From a historical perspective, where exactly does Miguel Cabrera's Triple Crown belong?
While not the most impressive Triple Crown campaign you'll find—and perhaps not even enough to win him the American League MVP—his accomplishment is still incredible and hasn't been done since 1967. That means quite a lot in the history books.
But how much? Where should we rank his season among some of the all-time great accomplishments in baseball history?
I've decided to find out. Two things before we start: For purposes of keeping this list manageable, we're going to stick with single-season milestones here. And while you might expect to see Barry Bonds on this list, I've left him off due to my own personal belief that some of his finest achievements were aided by steroids.
Enough talk—let's rank some history!
Technically, Rickey Henderson is second on baseball's single-season steals list—Hugh Nichol nabbed 138 bases for the Cincinnati Red Stockings in 1897—but Henderson's mark in the modern era is astounding.
Only Lou Brock (118 in 1974) and Vince Coleman (110 in 1985, 109 in 1987) join Henderson as players after 1900 to crack the top 10 in single-season stolen bases.
Henderson is last on this list, however, because he was a bit of a one-trick pony in 1982. While the 130 steals, 119 runs and 116 walks (also best in majors) all impress, his 10 home runs and 51 RBI hardly contributed in the power department, and his 6.5 WAR was excellent but pales to many you'll see on this list.
Try to wrap your head around that number for a second. Pretty crazy total, right?
Wilson accomplished the feat in 1930 for the Chicago Cubs, and he had a pretty incredible season across the board. Along with his 191 RBI, he also hit .356 with 56 home runs.
There are two reasons Wilson isn't higher on this list. For one, RBIs have become a rather diminished stat in recent years. And when you consider that Lou Gehrig hit 174 RBI or more three times from 1927 to 1931, you see that Wilson's total—while impressive—isn't as otherworldly as some of the other accomplishments on this list.
It's unbelievable that Mark Buehrle could pitch the equivalent of 15 consecutive innings of perfect baseball. But that's just what he did in 2009.
Fresh off a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays, he then added 5.2 innings of perfect ball on July 29 against the Minnesota Twins to seal the record. (An out carried over from his start before the perfect game.)
Throwing a perfect game is remarkable enough. But coming 3.1 innings away from throwing two in a row?
Unheard of. Well, almost.
Roger Maris was fantastic in 1960, winning the American League MVP. But what he would accomplish in 1961 was still a shock.
Maris led baseball that season in runs (132) and RBI (141). Oh, and there was the small matter of hitting 61 home runs, breaking Babe Ruth's record of 60 that had stood for 34 years, while holding off teammate Mickey Mantle, who smashed 54 of his own that season.
Not surprisingly, Maris won his second consecutive MVP award. But spoiler alert: It still wasn't as impressive as the original record. We'll get to that later, however.
When you consider that we haven't seen a Triple Crown winner in 45 years (Carl Yastrzemski was the last to do it in 1967), Cabrera's accomplishment becomes all the more impressive.
While Josh Hamilton gave him a run for his money in home runs (44 to 43), Cabrera won the award with a comfortable lead in batting average (.330 to Mike Trout's .326) and RBI (139 to Hamilton's 128). The fact that he also leads baseball in OPS and total bases only adds to his excellent season.
Of course, there's a very good chance that despite his historic season, he won't even win the MVP. We'll get to that soon, too.
There's finishing strong, and then there is what Orel Hershiser accomplished in 1988 (stat lines via Jeff Merron of ESPN):
- Sept. 5: At Atlanta, 9 IP, 0 runs, 4 hits
- Sept. 10: In LA vs. the Reds, 9 IP, 0 runs, 7 hits
- Sept. 14: In LA, vs. the Braves, 9 IP, 0 runs, 6 hits
- Sept. 19: At Houston, 9 IP, 0 runs, 4 hits
- Sept. 23: At San Francisco, 9 IP, 0 runs, 5 hits
- Sept. 28: At San Diego, 10 IP, 0 runs, 4 hits
The streak started on August 30 after Hershiser gave up two runs in the bottom of the fifth to the Montreal Expos. While not official, the streak actually lasted 67 innings in all, as Hershiser blanked the New York Mets for eight straight innings in the NLCS.
Pretty incredible stuff.
At least it's the greatest rookie season in my opinion. And no, I couldn't resist including him on this list, nor should I have, because what he's done this year is astounding.
Mike Trout led all of baseball in WAR, runs scored and stolen bases. He was top 10 in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. His WAR is the highest for a position player in the American League since Cal Ripken in 1991 and in both leagues since Barry Bonds in 2002.
