Short-Stop Analytics #9: The Triple Crown in 2018

by: Matthew de Marte – September 12th, 2018

Batting average, home runs, runs batted in, the three offensive metrics that make up baseball’s Triple Crown. Any hitter who leads his respective league in all three categories is crowned with this achievement. Since 1903, only 13 times has a Triple Crown occurred, with Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams being the only players who boast multiple Triple Crowns on their resume. Babe Ruth never accomplished this task, nor did Willie Mays, Hank Aaron or Barry Bonds. Nevertheless, the Triple Crown was potentially the best indicator of the best hitter, and subsequently player in baseball. I was born in 1996, I grew up watching the Sosa, Jeter, A Rod, Bonds, Pujols, Manny and Big Papi. A group collectively that is responsible for leading the league in batting average, home runs, and runs batted in 5, 13, and 9 times respectively. None of these players won it. There was something nostalgic about the Triple Crown. It was talked about being synonymous with the golden age of baseball. No one had won the award since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski did it. Then, in 2012, Miguel Cabrera did it, breaking the 46 year curse.

All of a sudden the Triple Crown was not the same anymore. When Cabrera won the Triple Crown, some analysts argued that did not mean Cabrera was the best hitter and MVP. Advanced metrics showed that Mike Trout was the best player in baseball that year, despite Cabrera’s Triple Crown. Although Cabrera won the award by 81 points, the tides were turning. It had become evident that sabermetrics would soon take hold in mainstream baseball. No longer were they a secret weapon being used by baseballs best front offices, but sabermetrics were beginning to infiltrate baseball culture as a whole.

Fast forward to 2018 and arguably baseball’s biggest turn around of the flyball revolution, J.D. Martinez is currently is making a strong run at becoming the 12th player to win the Triple Crown. Martinez sits atop the RBI leaderboard, trails Khris Davis by 1 bomb for the home run crown, and his .331 BA only trails teammate Mookie Betts .340 average. Is J.D. Martinez the favorite to win MVP? Probably not. Although he is making a strong push to join an exclusive club, it appears the Red Sox sensational slugger will get passed over for the MVP. It is 2018, and there are objectively better metrics that can be used to determine who the most valuable player is. Let’s take a look at how American League MVP candidates rank in terms of different advanced metrics among atop the AL leaderboards.

Player wRC+ RE24 fWAR
Mike Trout 192 (1) 56.36 (2) 8.8 (2)
Mookie Betts 180 (2) 51.25 (4) 9.1 (1)
J.D. Martinez 171 (3) 67.82 (1) 5.1 (7)
Jose Ramirez 153 (5) 49.23 (5) 7.8 (3)
Francisco Lindor 135 (T-8) 28.52 (10) 7.3 (5)
Matt Chapman 143 (6) 20.62 (17) 6.4 (6)
Alex Bregman 165 (4) 52.832 (3) 7.4 (4)

wRC+ replaces batting average as the metric that best represents a hitter’s overall production. By this park-adjusted metric, Mike Trout has been 21% better than J.D. Martinez at the plate this year. RE24 replaces RBI’s to account for run production in which J.D. Martinez holds a large lead over the rest of baseball. WAR, baseball’s only metric that accounts for a players overall contribution to their team, replaces home runs. In this metric J.D. Martinez trails teammate Mookie Betts by 4 full wins! A large gap in value. So beyond these statistics, why else does the Triple Crown not guarantee an MVP award?

The metrics in the Triple Crown do not account for defense or base running at all. We already know the Triple Crown is not necessarily the best measure for who the best hitter is, it completely dismisses two other areas where players can produce or save runs. Albeit a player can produce more runs with his bat than his glove and base running ability, these skills make a legitimate impact on the game and can greatly enhance a players value. All of the players listed above are standout performers at the plate. The following graphic compares the total runs their bat has created in 2018 to the total runs they have been worth adding their BSR and Def together from the Fangraphs Dashboard. (Min. 200 PA)

Although, Martinez is among the most valuable hitters in baseball, he is clearly one of the least valuable defenders and base runners in baseball. Only Khris Davis has been less valuable in these areas. For starters, J.D. Martinez has appeared 85 times as a DH in 2018. The 6 competitors I listed above in the MVP race combined have accounted for 21 games as a DH. All of Martinez’s competition has added value to their respective team through base running and defense. No matter how good of a hitter you are, it is difficult to be the most valuable player in baseball if you only produce runs for your team through one skill. Especially, when there are other players who excel in these area that are as good if not better hitters than Martinez.

J.D. Martinez is an incredible player. He is certainly one of the best hitters in baseball. However, if he does end up winning the Triple Crown, that does not make him the most valuable player. Value comes from a player’s overall contribution to their team. When looking at players’ total production beyond what they do at the plate, we can paint a better picture of a player’s overall value. With advanced statistics painting an objectively better picture of what players provide their teams the most value, the glorious Triple Crown is not what it once was. The Triple Crown is still an incredible achievement. Unfortunately, for those still nostalgic about baseball’s past, player evaluation in 2018 has evolved past it.

Leave a Reply