It seems that we here at Motor City Bengals are at least inspirational to each other lately. Piggybacking on two previous posts by our own Garret Craig and Chris Hannum, I thought I would go back in history as well. This time I travel back to 1967 and a special year for Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski. This of course was the last time a batter won the Triple Crown, which means they led the league in batting average, home runs, and RBI. In 67′, “Yaz” did it with an impressive BA of .326, 44 homers, and 121 RBI. Pretty good when you take into account that pitching sort of dominated that era of baseball. Actually, when I think about it, those numbers are pretty good in any era of baseball.
Let’s fast forward to today, where in very recent history we have seen numerous guys who have been in the conversation for the Triple Crown the past couple years. The Reds’ Joey Votto, the Angels’ Albert Pujols, and the Rockies’ Carlos Gonzalez all made a run at it in 2010 in the National League. Essentially topping each other in the three categories. While those three were fighting it out in the National League, the Tigers Miguel Cabrera made a run himself that year, finishing 2nd in BA, 1st in RBI, and 3rd in home runs.
The question is, can he make a run at the Triple Crown in 2012?
The simple answer to that question is yes. Miguel Cabrera certainly has the talent to do so. At one point in his career since coming over to the American League, Cabrera has led the league in each of the Triple Crown categories for a season. Just not all in the same one obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking about 1967.
Often times for a slugger, it is assumed that the batting average category is going to be the most difficult category to lead, but this isn’t always the case. Yes, some guys like Ichiro Suzuki do have an advantage in being able to leg out hits, but that advantage is often taken away by the ability to hit a ball over the fence, which Cabrera can obviously do. More and more sluggers are leading the league in batting average, and in the case of Ichiro, it looks like his time is passing right now.
Given the fact that Cabrera led the league in BA in 2011, and was 2nd in 2010, I don’t think this category is the real issue here. There is no reason to believe that with the addition of Prince Fielder hitting behind him, that Cabrera won’t see pitches to hit, especially when there is a righty on the mound.
I think it is fair to say that Cabrera could certainly lead the league in home runs as well. While hitting at Comerica Park is a factor that doesn’t work in his favor, as mentioned, he has led the league in homers as a Tiger. In 2008, he led the league with 37 home runs, though he was 10th in that category in 2011 with 30 homers. He certainly should be pitched around less, giving him more opportunities at the dish for a few more dingers.
The third category of the Triple Crown, the RBI, might be the most difficult for Cabrera to lead the league in. Simply because RBI are more a function of who he has hitting in front of him, and whether or not they are getting on base for Cabrera. Given that it looks like Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch will be hitting in front of him, Cabrera could have some difficulties here. In fact, Cabrera and his ability to get on base could lead to many more RBI opportunities for his new teammate Prince Fielder, who might be one of his biggest competitions for that category.
We of course also have to look at the competition that is going to be in place for Cabrera when talking of a Triple Crown. This is where things get a little dicey for Miguel and his candidacy to be the first winner of the crown since Yaz did it in 67′. Each category is going to have stiff competition, and the competition got a little tougher with the addition of guys like Pujols and Fielder to the league. There is a definite balance of offensive power in the American League right now.
Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays has led the league in home runs the past two seasons. There isn’t much reason to think that he couldn’t do so again. Bautista has grown into one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball, but in that lineup in Toronto, he is starting to get a Barry Bonds treatment. His homer numbers could continue to see a drop. Ex-Tiger Curtis Granderson is competition as well, especially with that short porch in RF in Yankee Stadium. Both him and Yankees teammate Mark Teixeira were among the leaders in home runs last season. All three of these guys will be difficult to overcome.
Batting average wise, I think most of the competition comes from Boston’s Adrian Gonzalez, and potentially Albert
Pujols. Jacoby Ellsbury because of his speed could be in the conversation, but I wonder if his season last year is somewhat of an outlier. Gonzalez, like Cabrera, gets thrown in the category of a slugger that can hit as well. Gonzalez might not have the power numbers of Cabrera, but he does have that wall in Fenway Park to bang baseballs off of all day. He finished 2nd to Cabrera in batting in 2011, and might even get better after spending a season in the American League getting to know the pitchers.
The RBI winner is really a crapshoot from year to year. Usually the winner is going to come from one of the top offenses in the league, so in 2012 that winner is likely to come from the Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers, or Rangers. The top 10 in RBI in 2011 is littered with guys from these teams. That does mean that Cabrera is likely to be in conversation here, and maybe because there are multiple guys on all these teams that can drive in runs, Cabrera could potentially lead the league here again.
Despite the competition in the American League in the Triple Crown categories, I wouldn’t put winning it out of the reach of Cabrera. The guy is one of the best hitters in the game. Still, there is a reason that nobody has done it in 44 years since Yaz did it in 1967. It’s just flat out difficult; especially now with all the great hitters in the game of baseball. It may be that Miguel Cabrera is too good of a hitter to win the Triple Crown. His ability, or willingness, to take a ball up the middle for a hit instead of just swinging for the fences undoubtedly costs him some home runs.
And that’s okay.
Triple Crown winner or not in 2012, I think most of us when all is said and done are going to be plenty satisfied with Cabrera’s output.