We're not done here just yet. ESPN Stats & Info has more:
Mike Trout is 1st player in MLB history with 45 steals, 30 HR and 125 runs scored in a season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 30, 2012
Oh, and per ESPN Stats & Info one more time, "In the live-ball era, only Dwight Gooden had a higher WAR in his age 20 season."
He should win the MVP. And he should be remembered as the greatest rookie in baseball history.
There are two important things to note here: Nolan Ryan is actually eighth on the list of most strikeouts in a season, and no one will ever throw more strikeouts than he did in 1973.
In today's game of pitching counts and innings limits, it appears impossible.
Ryan is on here because out of the top 20, most of the leaders on this list predated 1900, when pitchers started far more games. While Ryan's mark did occur in a pitching era—some might counter that Randy Johnson's 372 strikeouts were more impressive in 2001—the man who holds the mark in the modern era can't be ignored.
Oh, and in 1973 he also went 21-16 with a 2.87 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 26 complete games and four shutouts. Not too shabby.
And then he got a sweet Twitter account!
Sure, "Old Hoss" won 59 games in 1884 in 678.2 innings pitched and 73 complete games.
So yes, he had plenty of time to accumulate that wins total. But this is still six more wins than anyone else in history, a staggering number compared to his peers. Even when you take this in context, it's still an incredibly impressive number.
There are Triple Crowns for pitchers, and it's actually a far more common occurrence for pitchers than for hitters. Both Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw accomplished the feat, for instance.
However, I'm more interested in those players who pulled off the feat as a hitter. For all of the Triple Crown winners, check this out. My favorites given their particular dominance when compared to the rest of the winners are as follows:
- Mickey Mantle in 1956 (353, 52 HR, 130 RBI, also led league in runs, OPS, total bases and WAR). He was only 24 years old.
- Ted Williams in 1942 (.356, 36 HR, 137 RBI, also led league in runs, OBP, SLUG, OPS, total bases and WAR). It was his first of two, though for a second consecutive season he finished as runner-up in the MVP voting.
- Rogers Hornsby in 1922 (.401, 42 HR, 152 RBI, also led league in runs, doubles, OBP, SLUG, OPS, total bases and WAR). He led baseball that year in pretty much every important stat.
Sorry, Miggy, but you can't touch these seasons.
Not only is Johnny Vander Meer tied with a handful of players for the most no-hitters thrown in a season with two, but in 1938 he also became the only player in baseball history to accomplish the feat in consecutive games.
He'd slow down the rest of the way, finishing 15-10 with a 3.12 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 125 strikeouts for the Cincinnati Reds. But for two games, he was literally unhittable.
Gibson's 1.12 ERA in 1968 is the fourth-best ERA of all time, but, you guessed it, it is the best mark of the modern era.
Even more impressive, perhaps, is that he also pitched 13 shutouts, another record in the modern era.
In all, he finished 22-9 with 28 complete games, 268 strikeouts and both a Cy Young and MVP award to call his own.
You can make the argument that Steve Carlton, Doc Gooden, Sandy Koufax or even Pedro Martinez had better single seasons in their careers, but for my money this is the finest pitching performance over the course of a year of all time.
Since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, no player has reached the .400 plateau over the course of a single season.
While his mark isn't the highest in major league baseball history—Hugh Duffy hit .440 in 1894—it was the highest mark since Rogers Hornsby hit .424 in 1924. Tony Gwynn's .394 in 1994 is the closest a baseball player has come since.
What Williams accomplished in 1941 is remarkable. It's possible another hitter will reach the mark someday, but I highly doubt it.
There are so many things you could list for Ruth here, it's hard to keep track. He has the three greatest WAR seasons for position players (1921, 1923 and 1927) in baseball history. But for my money, his 60 home runs in 1927 is still the most mind-boggling of all.
Not only did he break his own single-season home run record of 59 (set in 1921), but he also hit more home runs than all but three teams! That still blows my mind.
Oh, and he also hit .356 with 158 runs and 164 RBI. Pick your favorite Babe Ruth year—this one is mine.
To this day, I still think this is one of the most remarkable accomplishments in sports, period. The next closest mark is 45, set by Willie Keeler in 1896, and only one player after DiMaggio (Pete Rose with 44 in 1978) has surpassed 40 games.
Of course, he didn't just set a streak in 1941. He finished the season with a .357 batting average, 1.083 OPS, 122 runs, 125 RBI and 30 home runs. He was the only reason Ted Williams didn't win the MVP despite hitting .406.
The streak remains, in my opinion, the greatest single-season mark in all of sports. It truly astounds the mind and awakens the imagination.
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