Triple Crown

by

Kenneth Matinale

Most recent update: August 14, 2011

Data derived from Baseball Reference.  Click here to see support data in free google spreadsheet.

In Major League Baseball (MLB) the triple crown for hitters is leading the league in batting average (BA), home runs (HR) and runs batted in (RBI).  This analysis covers the American League (AL) and National League (NL) seasons 1903 through 2010 for hitters, not pitchers.  During those 214 (2*107) seasons the triple crown has been achieved 12 times by 10 different players (5.6%).

The spreadsheet file contains these tabs:

- winners, second place finishers, differences, percent differences, total and average percent differences

- AL 2 of 3 leaders

- NL 2 of 3 leaders

- BA leaders by season

- HR leaders by season

- RBI leaders by season

- AL leaders by season BA, HR, RBI

- AL leaders by season BA, HR, RBI

- Career Triple Crown

Ave % leads        Player                        Year        age

3.97%                Carl Yastrzemski        1967        27

13.16%        Frank Robinson        1966        30

22.13%        Mickey Mantle        1956        24

10.41%        Ted Williams                1947        28

20.35%        Ted Williams                1942        23

12.22%        Joe Medwick                1937        25

9.84%                Lou Gehrig                1934        31

21.47%        Jimmie Foxx                1933        25

7.45%                Chuck Klein                1933        28

27.44%        Rogers Hornsby        1925        29

29.99%        Rogers Hornsby        1922        26

15.84%        Ty Cobb                1909        22

16.19%        Average                        26.5

Average age 26.5.  That’s just one reason that St. Louis Cardinal Albert Pujols is unlikely to do it.  In 2011 Pujols is already 31 and injured, so he cannot do it in 2011.  The oldest hitter to do it was Lou Gehrig: 31.  Frank Robinson was 30.  They are the only two 30 or older.  Ty Cobb was the first and also the youngest: 22 in 1909.

The main reason that it has not been done since 1967 is that there are 87.5% more teams and players than before modern expansion started in 1961 (AL) and 1962 (NL).  MLB has gone from 16 teams to 30.  The only two to do it after that were Frank Robinson (1966) and Carl Yastrzemski (1967) when there were still only 20 teams.  MLB expanded to 24 teams in 1969 and that pretty much ended the triple crown.  Plus, Robinson and Yastrzemski had the lowest BA of any triple crown winners.

The other reason that it’s unlikely to be achieved again is that it doesn’t make sense.  Why combine an average with two totals?  The two totals are highly correlated.  The triple crown is basically a HR/RBI leader who happens to also lead in BA.  So what?  Hits would make more sense than BA.  And what about runs scored?  Why not Hits, Runs and RBI?  Or BA, on base percentage (OBP) and slugging percentage (SLG)?  So what if BA and OBP are highly correlated like HR and RBI?  The triple crown rarely goes to the BA leader who also happens to also lead in HR and RBI.

The triple crown is concentrated: four times in five years (1933-1937) plus Hornsby twice in the 1920s and Williams twice in the 1940s.  That’s pretty much it.  Thirteen years between Cobb and Hornsby.  Mantle is the most isolated: smack in the middle of a 20 season drought, 9 years after Williams and 10 years before Robinson.

Consider some sluggers who led in BA who did not do it: Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Alex Rodriguez and Pujols.  This suggests the random nature of the triple crown.

Here are the number of times that triple crown winners were first in each category (two time winners Hornsby and Williams are listed only once):

Player                        BA        HR        RBI        Tot

Carl Yastrzemski        3        1        1        5

Frank Robinson        1        1        1        3

Mickey Mantle        1        4        1        6

Ted Williams                6        4        4        14

Joe Medwick                1        1        3        5

Lou Gehrig                1        3        5        9

Jimmie Foxx                2        4        3        9

Chuck Klein                1        4        2        7

Rogers Hornsby        7        2        4        13

Ty Cobb                11        1        4        16

This view makes it clear that about half the players had minimal opportunities and their accomplishment is largely random.  Frank Robinson finished first only once in all three but they all happened to occur in the same season.  Three others finished first in two of the three only once: Medwick, Mantle and Yastrzemski.

