The batting Triple Crown has become one of the rarest feats in Major League Baseball. It has occurred just one time since 1967 after being accomplished 17 times prior to that, first in 1878.
Miguel Cabrera’s MVP season in 2012 is the lone outlier in the last 54 years. Cabrera led the majors in home runs and runs batted in, and led the American League in batting average to win the “AL Triple Crown”.
A “Major League Triple Crown,” in which a batter leads all of baseball in HRs, RBIs and BA, has not occurred since Mickey Mantle in 1956.
So will we ever see a Triple Crown winner again? Or has the new approach to the game of baseball killed any chance of another player accomplishing the Triple Crown?
I took a look at each of the leaders in the Triple Crown categories in the past eight years. How did they perform in the other two categories? Was anyone close to a Triple Crown?
For these purposes, I considered the “Major League Triple Crown,” rather than the leaders in each league.
|2020||Category||Leader||HR (Rank)||RBI (Rank)||Batting Average (Rank)|
|HR||Luke Voit||22 (1)||52 (4)||.277 (49)|
|RBI||Jose Abreu||19 (2)||60 (1)||.317 (11)|
|Batting Average||DJ LeMahieu||10 (53)||27 (86)||.364 (1)|
|2019||Category||Leader||HR (Rank)||RBI (Rank)||Batting Average (Rank)|
|HR||Pete Alonso||53 (1)||120 (4)||.260 (87)|
|RBI||Anthony Rendon||34 (29)||126 (1)||.319 (5)|
|Batting Average||Tim Anderson||18 (148)||56 (169)||.335 (1)|
|2018||Category||Leader||HR (Rank)||RBI (Rank)||Batting Average (Rank)|
|HR||Khris Davis||48 (1)||123 (2)||.247 (105)|
|RBI||J.D. Martinez||43 (2)||130 (1)||.330 (2)|
|Batting Average||Mookie Betts||32 (21)||80 (49)||.346 (1)|
|2017||Category||Leader||HR (Rank)||RBI (Rank)||Batting Average (Rank)|
|HR||Giancarlo Stanton||59 (1)||132 (1)||.281 (50)|
|RBI||Giancarlo Stanton||59 (1)||132 (1)||.281 (50)|
|Batting Average||Jose Altuve||24 (75)||81 (59)||.346 (1)|
|2016||Category||Leader||HR (Rank)||RBI (Rank)||Batting Average (Rank)|
|HR||Mark Trumbo||47 (1)||108 (T-8)||.256 (102)|
|RBI||Nolan Arenado||41 (T-6)||133 (1)||.294 (32)|
|Batting Average||DJ LeMahieu||11 (194)||66 (112)||.348 (1)|
|2015||Category||Leader||HR (Rank)||RBI (Rank)||Batting Average (Rank)|
|HR||Chris Davis||47 (1)||117 (3)||0.262 (90)|
|RBI||Nolan Arenado||42 (T-3)||130 (1)||0.287 (39)|
|Batting Average||Miguel Cabrera||18 (73)||76 (60)||.338 (1)|
|2014||Category||Leader||HR (Rank)||RBI (Rank)||Batting Average (Rank)|
|HR||Nelson Cruz||40 (1)||108 (4)||.271 (70)|
|RBI||Adrian Gonzalez||27 (17)||116 (1)||.276 (56)|
|Batting Average||Jose Altuve||7 (209)||59 (98)||.341 (1)|
|2013||Category||Leader||HR (Rank)||RBI (Rank)||Batting Average (Rank)|
|HR||Chris Davis||53 (1)||138 (1)||.286 (40)|
|RBI||Chris Davis||53 (1)||138 (1)||.286 (40)|
|Batting Average||Miguel Cabrera||44 (2)||137 (2)||.348 (1)|
|HR||Miguel Cabrera||44 (1)|
|RBI||Miguel Cabrera||139 (1)|
|Batting Average||Miguel Cabrera||.330 (1)*|
|*Led only AL (Buster Posey, .336)|
Home Runs = Runs Batted In
Two of the categories, home runs and RBIs, naturally go hand in hand. Players who hit a lot of homers are obviously going to drive in a lot of runs, and the stats bear that out. Every home run leader has been in the top ten in the league in RBI’s. A potential future Triple Crown winner who mashes home runs just needs to have some good luck that their teammates give them enough opportunities to also lead the league in RBIs.
Batting average is the obvious bugaboo in the trio, and the biggest reason why Triple Crown winners have been few and far between.
At one point, players were obviously able to hit for both power and batting average, given the rate of Triple Crown winners in the first half of the 20th century. But that hasn’t been the case of late. And while many of the batting averages for power hitters over the last decade are still more respectable than you might think, no home run leaders since 2012 have hit above .281. Chris Davis (2013) was the only home run leader inside the top-50 in the league among batting average.
So when did the tide start to turn?
Consider the home run leaders through the late 1990s and 2000s. While none of them won the Triple Crown, there are 10 home run leaders on the list below who hit better than .298.
McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, A-Rod…
I’m sensing a trend here. During the steroid era, batters with natural ability who already hit for a high average were also seeing their power increase, leading to higher home run totals.
Once the steroid era started to wind down, players needed to adjust their swings in order to keep hitting big flies, and clearly had to give back a little batting average in the process.
Since Miggy accomplished the feat in 2012, baseball has only continued to evolve at an even greater pace. The current emphasis on the three true outcomes (walk, home run, strikeout) means that the ball is hardly ever in play. Clearly, even the best home run hitters are not able to keep up with the contact hitters who hit above .340.
So, if I had to guess, it will be a long time before we see another player win the MLB Triple Crown. Unless there is another major shift in how the game is approached, we might never see it again.
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