What Back-to-Back Triple Crown Awards Would Mean for Miguel Cabrera's Legacy

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What Back-to-Back Triple Crown Awards Would Mean for Miguel Cabrera's Legacy

Miguel Cabrera is doing his Miguel Cabrera thing again.

Last year, the Detroit Tigers third baseman did something that hadn't been done in 45 years by capturing the triple crown with a .330 average, 44 homers and 139 RBI. And there was much rejoicing.

Now in 2013, Cabrera has a chance to do something that's never been done before: win the triple crown for a second year in a row. There would be even more rejoicing, and there would be much real talk about Cabrera's legacy. A second straight triple crown would be quite the game-changer, right?

We'll get to that, but first we must answer another question: Can he do it?

I don't see why not.

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Dude can hit.

Heading into Monday's action, Cabrera is leading MLB with a .379 average and 40 RBI. We know based on his .320 career average and two straight batting titles that he can maintain a high batting average, and we're also talking about a guy who has picked up two RBI titles in a string of nine straight 100-RBI seasons. He has two of the three parts of the triple crown covered.

What Cabrera must do from here on out is ramp up his home run production, as his seven homers put him four off the American League lead. That's not a small deficit.

But Cabrera has been down this road before. His seven homers through 35 games this year put him on a pace for 33. He also had seven homers through 35 games last year, and he ultimately finished with 44.

So he's shown that he can surpass an "on pace for" expectation in the home run department, and he could very well do so again this year. All Cabrera has to do is stay healthy and hope that Prince Fielder can stay healthy so he can keep on protecting him in Detroit's lineup.

So yeah, a second triple crown could happen. Let's go ahead and say it does. What will we make of Cabrera then?

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com

One thing that's for sure is that the triple crown in and of itself isn't going to impress the sabermetrics geeks all that much. They...Oh heck, we don't think as highly of batting average as we do of on-base percentage, and we have no love lost for the practically useless RBI statistic (grumble grumble).

But the sabermetrics geeks weren't the speakers of the popular opinion of the day last year, and it would be the same story all over again in 2013. The traditionalists would have the floor, and they'll be going on and on about Cabrera accomplishing one of the great feats in baseball history if he does indeed capture a second straight triple crown.

Winning one triple crown is impressive enough, after all, and winning two is something only Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams have done before. Neither of them did it two years in a row, which gives you an idea of just how elusive this whole triple crown thing really is.

Many words would be written and many words would be spoken about Cabrera's prowess as a hitter, but here's hoping nobody would be silly enough to claim that two straight triple crowns will have elevated him to "best hitter in baseball" status.

Cabrera's already there. According to FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com, he leads all qualified hitters (minimum 1,000 plate appearances) in the following categories since the start of 2009:

  • Batting average: .334
  • Slugging percentage: .590
  • OPS: 1.006
  • OPS+: 167
  • Weighted On Base Average: .423
  • Weighted Runs Created Plus: 166

Best hitter in baseball? Absolutely. Cabrera can—and really should—introduce himself as such when he meets strangers.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Did the other triple crown guys get crowns too?

The more pressing question of the day following the completion of Cabrera's second straight triple crown season would be concerned with his place among the all-time hitting greats. Which legends would he suddenly find himself rubbing elbows with?

This is where things would get tricky.

A second triple crown would be fine and dandy, but what must be understood is that Cabrera's status among the great right-handed hitters the game has ever known is already pretty secure as far as some key rate stats are concerned.

Among right-handed batters with at least 6,000 plate appearances, Cabrera ranks:

Cabrera could retire today, and he would have the credentials of one of the greatest right-handed hitters the game has ever known. Not the absolute greatest, but certainly one of the greatest.

How much would a second triple crown alter things?

To one end, not all that much.

If Cabrera's key rate stats stay about where they are now, then he won't be budging that much in the categories noted above. It's going to take more than just one additional brilliant season for him to get closer to the top of the ranks of the greatest right-handed hitters in history.

However, there's the other end to consider, and that's that a second straight triple crown season would certainly signify that Cabrera is headed in the direction of true all-time greaty all-time greatness.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Spoiler alert: This next point has something to do with the guy on the right.

If Cabrera's second triple crown season were to include, say, 40 homers and 150 RBI, he's going to be in very special company among right-handed hitters through the age of 30. Those numbers would put him at 361 career homers and 1,273 RBI, which would be impressive stuff for a guy his age.

Such numbers would look all the more special if his career batting average is still above .315 and his career OPS is still above .950, which is very likely to be the case at the end of the year.

Want to know how many other right-handed hitters in history were sitting on a .315-plus batting average, a .950-plus OPS, and upwards of 350 homers and 1,200 RBI through their age-30 seasons?

Only two: Jimmie Foxx and Albert Pujols. 

Where do you put Miguel Cabrera among the game's all-time great right-handed hitters?

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Would two triple crowns make Cabrera a greater hitter than either or both of them were through the age of 30?

Some would argue yes. I would argue no. Accomplishments are great, but numbers are better. Even with two triple crowns under his belt, Cabrera's numbers through the age of 30 wouldn't be as good as those of Foxx or Pujols.

I'd say this, though: Cabrera even being on the same path as Foxx and Pujols would be impressive enough. Pujols is the best right-handed hitter of the last half-century, and both he and Foxx are definitely among the top five right-handed hitters of all time.

If Cabrera puts himself in their company with a triple crown season, the point is going to be driven home that we are indeed watching one of the great careers in baseball history being built before our very eyes.

We should all consider ourselves lucky.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter. 

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