The most solid opportunities were by Williams, Hornsby and Foxx.  Each of the ten players will be analysed in detail below.

To emphasise how rare the triple crown is consider that only ten other players did it for a career:

Player                        BA        HR        RBI        Tot

Albert Pujols                1        2        1        4

Alex Rodriguez        1        5        2        8

Manny Ramirez        1        1        1        3

Andres Galarraga        1        1        2        4

Barry Bonds                2        2        1        5

Hank Aaron                2        4        4        10

Johnny Mize                1        4        3        8

Joe DiMaggio        2        2        2        6

Babe Ruth                1        12        6        19

Heinie Zimmerman        1        1        2        4

Conspicuous by their absence:

Player                        BA        HR        RBI        Tot

Willie Mays                1        4        0        5

Stan Musial                7        0        2        9

Honus Wagner        8        0        5        13

Triple crown in one season including twice for two time winners Hornsby and Williams:

                                BA        HR        RBI

Average                        .361        38        136

Ave without Cobb                .3599        41        138


Ty Cobb: 1909 AL DET .377, 9 HR, 107 RBI

This is an aberration.  In Cobb’s only HR championship all 9 of his HR were inside the park (IPHR)!

In the previous season, 1908, Cobb led the AL in hits, 2B, 3B, RBI, BA; 6th in HR with 4.  In 1909 Cobb also led AL in runs, hits but not 2B nor 3B.  Cobb's 2B dropped from 36 to 33, 3B was half: 20 down to 10.  Cobb's 9 IPHR were probably just some 2B and 3B on which Cobb circled the bases.  In 1911 Cobb led AL: 47 2B and 24 3B.

41.8% of Cobb’s 117 career HR did not go over the fence on a fly.  46 IPHR, 3 bounced over under the old rule that was changed in 1931.  See Cobb’s HR log.

Cobb had both the lowest HR and RBI.


Rogers Hornsby: 1922 NL STL .401, 42 HR, 152 RBI

Rogers Hornsby: 1925 NL STL .403, 39 HR, 143 RBI

1921 through 1925 Hornsby's BA was over .400: .397, .401, .384, .424, .403.

Hornsby led NL in BA 1920, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1928.  Led NL in HR 1922 and 1925.  Led NL in RBI 1920, 1921, 1922, 1925.

Hornsby has the two highest BA among season triple crowns and in 1922 the biggest lead in BA .047 and percent lead 13.28% over Ray Grimes .354.

Hornsby’s 1925 HR percent lead over Gabby Hartnett (39 to 24) 62.50% ties Mantle for the highest.

Hornsby’s average percent lead 29.99% in 1922 is the highest.  His 1925 27.44% is second.

Hornsby has the most dominant triple crown performances.


Chuck Klein: 1933 NL PHI .368, 28 HR, 120 RBI

Lowest HR after Cobb’s fluke 9 IPHR and only one more than Wally Berger in 1933.  Second lowest average percent lead: 7.45%.  Times first: 1 4 2.

It was the third consecutive year that Klein led NL in HR and fourth in five years:

1929 43

1930 40 second to Hack Wilson's 56

1931 31 also led NL with 121 RBI; fourth in BA (.337)

1932 38

1933 28

After 1933 Klein hit 20, 21, 25, 20, 15, 8, 12, 7, …


Jimmie Foxx: 1933 AL PHA .356, 48 HR, 163 RBI

Average percent lead: 21.47%.  20 points higher than Manush, 14 more homers than Ruth, 24 more RBI than Gehrig.  Times first: 2 4 3.

TUESDAY, JUNE 14, 2011 Sacrifice fly is a dumb scoring rule. Dump it and normalize historical data.

Years ago games played was the criteria.  This rule deprived Jimmie Foxx of a second triple crown: leading a league in BA, home runs (HR) and RBI in a particular season.  Dale Alexander, who made his major league debut with Detroit in 1929 at the age of 26 leading the AL in hits with 215, batted .367 in 1932 playing for both Detroit and Boston even though he had only 454 PA and 392 AB; Alexander played in 124 games.  Alexander was batting only .250 with Detroit with 22 PA in 23 games before his trade.  Why the heck should Alexander qualify for any of the average categories?  Give Foxx retroactive posthumous credit for leading his league in BA and give him that second  triple crown, which would make Foxx the only player to have consecutive triple crowns.


