September 17, 2010

Baseball’s Triple Crown: Easier To Win As A Pitcher Than A Hitter


The definition of baseball dominance can be summarized with a crown, a Triple Crown that is.

One of the greatest accomplishments to win as a baseball player is to be the best in three statistical categories; for hitters it’s to have the most homeruns, RBIs and the best batting average while pitchers long to lead the league in ERA, wins and strikeouts by season’s end.

As the 2010 season rolled along, baseball announcers and analysts were keeping tabs on individuals flirting with a chance at sporting the crown. Players like Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera and Josh Hamilton were in the discussion of possibly being bestowed with the prestigious title.

Despite their strong efforts throughout the summer, all four players have fizzled out as a top leader in one of the essential categories.

Pujols currently stands number one in the NL in HRs and second in RBIs, but is far from the top of the list according to batting average with Carlos Gonzalez more than 30 points ahead of him.

Cincinnati Reds slugger Votto is a bit closer to Gonzalez, but still trails by twenty points behind him. He is also five homeruns behind Pujols and shares second place with him in the RBI category.

Tigers first baseman Cabrera had the most realistic shot at the crown when he led all three categories in the middle of the season. Now, he has dropped to thirteen homeruns behind the AL league leader and just under 30 points for the batting title despite being the current leader in RBIs.

Hamilton, on the other hand, has a hold of the batting title witha .361 AVG, but has really fallen off the pace in HRs (fourth in the league, sixteen behind the leader) and RBIs (tied for tenth, 21 from the top).

All four players were once in the discussion because becoming a Triple Crown winner is a feat that is nearly impossible. This is why the discussion of a hitter winning it becomes a hot topic at the midway point in the season and why the cameras stay focused upon them until they appear out of contention.

What is more interesting is that pitchers have won the award more frequently lately, but don’t have the same attention as the hitters do.

Why does that happen?

For most pitchers in baseball, being dominant across the board is easier to accomplish than being the best for a season in the three offensive categories.

In the history of baseball, there have been nearly twice as many pitchers who have won the Triple Crown (38) than hitters’ (16). Within those totals, only two hitters have won the prestigious honor twice while seven pitchers have been crowned twice (Sandy Koufax even won it three times).

To put it another way: pitching is easier to dominate than hitting.

That dominance is obvious when looking at the previous winners. There have been eight pitchers who won the award as a pitcher since the last batting Triple Crown winner in 1967.

A big reason for that are the characteristics and styles of those pitchers makes it easier for them to win the award.

Jake Peavy, Johan Santana, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens and Dwight Gooden are all the same type of pitchers: power pitchers who can place their fast ball in the high 90s, but still have a wide variety of pitches that leaves hitters off balance.

Being a power pitcher is essential because the hardest category to reach for the Triple Crown is strikeouts. Only a handful of players have the ability to over power hitters and K them consistently. All six of the pitchers listed above have that skill in their repertoire.

With high strikeout totals comes the low volume of runs they allow to cross the plate. This helps them keep their ERA at a meager level. With fewer runs given up comes a higher total in the win column.

While winning the pitching Triple Crown is easier to achieve, hitters find it nearly impossible.

The most recent hitter who won the Triple Crown did so over 40 years ago. Carl Yastrzemski won the title as a Boston Red Sox first baseman and outfielder in 1967 with a .326 AVG, 44 HRs and 121 RBIs.

Those totals wouldn’t even win him the award this year in either league.

A big reason why a batting Triple Crown is nearly impossible and why there hasn’t been a winner in over 40 years is the discrepancy among the various types hitters.

While being a power pitcher gives them a better chance to win the award, the three categories for hitting do not connect the same way as the pitching categories do depending upon style of player.

Pitchers with a high strikeout total have a great chance to keep a low ERA total and accumulate a high number of wins. For hitting, being a power hitter does not necessarily make them a strong hitter for average and vice versa.

Also, when it comes to RBIs, hitters need to have other teammates who get on base at a high rate. Smashing homeruns or spraying hits all over the field will not guarantee a high number of RBIs. The only way to increase those totals is for others to get on at a high rate in front of them.

While a pitcher like Ubaldo Jimenez and David Price appear to be possible pitching triple crown winners in the next few years, hitters like Votto and Cabrera will probably be cursed as hitters with the potential to reach that plateau, but sadly never will.

The crown that hasn’t been placed on a hitter’s head in over 40 years and that trend looks likely to continue for another 40 years.

By Norcal JW with No comments

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