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MVP and the Triple Crown

Guest Author - Joe Mancini

It has been 45 years since the batting Triple Crown (home runs, batting average, runs batted in) has been captured. In 1967 Hall of Famer Carl Yastzremski led the “Impossible Dream” Boston Red Sox to their first American League pennant since 1946 when he batted .326 with 44 home runs and 121 runs batted in, all figures that led the American League (he also led the AL in runs scored with 112; his figures in homers and rbi, not to mention today’s metrics such as On-Base Percentage (.418), Slugging Percentage (.622) and On-Base Plus Slugging (1.040) led all of Major League Baseball; he racked up a Wins Above Replacement value of 10.5 and easily captured the Most Valuable Player award.

Considering that in 1966 the Baltimore Orioles’ Frank Robinson also won the Triple Crown while leading his team to a World Series triumph and also capturing the MVP and it didn’t seem like such a rare occurrence. If we peer back into history, however, we will discover that Ted Williams also won the Triple Crown, in 1942 and 1947, yet did not capture the MVP (the New York Yankees’ Joe Gordon was MVP in 1942 and The Clipper himself, Joe DiMaggio, won in 1947).

Unlike the Cy Young Award, which is awarded to the pre-eminent pitcher in each league, the Most Valuable Player is held to a different standard: not merely a reward for outstanding performance, it is intimately tied to whether or not a player was instrumental in his team’s success, meaning generally attainment of post-season play. Thus in 2011 Ryan Braun of the National League Central Division Champion Milwaukee Brewers garnered the award, while the statistically-superior Matt Kemp of the also-ran Los Angeles Dodgers did not.

We have discussed how the use of peripheral or so-called “sabremetric” statistics have increasingly come into use in evaluating Cy Young Award candidates; are such measures also going to come into play when the writers vote for the MVP? This season provides a great comparison to work on in evaluating that thesis.

Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers is within days of winning the first Triple Crown since 1967; he leads the AL in average and RBI and is tied for the lead in homers with Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers. In addition, his team has just now taken the top spot in the American League Central after a season-long sea-chase of the Chicago White Sox. One would naturally assume that if Cabrera hangs on and wins the Triple Crown, and his Tigers finish first, the award will be his. That is probably a good bet.

However, Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is having a fabulous year and holds an astounding 10.4 Wins Above Replacement value, meaning that he is more than 10 wins better than a AAA replacement player. He leads by a factor of 3 over the number two guy (the Yankees’ Robinson Cano at 7.2) and by 3.7 over Cabrera. In the event the Angels sneak into the post-season, there will be an interesting discussion. As is, though, Trout is the prohibitive favorite to win the Rookie of the Year Award.
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