Lou Gehrig: 1934 AL NYY .363, 49 HR, 165 RBI

Most RBI.  Times first: 1 3 5.  Third lowest average percent lead: 9.84%.  Lowest BA lead        and BA % lead: .007 and 1.97% over Charlie Gehringer.  5th in MVP voting to Mickey Cochrane.


Joe Medwick: 1937 NL STL .374, 31 HR, 154 RBI

Tied Mel Ott in HR.  Biggest RBI lead and RBI % lead: 39 and 33.91% over Frank Demaree.  Times first: 1 1 3.  4th in HR twice: 1933 18, 1935 23.  Flukey triple crown.


Ted Williams: 1942 AL BOS .356, 36 HR, 137 RBI

Ted Williams: 1947 AL BOS .343, 32 HR, 114 RBI

Times first: 6 4 4.  That gave Williams the best chance of anyone.  Times second: 4 4 1.

Williams had solid leads in 1947 but 32 HR and 114 RBI are not impressive.  However, in 1949 Williams could have won his third triple crown.  Williams had career highs 43 HR and 159 RBI in 1949 but lost by the slimmest margin of anyone winning 2 of 3.  George Kell of Detroit led AL in BA over Williams by .05%:

.342911877395

.342756183746

.000155693649 difference


Mickey Mantle: 1956 AL NYY .353, 52 HR, 130 RBI

Most HR.  Biggest HR lead and HR % lead: 20 and 62.50% (tied with Hornsby 1925) over Vic Wertz.  Lowest RBI lead and RBI % lead: 2 and 1.56% over Al Kaline.

Over Ted Williams .345: BA lead 0.008, BA % lead 2.32%.

Average percent lead: 22.13%, mainly because of his huge HR lead.

Times first: 1 4 1.  Times second: 2 1 0.  As great as he was the Mick’s triple crown is a bit flukey.  Not only was 1956 the only season in which Mickey led AL in RBI but he finished third only once: 111 in 1964.  Fifth three times.


Frank Robinson: 1966 AL BAL .316, 49 HR, 122 RBI

Times first: 1 1 1.  Along with the lowest BA, this can be considered the flukiest triple crown.

Times second: 2 2 4.

Average percent lead: 13.16%


Carl Yastrzemski: 1967 AL BOS .326, 44 HR, 121

Tied Harmon Killebrew in HR.

Lowest average percent lead: 3.97%

Times first: 3 1 1.

Times second: 2 0 0.  Flukey.


Career Triple Crowns but never in one season

Albert Pujols

2003 led NL: BA .359 (one point over Todd Helton), Runs, Hits, 2B, TB; fourth in both HR (43) and RBI (124).

2010 led NL: 42 HR, 118 RBI, Runs, OPS+; sixth BA (.312).

Alex Rodriguez

1996 led AL: BA .358, Runs, 2B, TB; 36 HR not in top ten, 8th RBI (123).

2002 led AL: HR, RBI, TB; .300 BA.

2007 led AL: HR, RBI, Runs, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB; .314 BA not in top ten.

Manny Ramirez

1999 led AL RBI 165, SLG, OPS, OPS+; 44 HR 3rd, .333 BA 5th.

2002 led AL: BA .349, OBP; 33 HR tied for 9th, 107 RBI not in top ten.

2004 led AL 43 HR, SLG, OPS; 130 RBI 3rd, .308 BA not in top ten.

Andres Galarraga

1993 led NL .370 BA (506 PA); 22 HR, 98 RBI neither in top ten.

1996 led NL: 47 HR, 150 RBI; .304 BA not in top ten.

1997 led NL: 140 RBI; .318 BA 7th, 41 HR 3rd.

Barry Bonds

1993 led NL: 46 HR, 123 RBI, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB; .336 BA 4th.

2001 led NL: 73 HR, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+; 137 RBI 4th, .328 BA 7th.

