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Cabrera's Triple Crown chase deserves bigger spotlight than it's getting


Cabrera is batting .325 with 43 home runs, and his current 136 RBI lead the league by nine. (Getty Images)  
Cabrera is batting .325 with 43 home runs, and his current 136 RBI lead the league by nine. (Getty Images)  

Miguel Cabrera is being overlooked again. He's getting short shrift again.

That's no news. This is a relatively common occurrence for the Tigers third baseman.

Specifically in this case, Cabrera's amazing Triple Crown chase isn't getting the attention it deserves. The Triple Crown hasn't been achieved for 45 years, so we know it isn't easy. Sure, he's getting some press and a fair amount of praise. But not nearly enough in my estimation.

Cabrera's chase deserves a much greater spotlight than it's receiving, and he's got a decent shot with three games to go. Below, I take a look at exactly what his chances are, but first I'd like to take a crack at the easier question of why he's being somewhat overlooked. Here are my best guesses for that ...

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1. Triple Crown race taking back seat to MVP debate

The AL MVP debate, which features Cabrera and the Angels 21-year-old wunderkind Mike Trout, generally pits old-school stats vs. new-school stats, and in general, older people vs. newer people. (For the record, I think Trout is an excellent MVP candidate as well, and am not suggesting a Triple Crown winner should be the automatic MVP -- nor do I believe that.)

2. How big is Triple Crown?

The new-school people further suggest that two of the three categories of the Triple Crown -- batting average and RBI -- rank somewhere between not as important as we once thought and completely irrelevant, meaning the Triple Crown isn't quite as important as we once thought.

3. Tigers still in race for playoffs

Detroit's magic number to win the AL Central is now only one game, so perhaps Cabrera will start receiving more attention for his chase.

4. Cabrera has made a career of being overlooked

Although he's received MVP support in all nine of his previous seasons, and finished in the top five in five of those seasons, Cabrera has never won the MVP. It could be, of course, that he is just amazingly consistent, but others were more deserving in those years. But it's clear that for whatever reason he isn't the publicity-generator other superstars are.

The MVP debate is a great one that we'll leave for another day. Someone wins an MVP every year (actually two people), and while it's a major achievement, it isn't nearly on the same level as the Triple Crown. Non-Hall-of-Famers simply do not win the Triple Crown. Many MVPs haven't come close to getting a sniff at the Hall of Fame.

The Triple Crown chase deserves its day and its due. While some other stats, such as OPS, are more telling than batting average, as those who are more numbers-oriented have suggested for years, it's the combination of BA and power that's so rare, and should be so compelling.

As for the much-maligned RBI stat, while I'd concede it is partly dependent on one's teammates and takes a little bit of luck, it's no coincidence the RBI leaders since 1900 are Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Lou Gehrig and Stan Musial. It's also no coincidence Cabrera is batting .353 with runners in scoring position.

The man can hit, and he can hit with power. "Hands down, he's the best hitter in the game now," one rival GM said.

There's little debate about that at the moment. The goal today is to shine a little extra light on the Triple Crown, which has only been achieved 13 times since 1900, with Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams the only two to accomplish the feat twice.

Even if some stat guys don't love two of the three stats it takes to win the Triple Crown, they'd have to concede that 1) it's not easy to achieve a Triple Crown, and 2) only great hitters have done it. No non-Hall-of-Famer has achieved the feat since 1900. That's zero.

Cabrera has a terrific chance too, and here I'll take a closer look at that (in a largely unscientific way). In other words, all we can do is try to come close to estimating his chances here.

Cabrera is batting .325 with 43 home runs and 136 RBI. He leads by nine RBI so he's fairly safe there but he's tied for the home run lead with the Rangers' Josh Hamilton (ties count in this case) and leads four other hitters by between two and seven points in the batting race. The Twins' Joe Mauer, a three-time batting champion, is second at .323 followed by Trout at .322, Adrian Beltre at .319 and Derek Jeter at .318.

Here's a look at the probability of Cabrera keeping his three leads, based on what's already happened this year, category by category.

1. RBI crown

Cabrera's chance to keep his nine-RBI lead is very high, of course. Going by what he and Hamilton have done this year, the chances are between 1 and 2 out of 100 that Hamilton passes him in the three games remaining. Through 159 games this season, there have been 157 three-game groups, and only twice out of 157 times did Hamilton have 10 RBI more than Cabrera in those three-game spans. Those occurred May 6-8 and May 7-9 and were bolstered by Hamilton's eight-RBI game on May 8.

Chances for Cabrera to win the RBI crown: 98-99 percent.

2. Home run title

Cabrera's chances to win or keep a share of the home-run title are considerably iffier obviously, with a current tie with Hamilton, a one-homer lead over the Blue Jays' Edwin Encarnacion, a two-homer lead over the White Sox's Adam Dunn and three-homer lead over the Yankees' Curtis Granderson.

Hamilton is the one with by far the best chance to catch Cabrera here. Using the same model, in 47 of 157 three-game stretches so far this season, Hamilton hit at least one more home run than Cabrera (or 29.9 percent). More than half of them (24) came in April and May, suggesting the chances Hamilton will do it now are slightly less (though probably not much less).

The chances that one of the other three contenders will overtake Cabrera by hitting two, three or four more homers than Hamilton are considerably smaller, but can't be ignored. So it's fair to add a few percentage points to the 30 percent chance that Hamilton has that covers the possibility one of the other three overtakes Cabrera.

Chances for Cabrera to win at least a share of the HR crown: about 66 percent.

3. Batting title

Cabrera's chances to win the batting title are a lot harder to figure out since there are a lot more combinations, permutations, and of course competitors with a real chance. Cabrera is only five for 26 over his last seven games. But he's stubbornly stuck to the lead since Sept. 16, partly because this has been Trout's toughest month; he's hitting just .257 in September. Mauer is just the opposite, as he's hit .388 in September.

Chances for Cabrera to win the batting crown: 60 percent (that's much more of a guess).

This is obviously not anywhere near an exact science. Normally multiplying the odds in each category would provide some indication of all three occurring, and if one does that here, the chances for Cabrera to win the Triple Crown are about 39 percent (98-99 percent times 66 percent times 60 percent).

But since these three categories aren't completely independent of one another ( i.e. if he hits a home run, that also helps the RBI and batting average category), the chances are just a little bit better than that. With that in mind, I'd say it's about 50-50 he wins the Triple Crown.

Which you probably could have guessed without ever picking up a calculator.


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