Matt Kemp And The Triple Crown

LOS ANGELES, CA - Matt Kemp #27 of the Los Angeles Dodgers strikes out to end the game with the New York Mets. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Okay. I'm about to tell you something, but it can't leave this page. Matt Kemp, an outfielder from the Los Angeles Dodgers, is pretty close to the Triple Crown. He's four points behind Ryan Braun in batting average, one home run behind Albert Pujols in home runs, and he has a five-RBI lead on Ryan Howard. It's not likely, but it's not especially unlikely either. But you can't talk about this to anyone because ... well, because ...


Actually, I have no idea why the Triple-Crown race isn't getting more hype. Usually, when someone's flirting with it in July, there's a little buzz. Here we are in September, and there's a little bit of chatter just starting up. That's swell, but there are six games left. That's only five shopping days.

The race for the batting average lead is probably the major hurdle:

Ryan Braun: .330
Jose Reyes: .329
Matt Kemp: .326

With each player's team having six games left, and the average game for a hitter being five at-bats, here's a little matrix to give you an idea of what each hitter would need to do to lead the NL in batting average:

 


Obviously, this isn't and can't be exact. Braun might get some rest before the playoffs. Reyes's hamstrings might turn into a liquid and seep out of his pores. But it gives you an idea of how hot or cold the three players would have to get over the next six games, for there to be some shuffling. It's possible. Kemp would also have to pass Pujols in homers, but that's certainly possible, too.

And no one's really too concerned just yet.

Jon Weisman thinks this might be because Triple Crown stats have fallen out of favor, and that's as good an explanation as any. In the past people looked at a Triple Crown winner as a player who dominated every important stat, which meant he was certainly the best in the league. Player evaluation has advanced, but it's still really, really rare for a player to lead all three Triple Crown categories. It's a statistical oddity that we will rarely, if ever, see in our lifetime. The last player to do it in the National League was Ducky Joe Medwick in 1937. That was even before the internet, people.

And it turns out that Triple Crown winners are often the best players in their league. Even the old-fashioned stats do contain some descriptive power, after all. So as a statistical curiosity, it's something much more meaningful than, say, hitting for the cycle, and it's exponentially rarer. Even though I wouldn't use RBI if it were the only stat on a desert island, it's still cool to see someone go for the Triple Crown.

To maintain my street cred as a Giants fan, I should point out that it's not so cool that I'm actively rooting for Kemp. Rather, I hope that he's walked intentionally in every at-bat, and after every intentional walk, the pitcher on the mound finds Tommy Lasorda in the stands and stares him down, possibly while making an obscene gesture.

But Kemp is in the middle of an under-the-radar run at a hallowed baseball milestone. It's a combination of skill (dingerz), luck (all batting-average leaders usually have some, in a way), and opportunity (a hitter needs runners in front of him for RBI). The stats don't mean as much as they did 20 years ago, but the rarity of the milestone never changed, and it's still special and interesting.

Just don't tell anyone the Kemp's going for it. It could ruin the surprise.

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