2002 led NL: .370 BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+; 46 HR 2nd, 110 RBI tied 6th.

2004 led NL: .362 BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+; 45 HR 4th, 101 RBI not in top ten.

Hank Aaron

1956 led NL: .328 BA, Hits, 2B, TB; 26 HR not in top ten, 92 RBI 9th.

1957 led NL: 44 HR, 132 RBI, Runs, TB; .322 BA 4th.

1959 led NL: .355 BA, Hits, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB; 39 HR 3rd, 123 RBI 3rd.

1963 led NL: Runs, 44 HR, 130 RBI, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB; .319 BA 3rd.

1966 led NL: 44 HR, 127 RBI; .279 BA not in top ten.

Johnny Mize

1939 led NL: .349 BA, 28 HR, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB; 108 RBI 3rd.

1940 led NL 43 HR, 137 RBI, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB; .314 BA 5th.

1947 led NL 51 HR, 138 RBI, Runs; .302 BA not in top ten.

Joe DiMaggio

1937 led AL: 46 HR, Runs, SLG, TB; .346 BA 3rd 25 points behind Gehringer, 167 RBI 2nd 16 behind Grennberg.

1939 led AL: .381 BA; 30 HR 4th 5 behind Foxx, 126 RBI 2nd 19 behind Williams.

1940 led AL: .352 BA, OPS+; 31 HR 4th 10 behind Greenberg, 133 RBI 3rd 17 behind Greenberg.

1948 led AL: 39 HR, 155 RBI, TB; .320 BA 7th 49 points behind Williams.

Heinie Zimmerman

1912 led NL: .372 BA, 14 HR, Hits, 2B, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB; 99 RBI 3rd 3 behind Wagner.

Babe Ruth

Times first: 1, 12, 6; total 19.

Times second: 3, 3, 4; total 10.

1924 led AL: .378 BA, 46 HR; 121 RBI 2nd 8 behind Goslin.

Ruth led in both HR and RBI six times.  Here is where he finished in BA:

1919 .322 8th; Cobb .384

1920 .376 4th; Sisler .407

1921 .378 3rd; Heilmann .394

1923 .393 2nd; Heilmann .403

1926 .372 2nd; Manush .378

1928 .323 11th; Goslin .379

Conspicuous by their absence

Willie Mays

Times first: 1 4 0.

Times second: 3 1 2.

The absence of Willie Mays from even the career triple crown list is the most amazing because he is number 4 with 660 HR, number 10 with 1,903 RBI.  How the heck did Mays not lead NL in RBI?  Mays was second in RBI only twice: 127 in 1955 when Mays hit 51 HR and 141 in 1962 with 49 HR.  In 1965 Mays hit 52 HR but was only third with 112 RBI.  He was also third in 1961 and 1964.  Mays never led in two of the triple crown categories in the same year.  Here are his ranks by year in BA, HR, RBI:

1954 1 3 6

1955 2 1 2

1956 x 5 x

1957 2 4 6

1958 2 6 4

1959 5 5 7

1960 3 6 4

1961 8 2 3

1962 x 1 2

1963 6 3 5

1964 x 1 3

1965 3 1 3

1966 x 3 4

Stan Musial

Times first: 7 0 2.

Times second: 2 1 0.

The absence of Musial is less shocking than that of Mays.  Stan was not a big HR hitter.  Top three: 39, 36, 35.  Never led, second only once.  Aside from Williams missing a triple crown by less than a point in BA, Musial has the closest miss: one HR in 1948, his career year.  Kiner and Mize led NL in HR in 1948 with 40 each.  Musial led NL: Runs, Hits, 2B, 3B, RBI, BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB.  Musial won his third MVP in 1948.

Honus Wagner

Times first: 8 0 5

Times second: 1 2 2

In the seasons prior to this study (1903-2010) Wagner finished as high as second in home runs only once: 10 in 1898.  Bill Joyce of the Giants also had 10 and Jimmy Collins of Boston led NL with 15.

