July 20, 2009

Can Pujols Win the Triple Crown?: As of tonight St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols ranks second in batting average (.333), first in RBIs (90) and first in home runs (34). Can he win the first triple crown in baseball since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967? "Pujols has a shot," writes Tim Kurkjian of Espen Gleeben Glouten Globen. "Very few hitters in history have had that."

posted by rcade to baseball at 07:37 PM - 6 comments

He has a chance, in fact a pretty good chance. However, that's not newsworthy until September, which Kurkjian should know.

First, it's highly unlikely he'll lose the HR title this year- although there's a cluster of guys about 9HR behind, which isn't impossible for just one to go on a tear and make up a lot of that ground. They'd have to out-HR Pujols by 4HR a month, which is hardly easy but not impossible. Still, a 9HR lead over the field in late July is pretty hard to lose.

His RBI lead is much slimmer: 6 RBI is nothing. However, he's helped immensely by the fact that outside of Prince Fielder, there's no one else within shouting distance- so if he can edge Fielder, he probably takes this title.

So he'll probably take two of the legs easily. The thing is, the batting average crown is the hardest one to hold on to: unlike counting stats, a huge lead can be erased by you going out and playing badly as much as others doing well. Sure, a 12 point deficit behind can be erased quickly with a couple of multi-hit games while Hanley Ramirez has an 0-fer or 1-fer. The problem is that unlike counting stats, he can just as easily have an 0-fer himself; a few bad games and he's 20, 25 points back in the batting average category. It helps that Pujols is historically a high average hitter, so if anyone can maintain an average of .350+ for the season, he could.

So yeah... the guy's an amazing, freakish hitter, he's a first-ballot HoFer, he's almost undoubtedly going to win another MVP, and he has a better chance than most to win the Triple Crown. But let's talk about this in September, when we can say then that no one else has gone nuts and is hitting .370 or is approaching 50HR at that point.

posted by hincandenza at 11:43 PM on July 20, 2009

But what fun is speculating on this in September?

I think he has a great chance, and I'd love to see it. How many games does he have left in Colorado?

posted by dviking at 01:22 AM on July 21, 2009

While history and the odds are against him, Pujols has won a batting title and has a great career BA. He has learned to look for the pitch to drive into the stands, so if it comes down to needing singles at the end to raise his average he could adjust his approach. However, if the Cardinals remain in the race Pujols will do what is needed for the team to win, not what is needed for his TC pursuit.

posted by whitedog65 at 01:49 AM on July 21, 2009

If the Cardinals cannot find someone who can consistently hit behind him, as the season rolls along and the games start meaning more, he's going to find it hard to rack up the RBI's if he's being walked every time someone's in scoring position. Even at this point in the season, I see no reason to pitch to him consistently in that situation.

posted by dfleming at 11:01 AM on July 21, 2009

Yeah, good point dviking- let's speculate, that's half the fun of baseball! I mostly meant that there's usually someone in the thick of "next Triple Crown winner?" discussion nearly every year, but it almost always fades- much like the "Will ____ hit .400?" discussions when someone's at .380 or so around the All-Star Break.

I'm with dfleming: the closer he gets, the harder it'll be for him to see decent pitches, especially with the Cardinals very much in the thick of things. His average may be helped by that: he'll probably have more BB/IBB in the last couple of months, and it'll be easier to keep a high average (or alternately, harder to raise a low one) with fewer at-bats. But his counting stats may suffer, and as I mentioned his HR lead, and especially his RBI lead, may disappear if others are seeing a lot more at-bats.

But yeah- the guy's probably the best hitter in the game right now (ever since a certain someone was blackballed into an unfair retirement as a scapegoat for the league), and has as good a chance as anyone who's been this close, this late in the season. I think he's close to being the Triple Crown winner for the entire decade, having debuted in 2001- he leads in active batting average depending on how Ichiro finishes this year, is second only to A-Rod in HRs I think, and might be the leader in RBI (I'm not sure because I don't know how to do such a filter at baseball-reference).

posted by hincandenza at 12:22 PM on July 21, 2009

I hope it doesn't come down to him getting intentional walks, or walks that while not intentional are pretty darn close to it.

posted by dviking at 04:32 PM on July 21, 2009

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