Playing the percentages and Barry Bonds

Every so often I like to go off on baseball, in particular Barry Bonds. Seeing classes are now over, I thought I’d finish a post I wrote over the 4th of July.

The triple crown in baseball is having the highest batting average, most home runs and most RBI’s in a single season. It hasn’t been done since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. Its has only done 13 times in the 20th century. Its a rare thing because home run hitters usually aren’t the guys with high batting averages. Even if you can do both (like Barry Bonds) you get walked enough that the RBI’s are had to come by.

Also, both RBI and BA have fallen out of favor in recent years as stats for good reason. RBI are very dependent on your team. If they guys ahead of you aren’t getting on base, then you can’t drive them in. Likewise, having a high batting average doesn’t mean much if all your doing is slapping out singles and getting out the rest of your plate appearances. A .250 home run hitter who walks can be much more valuable than a .350 singles hitter. That being said, I think batting average can have some value as a stat when it is viewed in conjunction with on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

All this leads me to the subject at hand. In 2002, Barry Bonds lead the league in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. I have yet to hear any baseball writer notice this fact. He’s doing it again this year, too. I actually think is a more significant feat than winning the traditional triple crown. It means that in every plate appearance, you are getting the fewest outs, in every at-bat your are gettin the most bases, and you are also getting the most hits.

This got me wondering… many times has the average triple crown (OBP, SLG, BA) been won? It turns out its more frequent than the traditional triple crown, but still pretty rare, and the only reason why its more frequent is because a few hall of famers did it multiple times.

I went through and came up with the following list of %TC winners:

National League
Barry Bonds - 2002
Todd Helton - 2000
Larry Walker - 1999
Stan Musial - 1948
Stan Musial - 1943
Arky Vaughan - 1935
Chuck Klein - 1933
Rogers Hornsby - 1928
Rogers Hornsby - 1925
Rogers Hornsby - 1924
Rogers Hornsby - 1923
Rogers Hornsby - 1922
Rogers Hornsby - 1921
Rogers Hornsby - 1920
Honus Wagner - 1909
Honus Wagner - 1908
Honus Wagner - 1907
Honus Wagner - 1904

American League
Carl Yazstramski - 1967
Frank Robinson - 1966
Ted Williams - 1957
Ted Williams - 1948
Ted Williams - 1947
Ted Williams - 1942
Ted Williams - 1941
Jimmie Foxx - 1938
Lou Gehrig - 1934
Babe Ruth - 1924
Ty Cobb - 1917
Ty Cobb - 1914
Ty Cobb - 1909
George Stone - 1906
Nap Lajoie - 1904
Nap Lajoie - 1901

Things of note:

  • Every non-active player on the list is in the hall of fame, except for George Stone who won it in 1906.
  • Babe Ruth only won it once.
  • Winning the traditional triple crown doesn’t necessairly mean you’ll with the average triple crown. Mickey Mantle won the triple crown in 1956, but was second in on-base percentage (to Ted Williams).
  • The greatest season ever for OPS+BA was Babe Ruths 1920 season. He had a 1.755: OBP=.532, BA=.376, SLG=.847. He didn’t win the %TC because he was fourth in batting average. Barry Bonds came close in 2002. OPS+BA=1.751: BA = .370, SLG = .799, OBP= .582. As of this morning he’s sitting at OPS+BA=.353+1.373=1.726.

By Gary

3 dimples. 7 continents. 130 countries.