In 1908 Wagner again had 10 home runs (only 4 over the fence on a fly) and again finished second; Tim Jordan of Brooklyn led NL with 12, 11 over the fence on a fly.  Wagner led NL: hits, 2B, 3B, RBI, SB, BA, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, TB.  Wagner was 34 years old in 1908 and he had his only season with OPS+ >=200: 205.  1908 was probably Wagner's best season.  The following season Wagner dominated the 22 year old Ty Cobb in the WS.

1898 and 1908 were the only two seasons in which Wagner reached double figures in home runs, finishing second both times.

Wagner led NL in BA and RBI in both 1908 and 1909.  In 1909 Wagner hit only 5 HR, two over the fence on a fly, fifth in NL; Red Murray of the Giants led NL with 7 (5 over the fence on a fly); Beals Becker of Boston led NL with all 6 of his homers over the fence on a fly.


Two of Three

AL:

In the 107 seasons studied (1903-2010) a player led AL in two of three 52 times (48.6%).  In the 28 most recent occurrences (1943-2009) the batter led AL in HR and RBI.  In 45 of 107 seasons the batter led AL in HR and RBI (42%).

Five times (half as many as NL) the batter led AL in BA and RBI:

Nap Lajoie (CLE) 1904

Ty Cobb (DET) 1907

Ty Cobb (DET) 1908

Ty Cobb (DET) 1909

Jimmie Foxx (BOS) 1938

Twice the batter led AL in BA and HR: Babe Ruth 1924 and Ted Williams 1941.

As mentioned above Ruth led AL in two of three six times.  Cobb three.  Hank Greenberg (DET) three: 1935, 1940, 1946; Greenberg missed most of 1941 and 1945 and all of 1942, 1943, 1944 in military service.

In these nine seasons batters finished second in the category in which they did not lead:

1908 Cobb HR: 8; 3 37.50% behind Home Run Baker (PHA) 11

1924 Ruth RBI: 121; 10 8.26% behind Goose Goslin (WSH) 129

1926 Ruth BA: 0.372 .006 1.61% behind Heinie Manush (DET) .378

1932 Foxx BA: .364; .003 0.82% behind Dale Alexander (TOT) .367

1938 Foxx HR: 50; 8 16% behind Hank Greenberg (DET) 58

1949 Ted Williams BA: .342756183746 .000155693649 0.05% behind George Kell (DET) .342911877395

1953 Al Rosen BA: .335559265442 .00161178719 0.48% behind Mickey Vernon (WSH) .337171052632


NL:

In the 107 seasons studied (1903-2010) a player led NL in two of three 53 times (49.5%).  In 41 of 107 the batter led NL in HR and RBI (38.3%).

In two recent seasons batters led NL in BA and RBI but not HR:

2000        Todd Helton (COL) HR: 42 8 19.05% behind Sammy Sosa (CHC) 50

2007        Matt Holliday (COL) HR: 36 14 38.89% behind Prince Fielder (MIL) 50

Ten times (twice as many as AL) the batter led NL in BA and RBI:

1905        Cy Seymour  (CIN)

1908        Honus Wagner  (PIT)

1909        Honus Wagner  (PIT)

1910        Sherry Magee  (PHI)

1920        Rogers Hornsby  (STL)

1921        Rogers Hornsby  (STL)

1927        Paul Waner  (PIT)

1948        Stan Musial (STL)

2000        Todd Helton  (COL)

2007        Matt Holliday (COL)

One batter led NL in BA and HR but not RBI: Heinie Zimmerman  (CHC) 1912.

Led NL in HR and RBI: Mike Schmidt  (PHI) four times: 1980, 1981 (4th BA), 1984, 1986.  Hank Aaron (Braves) three times: 1957 (4th BA), 1963 (3rd BA), 1966.

In these four seasons batters finished second in the category in which they did not lead:

1905        Cy Seymour (CIN) HR: 8 1 12.50% behind Fred Odwell (CIN) 9

1908        Honus Wagner (PIT) HR: 10 2 20% behind Tim Jordan (BRO) 12

1921        Rogers Hornsby (STL) HR: 21 2 9.52% behind High Pockets Kelly (NYG) 23

1948        Stan Musial (STL) HR: 39 1 2.56% behind Johnny Mize (NYG) and Kiner (Pit) 40

***   The End   ***