Miguel Cabrera Triple Crown: Why We Won't See Another Winner for 50 Years

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Miguel Cabrera Triple Crown: Why We Won't See Another Winner for 50 Years

So what were you doing 45 years ago?

Miguel Cabrera accomplished a feat that hadn't been seen in MLB for two generations—he won the Triple Crown, leading the American League in batting average, home runs and RBI. 

Cabrera actually came very close to leading the major leagues in all three categories. His 44 home runs were more than anyone else in the AL or NL, as were his 139 RBI. However, Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants finished with a .337 batting average, six points ahead of Cabrera's .331 mark.

But that isn't intended to diminish Cabrera's achievement in any way whatsoever. It can't be diminished when it's something that hasn't been done in 45 years. Forty-five years. 

That's the last time MLB had a Triple Crown winner, when Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemski led the AL with a .326 average, 44 home runs and 121 RBI.

Various newspapers, websites and TV shows will probably show us in the next day or two what was going on in the world in 1967. We'll do a little of that too. Lyndon Johnson was the president of the United States. "To Sir With Love" by Lulu was the No. 1 song on the Billboard charts. The Graduate was the top grossing film at the box office.

Maybe Yastrzemski's Triple Crown didn't seem quite as special in 1967 since Frank Robinson pulled off the same achievement one year earlier. But it had been 10 years before in '57 before Robinson won his Triple Crown, so maybe there was some appreciation for how rare his accomplishment was.

Mark Hirsch/Getty Images
Ryan Braun came close to a Triple Crown, but not close enough.

However, do you think fans back then could even imagine that it would take decades for another hitter to lead his league in the three major hitting categories again? When witnessing a historic event, is it natural to realize you may never see it repeated? After all, you just saw it occur. 

But here's why we won't see another Triple Crown in MLB for another 50 years, why it's practically the baseball version of Halley's Comet. The combination of a player who can bat over .330, hit 40 or more home runs and notch at least 120 RBI is just far too rare.

Some can obviously come close. Ryan Braun finished third in NL batting average, first in home runs and second in RBI. But his .320 average was 17 points behind Buster Posey's .337. So he wasn't actually that close to a Triple Crown.

Batting average is usually the statistic that presents the biggest obstacle for a Triple Crown contender. In 2007, Alex Rodriguez led MLB with 54 home runs and 156 RBI, but his .314 average wasn't even in the AL's top 10. Barry Bonds hit 46 homers with 123 RBI in 1993, but his .336 average was fourth in the NL.

Typically, batters won't hit for an extremely high batting average and hit for a exceptionally large amount of home runs in the same season. The two categories aren't mutually exclusive, of course, but they don't often mesh within the same player. And if they do, that batter also has to play for a good offensive team, one which gets enough runners on base to present plentiful RBI opportunities. 

Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Relievers like Craig Kimbrel make it more difficult for hitters to excel throughout a game.

But what about the pitchers these batters have to face? More specifically, the number of pitchers these batters have to face through the course of a particular ballgame.

Relievers weren't as prevalent in the era of Yastrzemski and Robinson. Those guys may have faced the same pitcher three or four—maybe even five—times in a game.

In the modern game, starting pitchers don't pitch more than six or seven innings. Batters may only get two plate appearances against that game's starter before he's taken out. Then one or two middle relievers will pitch. Finally, the closer comes in for the ninth inning. A hitter might face three or four different pitchers in a typical game now. 

That doesn't give a batter much of an opportunity to adjust and get a feel for what he might see from a certain pitcher. He also likely won't be able to take advantage of the starting pitcher tiring out during his third or fourth time through a lineup. 

This isn't even considering that relievers are better than they've ever been. Middle relievers are just as good, if not better than closers on many teams. Virtually all of them throw hard or have a specialty pitch with nasty movement. And then there's the closer, who probably throws 95-100 mph while also featuring a slider with sharp action or a heavy sinker. 

Yet another innovation that's developed in MLB over recent seasons is the increased amount of data devoted to hitter tendencies. Managers and coaches don't just have scouting reports that tell pitchers a hitter can't handle a pitch low and away or high and inside anymore.

Teams now know where a batter is going to hit the ball. Spray charts and other such data tell managers where their defenders should be positioned on the field against a certain hitter. Tactics such as infield shifts that load more defenders on one side of the diamond are employed more frequently against pull hitters like David Ortiz and Mark Teixeira. 

Leon Halip/Getty Images
Miguel Cabrera is a once-in-a-generation talent.

It takes a supremely talented hitter to overcome specialization for pitching staffs and defensive positioning. It may take a once-in-a-generation talent to combine all the batting skills necessary to hit for a high average while also slugging for power. And all of that has to come together in one season.

Baseball fans had every reason to think they'd never see a Triple Crown winner again. That wasn't an unreasonable assumption, given that so many of us had never seen one in our lifetimes of watching the sport. We're talking about something that's only happened 15 times in the history of baseball.

Miguel Cabrera is the one rare talent that was able to defeat all of the obstacles that the game placed before him. Those of us who saw him break in as a 20-year-old with the 2003 Florida Marlins knew we were seeing an exceptional talent, someone who could dominate at such a young age.

Cabrera has fulfilled those expectations in the nine seasons he's played since then. But the culmination of his great physical gifts resulted in a historic achievement. 

Hopefully, you took the opportunity to watch Cabrera play this season and enjoy his accomplishments on the field. Take the time to appreciate his Triple Crown. You may never see it happen with another hitter again.

 

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