The first feat is ending a season with at least 502 plate appearances and a batting average BA ≥ .400. The second feat is accomplishing baseball’s Triple Crown by leading their league in HR, RBI and BA. This posting and the following posting will examine the chances of Miguel Cabrera achieving both these feats in 2013. If Cabrera can accomplish both these feats in 2013, he would have to be considered one of the greatest hitters of all time.
In Chapter 17 titled “Mission Impossible: Batting .400 for a Season” of my book Sandlot Stats, I use sabermetrics to analyze what I believe is necessary for a player to bat .400 for a season today. Using regression analysis, based on those players who either have batted .400 or very close to .400 for a season, a typical .400 hitter has an in-play batting average IPBA > .427 and a strike-out average SOA < .066. The IPBA is H/(AB-SO). The SOA is SO/AB. A player’s batting average BA = H/AB. It can be shown that BA = IPBA*(1-SOA). Each increase of .010 (10 points) in his IPBA raises his BA by approximately 7 points and each decrease of 10 points in his SOA increases his BA by approximately 3 points.
Since 1913, the .400 hitters club include Harry Heilmann (.403 in 1923), Rogers Hornsby (.401 in 1922, .424 in 1924, .403 in 1925), George Sisler (.407 in 1920, .420 in 1922), Ty Cobb (.401 in 1922), Bill Terry (.401 in 1930) and Ted Williams (.406 in 1941). This elite club, since 1913, includes just six players since Hornsby did it three times and Sisler did it twice. What these players had in common was the ability to make contact with the ball and not strike-out. Their SOA ranged from a low of .024 to a high of .080. Only two SOA were above .066. In 1922, Hornsby had a SOA of .080 but his IPBA of .436 gave him a BA = .401. In 1923, Heilmann had a SOA = .076 but his IPBA of .436 gave him a BA = .403. Their IPBA ranged between .420 and .450with only two less than .427. In 1920, Sisler had an IPBA of .420 but his SOA of .030 gave him a BA = .407. In 1922, Cobb had an IPBA of .420 but his SOA of .046 gave him a BA = .401.
Since 1913, of the ten times a player was able to hit .400 for a season all but Ted Williams did it between 1920 and 1930. The era from 1920 to 1930 was called the “lively ball era” due to the fact that a new tighter wrapped ball led to higher batting averages. Also, before 1930 since pitchers were expected to pitch the entire game the strike-out was deemphasized. Like marathon runners, pitchers wanted to pace themselves by throwing fewer pitches and letting their fielders create their outs.
The four players, since 1941, who came the closest to the magic .400 average were Ted Williams (1957, BA = .388), Rod Carew (BA =.388 in 1977), George Brett (BA = .390 in 1980) and Tony Gwynn (BA = .394 in 1994), Williams, Carew, Brett and Gwynn had corresponding IPBA of .432, .426, .410 and .413. Their corresponding SOA were .102, .089, .049 and .045. Williams and Carew failed to bat .400 because their SOA were too high. Brett and Gwynn failed because their IPBA were too low.
Since 1913, the Triple Crown winners include Rogers Hornsby (1922 and 1925), Jimmie Foxx (1933), Chuck Klein (1933), Lou Gehrig (1934), Joe Medwick (1937), Ted Williams (1942 and 1947), Mickey Mantle (1956), Frank Robinson (1966), Carl Yastrzemski (1967) and the newest member Miguel Cabrera (2012). The exclusive Triple Crown Club, since 1913, includes just 10 members.
Please read my next posting where I examine what it will take for Miguel Cabrera to accomplish both of these feats in 2013 and whether I think Cabrera can and will do it. News Flash: Cabrera is now on pace for 198 RBI which would break Hack Wilson’s single-season record of 191.