necessarily pulling away from the rest of the field. Derek Jeter and Joe Mauer are within striking distance of Cabrera at .322, and neither of them is slowing down as the season winds down.
Bad ankle and all, Jeter is hitting .370 over his last 18 games to raise his batting average six points from .316 to .322. Joe Girardi is making things a little easier on Jeter by letting him DH on a regular basis, and this strategy is definitely paying off. Jeter is hitting .309 when he plays shortstop this season and .394 when he DH's.
Mauer is even hotter than Jeter these days. Over his last 17 games, Mauer is hitting .397 with just 11 strikeouts in 75 plate appearances. He's raised his batting average 10 points from .312 to .322.
Ron Gardenhire is also making sure Mauer doesn't get worn out. In September, he's split Mauer's playing time fairly equally between catcher, first base and DH. The Twins have done everything their power to keep Mauer's bat in the lineup, and they're not about to abandon the system they have in place.
This is a luxury Cabrera doesn't have, as Jim Leyland needs him at third base every day. Playing third obviously hasn't affected Cabrera's offense all that much this season, but he's not getting the same chances to focus solely on hitting that Jeter and Mauer are getting.
The other thing to keep in mind is that it's been a week since Cabrera's last multi-hit game. He's collected only one hit in each of Detroit's last six games, compiling a batting average of .261 in the process.
This doesn't mean Cabrera has gone cold, per se, but he's going to need to collect a few more multi-hit games between now and the end of the season in order to put pressure on Trout, Jeter and Mauer. If the status quo holds for Cabrera, he'll be leaving the door open for his pursuers to catch up to him.
Still, it's not like we're talking about a player who's in uncharted territory. Cabrera won the AL batting title in 2011, so this is a road he's been down before.
Odds of Leading the AL in Home Runs
Only two players in the American League have hit more home runs than Cabrera in September, and he only needs two to leapfrog Josh Hamilton for the AL season lead.
He's in good shape, right?
Yes he is, but the home run chase is easily the trickiest part of Cabrera's bid for the Triple Crown. It won't be easy for him to chase down Hamilton, and there are also other pursuers who could jump in and ruin everything.
For starters, there's little reason to think that Hamilton is going to stop hitting home runs in the near future. He only has seven home runs this month to Cabrera's nine, but Hamilton has hit his seven homers in six fewer games.
Hamilton is launching a home run every 7.9 at-bats, whereas Cabrera is launching a home run every 9.1 at-bats.
Much depends on Hamilton staying healthy over the next nine days. That's always a tricky proposition where he's concerned, but he should be able to avoid more vision problems now that he knows that his recent issues were caused by too many energy drinks, according to ESPNDallas.com (hey, we've all been there, Josh).
Further helping Hamilton's cause is the fact that six of Texas' last nine games are at home. Per ESPN.com, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is the eighth-best home run park in the majors this season.
Cabrera, meanwhile, has three games left to play at Comerica Park before the Tigers hit the road to visit Target Field and Kauffman Stadium. Comerica is the 14th-best home run park in the majors, and both Target Field and Kauffman Stadium rank outside the top 15.
The bright side? Cabrera only has to face the Royals and Twins the rest of the way, and both of them have had their issues with the long ball. Only the Yankees have surrendered more homers than the Royals in September among AL teams, and the Twins have given up a total of 187 home runs this season. The only AL team that has surrendered more is the Blue Jays.
So, even though Hamilton is going to have it pretty easy over the next nine days, the odds of Cabrera catching him aren't necessarily bad.
One thing Cabrera has to worry about, however, are other players catching up to him. It feels like the AL home run race is between Hamilton and Cabrera and nobody else, but Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion both have 41 HRs. They're right there with the two pace-setters.
Between the two, Dunn is less of a threat. He may have launched two homers on Monday, but those represent two of the mere three home runs he's hit in September. For that matter, he only has three dingers in his last 20 games dating back to August.
Encarnacion, on the other hand, is doing pretty well. He's hit six home runs in 59 at-bats this September, or one about every 9.8 at-bats. In the next week-and-a-half, he only has to worry about hitting at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and the Rogers Centre, two rather friendly home run parks.
There's also a chance Curtis Granderson will crash the party. He has 40 home runs and has hit six home runs in his last 47 at-bats. That's one every 7.8 at-bats.
Cabrera has won a home run title before, but winning another one this year isn't going to be easy.
Odds of Leading the AL in RBI
Cabrera is leading the AL in RBI largely because he's been racking them up in bunches ever since the All-Star break. He has an AL-high 62 RBI in the second half, and so far in September, he has an AL-high 24 RBI.
The only player within sight of Cabrera in the RBI chase is Hamilton, who is nine RBI off the pace, with 124.
That's a lot of ground to make up, and Hamilton is only capable of doing so much on his own. He can drive himself in by hitting home runs, but he's only going to rack up RBI in bunches if Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus get on base ahead of him.
Good luck with that. Kinsler, the Rangers' primary leadoff hitter, has an on-base percentage of .280 this month. Andrus has been even worse hitting out of the No. 2 hole, posting an OBP of .244.
It's a little easier for Cabrera to drive in runs these days. He never knows who's going to be hitting second in Detroit's lineup on a daily basis, but at the very least, he knows that Austin Jackson is going to be holding down the leadoff spot. Jackson has a solid .381 OBP this season and a .367 OBP in September.
Jackson's ability to consistently get on base is a pretty significant advantage that Cabrera has over Hamilton. Additionally, Cabrera has been driving in runs without hitting the ball out of the park lately, something Hamilton hasn't been doing quite as well. Thus far in September, Hamilton has yet to record an RBI in a game in which he didn't also hit a home run.
For Hamilton to catch Cabrera in the RBI chase, he's going to have to start driving in runs without hitting home runs. And for that, he's going to need men to get on base ahead of him with regularity.
Even if these things happen, he still needs to hope that Cabrera goes into an RBI slump. So, for the time being, this is an area where Cabrera is in very good shape.
Odds of Pulling Off the Triple Crown
If you were to walk up to me and start twisting my arm and then ask me if Cabrera has a legit chance of winning the Triple Crown, I'd say yes.
What say you? Will Miguel Cabrera get it done?
I'd say yes because it's hard to see him losing the leads he has in two of the three key categories. Given the way he's swinging the bat, I doubt that Cabrera's batting average is going to sink much lower than .331. If it doesn't, Trout, Jeter and Mauer are going to need to get insanely hot in order to catch up to Cabrera.
The RBI chase is even more of a done deal. It feels like Cabrera is the only Tigers player who's actually driving in runs these days, and the amazing part is that this isn't far from the truth. The 24 runs he's driven in this month represent about a quarter of the 99 runs Detroit has scored in September.
The home run chase is where Cabrera's bid for the Triple Crown is at its weakest. He may only be one home run behind Hamilton, but nobody should be foolish enough to think that Hamilton is going to stop hitting the long ball. He did in June and July, but he's up to 14 home runs since the first of August in only 166 at-bats. That equates to one homer every 11.9 at-bats, which is a strong rate.
Cabrera earning the Triple Crown is a legit possibility, but still short of being a lock.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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