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In Defense Of The Triple Crown

Miguel Cabrera might win the Triple Crown, which means he'll lead the league in a couple of statistics the discerning baseball fan doesn't care about. Should we care, though?


I think any fan of spirited baseball debate -- as well as high-level trolling -- should root for Miguel Cabrera to win the Triple Crown. Because if he does, you will be bombarded with articles like this one from the Detroit News.

And that's not even an inflammatory screed. There will be inflammatory screeds. And those things are glorious.

Just 21,000? You can do better, North America. And you will. That baby'll reach 50,000 by the end of the month. Cabrera hitting for the Triple Crown is really the best possible scenario for someone who doesn't take this stuff that seriously. Just sit back and watch the other people hit each other with blunt objects. Just think about all the fun you'll have going through the comments at the end of online newspaper articles. Every capital letter used is like a brick in an argument-proof wall.

The main reason I want to see Cabrera get the Triple Crown is that the MVP discussion will be hilarious.

Here's a confession, though: I also want to see it because I think it's cool on a baseball level.

The three stats in the Triple Crown aren't useless in isolation, they just don't tell you everything you need to know. There isn't a lot of sense in judging a player by his batting average when you don't know how much power he has, or how good he is at avoiding outs. You can't judge a hitter solely on his total home runs because you don't know his on-base percentage. And it's impossible to judge a player based on RBI. There are too many factors -- batting order, team strength, opportunity -- to make it feasible at all.

So lump all of those categories together arbitrarily, and you've got … something. Buster Posey leads the NL right now in adjusted OPS, sacrifice flies, and Base-Out Wins Added. That's not something for which you usually get accolades, but it makes just as much sense to celebrate those three as it does average, homers, and RBIs. Posey will not get a plaque for his Arbitrary Triple Crown, but only because the court order prevents me from making anything and sending it to him.

The esteemed Brian Kenny offers a well-penned argument that the Triple Crown is useless hokum. I mean, it really is an arbitrary selection of stats. And I want to agree.

But it's the Triple Crown. How many baseball games did you watch before your first Bill James book? Dozens? Scores? Hundreds? Thousands? And during those games, the stats that flashed on the screen were batting average, home runs, and RBI. Over and over and over, like something out of Clockwork Orange. You've been indoctrinated. You want to break free from the shackles of the Triple Crown stats, but they're wedged in there too deep.

I'm with you. It's kind of cool. The Triple Crown is kind of cool.

Because while those stats might not describe a player's offensive worth perfectly, there will never be a Triple Crown winner who backs into the award during a perfectly lousy year. Cabrera is having a goofy season. It's not that much different from his past seasons, but it's still a phenomenal year. And considering he's one of the better players to have never won the MVP, I'm not going to light a car on fire if him winning the Triple Crown makes him the frontrunner for the award.

A guy who leads the league in average, homers, and RBI is a player a) having a stellar season, and b) enjoying an unusual conflagration of good fortune and skill. The runners are there. The hits are falling. Everything's coming up Milhouse. That combination of skill and circumstance is baseball. That's all baseball is. It's skill and circumstance. The Orioles are in position to make the playoffs because of skill. They're also in position to do so because they've won seventy-zed straight extra-inning games. The 2011 Cardinals made the World Series because of skill. They also made it because of some measure of luck, and they won it because David Freese got a specific two-strike pitch.

The Triple Crown is kind of a neat shorthand for the combination of skill and luck that baseball's about in the first place. Miguel Cabrera is amazing, and there could be a neat little footnote attached to his season if he keeps it up. Actually, it'll be a huge footnote. The quality of his season might be the footnote, actually.

Maybe there will be a generation that doesn't care, who doesn't worry a lick about average and RBI. Pretty sure it's not this one, though. Too many screen graphics about RBI. Too many baseball cards. I can't help it. It's kind of cool.

The Triple Crown is the atheist drinking egg nog and exchanging gifts because that's just what you do. It could be the first time someone's won it in almost 50 years. Thousands of players, over thousands of individual seasons, haven't been able to do what Carl Yastrzemski did 45 years ago. Now there's a guy who might do it. And, yeah, the stats that make up the Triple Crown are kind of silly on their own.

But it's still kind of cool.

Also, think of the arguments. The arguments. C'mon, Miggy. You can do this.