Triple Crown Winner in the NL in 2009?
While the chances are no doubt less than 50-50, could this be the year we see an offensive triple crown winner?
Since 1903 there have been only 12 triple crown winners, see this page at Baseball-Reference.com for the list.Â Â Notably, we’ve not seen one in over 40 years, not since Carl Yastrzemski in the AL in 1967.
There have been numerous players who have led in two of the three categories of course, and many who were leading or close to leading in all three at the half-way point in a season. That is the case with Albert Pujols this year, as he is leading the NL (indeed, all of MLB) in HR with 31 and RBI with 82, and is currently third in the NL with a .336 batting average.
I would say Albert has a decent chance at maintaining his lead in HR and RBI. For HR he needs to fend off Adrian Gonzalez and others, and for RBI his main competition appears to be Prince Fielder. But it will be batting average that will be tough to come out on top. His competition there will come from not only Hanley Ramirez (.346) and Carlos Beltran (.336), but also others who are currently at .325 or higher including rookie Pablo Sandoval, Brad Hawpe, David Wright, Ryan Braun, and the rejuvenated Miguel Tejada. And then there is Joey Votto, who was out for a while but is now back and swinging a good bat hitting .366 in 201 plate appearances so far. If he stays healthy, he’ll eventually have enough PAs to qualify for the race.
If anyone in either league could win a triple crown, I’d have to say Albert is the man. But interestingly, as awesome as his career has been, I was a bit surprised to dig into his numbers and discover that he has never led the league in either HR or RBI! He has been second in HR twice, smacking 46 in 2004 and 49 in 2006. And he’s come in second in RBIs three times: 127 in 2002, 117 in 2005, and 137 in 2006. He’s been so amazingly consistent in his production, its easy to forget that he’s never had a surge that took him to the top in these categories in any one season.
And as for batting average, his lifetime mark of .335 is stellar, but even here he’s only led the league once: .359 in 2003. He came in second in 2005 (.330) and in 2008 (.357).
So if he leads the league in all three categories this year, and with numbers anywhere near his current pace, it would clearly be his most productive season to date — and that is really saying something.
More theoretically and long-term, who else might one day give the triple crown a run? In the NL, I think Ryan Braun has the right makeup. Prince Fielder would need to have somewhat of a fluke season in terms ofÂ batting average, but I guess it could happen (he is hitting .310 so far this year.) Lance Berkman seems to be on a slow downward trend for his career, so I’d rule him out at this point.
In the AL, no one has a real shot this year, because Ichiro Suzuki or Joe Maurer are likely to win the batting title, but not the HR or RBI titles. If those two guys were to have simultaneous off years, then I think the best candidate would be Justin Morneau. So far in 2009 he is sixth in the AL in average, tied for second in HR, and second in RBI. This is shaping up to be his fourth great season, but he has yet to lead the league in BA, HR, or RBI. Another possibility would be Miguel Cabrera, who is still only 26 and led the AL in HR last year, and is regularly amongst the league leaders in all three categories. Who else? Evan Longoria maybe?
It will be great fun to watch Albert and his competition in the NL the rest of the year — could history be made in 2009?
For another of my Seamheads writings on the general topic of the Triple Crown, see Triple Crown, plus OBP, plus more?