In May 2000, Rockies first baseman Todd Helton accumulated 82 at-bats, with 42 of those trips to the plate concluding with a hit, and giving the 26-year-old a spectacular .512 batting average for the month. Among the 42 knocks, 11 left the park. It was a span of success to behold with astonishment.
Helton's historic month with the lumber helped pave the road to a .372 average for the season with 42 home runs. He was the first player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, to win a batting title and hit at least 40 home runs in the same season. That accomplishment had been enjoyed by only eight other players before Yaz's Triple Crown season. Of those previous eight players, only Jimmie Foxx, in 1933 and then again in '38, managed to do it twice. That feat would not be accomplished again until Barry Bonds captured batting crowns in 2002 and '04, hitting 46 and 45 homers, respectively, in those two seasons. With his batting work in the past two seasons, Detroit's Miguel Cabrera has not only joined Foxx and Bonds, he has one-upped them, doing it in consecutive seasons.
Winners of three or more consecutive batting crowns
Cabrera's 2012 and '13 campaigns are double exclamation points, boldly training the eyes to focus on a three-year run that has seen him capture three straight batting titles with a Triple Crown season sandwiched in the middle, while averaging 39 homers during the stretch, to assume the title of best hitter on the planet.
Since the beginning of the live-ball era, Cabrera is one of seven players to claim three straight batting crowns, and at least in terms of home run numbers, he has hit unprecedented heights during his run of batting titles.
Cabrera's acclamation of alpha-dog status emanates from more than just the three-straight batting titles and concurrent home run numbers. It gains solidity from the combined numbers over this stretch and how they compare against his peers, and it increases in justification when isolating leadership -- on a year-to-year basis -- within the span of seasons. From 2011-13, Cabrera is first in the Majors in hits, home runs, RBIs, total bases, extra-base hits, times on base, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS and OPS+, and falls out of the top slot in only three major categories: on-base percentage (he is second), walks (fourth), and doubles (tied for sixth).
Whether one wants to view the work through the traditional, Triple Crown narrative (where has a .340/39/127 line for the stretch) or in a rate-stat approach (.340/.427/.609/1.036), Cabrera's multidimensional excellence offers something for everyone, including those who like to peer back into history for comparisons.
Perhaps surprisingly, Ted Williams, who owns the highest career batting average among the 51 players with at least 400 career home runs and claimed six batting crowns to go along with his 521 homers, never had a season in which he claimed a batting title and knocked out at least 40.
The players to win a batting title and also hit at least 40 home runs in the same season are Rogers Hornsby (1922), Babe Ruth ('24), Jimmie Foxx ('33, '38), Lou Gehrig ('34), Willie Mays ('54), Mickey Mantle ('56), Norm Cash ('61), Frank Robinson ('66), Yastrzemski ('67), Helton (2000), Bonds ('02, '04), Albert Pujols ('03), Derrek Lee ('05) and Cabrera ('12, '13).
While Williams' batting crown seasons (in 1941, '42, '47, '48, '57 and '58) saw him collect 37, 36, 32, 25, 38 and 26 home runs, his only season with at least 40 was in '49, when he hit 43, saw him just miss out on the batting title, as he finished with a .34276 mark that was just a hair behind George Kell's .34291. This second-place finish kept Williams from claiming three crowns in a row.
Williams' 1949 campaign was the culmination of a three-year stretch which tests the limits of credulity, for the numbers and the preponderance of leadership in baseball during this time appears so engrossing and so encompassing, it's easy to see how they work within that oft-repeated line of "There goes the greatest hitter that ever lived."
|On-base plus slugging||1.129||1.036|
|Times on base||1,020||870|
|Single-season titles *||32||16|
Among the numerical and narrative accomplishments within Williams' three-year stretch from 1947-49, one finds, immediately, the Triple Crown salvo in '47 (along with leadership in nine other high-end categories): a season that saw him sweep the rate-stat categories and post his fourth straight OPS+ of at least 200 (a stretch broken up by three lost seasons to World War II activities). Then in '48, another rate-stat sweep also included a doubles title and his fifth crown for walks. And then finally, in '49, Williams just missed out on that batting title (thus keeping him from an unprecedented third career Triple Crown), but managed leadership in just about everything else, with perhaps his most extraordinary season for across-the-board dominance (he led the AL in runs, doubles, home runs, RBIs, total bases, times on base, extra-base hits, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS and OPS+).
For this three-year stretch, Williams led the Majors in batting, on-base, slugging, OPS, OPS+, doubles, RBIs, walks and times on base. He was second in extra-base hits and tied for second in hits. Williams also was third in home runs and total bases -- positively Cabrera-esqe in its breadth. And while Cabrera may have the edge when it comes to batting crowns within this selected three-year run (not to mention bonus points for such wide leadership in a system that has 30 teams versus 16 in 1947-49), Williams has him in most of the raw numbers and the single-year league leadership within the three-year run.
Perhaps the most fun part about this particular juxtaposition lies within the ages for the pair as they wielded their bats with uncommon ferocity and prowess. For all players in history with at least 1,500 combined plate appearances for those age-seasons (28-30), Williams' 195 OPS+ is second (behind Babe Ruth's 207), while Cabrera's 177 is tied for 11th, again putting the current Tigers slugger behind the Splendid Splinter. Still, when it comes to matching age with batting title prowess and home run inclination, few can hold a candle to Cabrera and his recent surge. It's been a three-year stretch that finds few parallels in the game's history, providing just another layer to appreciate Cabrera's sustained, sharp and spectacular reign as the best.
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.