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Posted: Thursday October 1, 2009 5:54PM; Updated: Thursday October 1, 2009 6:18PM
Joe Posnanski Joe Posnanski >
INSIDE BASEBALL

It's time for the Modern Triple Crown, and here's how to do it

Story Highlights

Some have suggested replacing batting average with OBP in the Triple Crown

But batting average, OBP and slugging percentage is a better combination

Joe Mauer will be the eighth player in 50 years to lead the league in those stats

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Joe Mauer
Twins catcher Joe Mauer is hitting .367 with a .442 on-base percentage and a .593 slugging percentage.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

You may have seen that Stuart Miller over at my favorite newspaper, The New York Times, champions a suggestion that a few people at my blog have suggested as well -- namely to replace batting average with on-base percentage in the Triple Crown. It's an idea good enough that Steve Phillips is on board*, which as you know is pretty much all you need to say in this little corner of the blogodome.

*I should point out here -- especially since I've not always had the kindest words for Steve Phillips' baseball theories -- that he apparently is a Zack Greinke for Cy Young guy. These last few days of the season, unfortunately, I find myself dividing the world into pro-Zack and anti-Zack. I really shouldn't be that way. But so it goes. Anyway, Steve Phillips is on the side of angels when it comes to Zack.

I do think it's a good idea to replace batting average with on-base percentage for the Triple Crown. But, to be honest, I kind of wish we could create a whole new Modern Triple Crown. That way we could have an Ancient Triple Crown and a Modern Triple Crown, kind of like they have a Modern Pentathlon and a Modern Olympics and Modern Warfare 2 and so on.

The Modern Triple Crown could be so many things, with so many great current stats out there. But to me, the simplest way to do it is to take the three building-block stats that most people use now anyway. They are the three slash stats that probably tell you more or less what you need to know about an offensive player, namely: batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage. And so, to win the Modern Triple Crown you would need to lead the league in hitting, in getting on base and in slugging. Tough trick.

The Modern Triple Crown (Let's call it the MTC) has been pulled off eight times by by seven different players in the last 50 years. I think that you might be able to come up with the seven players if you think hard enough -- or any way you might come up with six of them. I came up with six. I'll give you a couple of minutes to think about it. Of course, it looks like Joe Mauer will be the eighth person in 50 years to pull it off -- he has a pretty commanding lead in all three categories. Needless to say, none of the previous seven -- heck, none of the 18 players who have pulled it off in baseball history -- were catchers. Those 18 players have every one of the other seven positions covered, though.

We'll start with ancient times -- every player who pulled off the MTC before 1959 is in the Hall of Fame. But if we have to give a name to the Modern Triple Crown, we should probably call it The Hornsby. In the early days of baseball, the MTC was pretty common. Nap Lajoie won it in 1901 and 1904. Honus Wagner won it four times between 1904 and 1909. Ty Cobb won it three times between 1909 and 1917, with Tris Speaker winning a Modern Triple Crown in in 1916.

But Rogers Hornsby was the king of the MTC. He won it SEVEN TIMES from 1920 to 1928. I have been working on this rather long blog post about why I think the Big Red Machine was the greatest lineup in baseball history -- the big problem is that it really is difficult on so many levels to compare players and teams from different generations. Does anyone know what would really happen if you could somehow reach back into 1925, grab Rogers Hornsby, pull him through the time continuum, and place him on a team in 2009, where he would face pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Adam Wainwright (and, to be fair, Garrett Mock and Felipe Paulino). I have to say that even though I've thought a lot about it, I have no idea what would happen ... I don't know if Hornsby would instantly adjust and crack line drives and be a star, if he could be completely overwhelmed, if he would start off slowly but then adjust, if he would actually be BETTER than current players. I don't know. I guess the only fair way to measure is to see how Hornsby did when he faced Jamie Moyer and use that as our baseline.

Babe Ruth won his only MTC in 1924, and Lou Gehrig won one in 1934. Chuck Klein won one in 1933 when he was playing in the absurd hitting fairground the Baker Bowl. Klein that year was the only player in the National League with an on-base percentage above .400 (his was .422) -- and his teammate Spud Davis finished second with a .395 OBP. It's unfortunate that we don't have Klein's splits from 1933 yet, but we do have his splits from 1932. They look like so:

Home: .423/.464/.799, 29 homers, 97 RBIs, 92 runs
Road: .266/.340/.481, 9 homers, 40 RBIs, 60 runs

Uh, that seems pretty extreme to me.

Stan Musial won a Modern Triple Crown in his remarkable 1948 season -- you probably already know that he was one home run short of the ancient Triple Crown. He hit 39 homers -- Johnny Mize and Ralph Kiner hit 40. If I remember correctly, Musial had a home run washed away because of a rainout. But nobody was even close to him in the MTC -- he won the batting title by 43 points, the on-base crown by 27 and slugging percentage by 138.

Then, of course, there is Ted Williams. He won the MTC five times from 1941 to 1957 -- his 1957 season might be the most incredible individual season in baseball history. Here you have a 38-year-old man, a veteran of two wars, and he hit .388, his on-base percentage was .526, and he slugged .731 -- all of those were the second-best totals of his career behind, of course, 1941, when he was 22 years old, and he hit .400, and he was invincible. Remarkable.*

*And since I brought up Chuck Klein's home/road split, I should probably point out Williams' home/road in 1957 -- it is stunning for a whole other reason.

Home: .403/.525/.670
Road: .374/.528/.790

How about a 38-year-old man slugging .790 on the road? Williams hit 26 of his 38 homers on the road.

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