The Saber Triple Crown

The Dodgers Matt Kemp has had a tremendous year. So good, in fact, that he has forced some conversation about the possibility of baseball fans witnessing the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967. Kemp currently ranks third in the National League in batting average (.324), tied for first in home runs (37), and first in runs batted in (120).

Now, there's no doubt Kemp has had a phenomenal offensive year. Additionally, the Triple Crown is a rare achievement. There have only been 16 instances since 1878, and only 14 players have ever managed the feat. Every player that has wont he Triple Crown since 1894 is a member of the Hall of Fame.

But, let's also be honest, it's an artificial record that includes runs batted in (a team statistic) and the only rate statistic is batting average.

Given all we now know about the relationship between individual and team performance it only seems right that we should have a Triple Crown that is more reflective of this new knowledge. Let's strip out the collective performance and focus as much as possible on rates, not counting stats.

For fun, I landed on three statistics that could make up a Saber Triple Crown: On-base Percentage (OBP), Slugging Percentage (SLG), and Offensive WAR (oWAR). The idea is that we want to see which hitters were the very best at avoiding outs (OBP), accumlated the most bases per plate appearance (SLG), and whose offensive accomplishments were superior relative to their peers at their position (oWAR).

So does Kemp still look like a solid bet for the Saber Triple Crown this year?

Unfortunately, no.

Kemp currently leads the National League in oWAR, but ranks 4th in OBP (.400 vs. .420), and 2nd in SLG (.581 vs. .599).

There is currently one major league player that might capture the Saber Triple Crown this year, and that is Jose Bautista. Joey Bats ranks first in oWAR (8.1 vs. 7.6), is tied for 1st in OBP (.447), and 1st by a wide margin in SLG (.615 vs. .579).

To be sure, there have been many more Saber Triple Crown winners than traditional ones. There have been 68 instances of the Saber Triple Crown since 1901 and 38 individuals winners. Here's a list of all the winners in each league by year:

 

What about traditional/Saber symmetry? Have we seen an overlap of winners between the two? In fact, we have.

There have been nine traditional Triple Crown winners that have also won the Saber Triple Crown in the same year.

Only two players have ever won two Triple Crowns - Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby. There have been many more multi-year Saber winners.

Babe Ruth has won the most with 8, followed by Ted Williams and Rogers Hornsby with 6 apiece. Barry Bonds and Honus Wagner have both won 4. Stan Musial and Lou Gehrig have won 3, while Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, and Mike Schmidt have won 2.

So if Matt Kemp can manage to raise his average about 10 points in the next three games and captures the Triple Crown we should certainly cheer him, as it is an incredibly rare feat. But let's also cheer for the players that have done the best job in the league of avoiding outs, accumulating bases, and providing more offensive value than their peers.

Whether traditional or Saber, we might actually have a Triple Crown winner to cheer this season.

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Data courtesy of Baseball-Reference. 

For a listing of all Saber Triple Crown winners and the specific statistics for each category, see here.

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