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Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown: the best ever?

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If you just look at the raw numbers for Miguel Cabrera — a .330 batting average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI — you wouldn’t immediately say “best triple crown ever!”  After all, Mickey Mantle hit 52 home runs to secure his. Lou Gehrig hit .363 in his triple crown year. Jimmie Foxx hit 163 RBI the year he did it.  I’m not even sure that adjusting for era make Cabrera’s raw numbers one of the best triple crown years.

But there is something else besides those numbers that has convinced me that it is, Joe Sheehan’s argument about it in his latest newsletter:

Cabrera achieved the greatest Triple Crown ever. Forget the raw numbers or any single-number evaluation of his season, and consider that he beat out the largest fields of any winner. No one had won the Triple Crown since 1967, and that’s not a coincidence; it has nothing to do with specialization, the idea that there are more hitters for power and more for average. There are simply more hitters. It’s a math problem.

Expansion in 1969, 1977, 1993 and 1998, Joe notes, dramatically increased the number of players in the game and thus the number of guys in the hunt in triple crown categories each year.  To climb to the top of any one of those lists, let alone all three, you have to beat out a lot more dudes.*  Joe breaks down the specifics of that math, and it puts the significance of Cabrera’s accomplishment into perspective.

By the way: Joe does this kind of thing almost every day, plus much, much more. Just today, in addition to the Cabrera stuff, he talks about why the Rangers are not dead and, in fact, can be considered favorites to make the ALCS right now. Then he imagines Clayton Kershaw’s free agent negotiations in a couple of years.  Good stuff.  If you are interested in it, I highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter.

*Note, this “there are a lot more teams and a lot more players out there” is also one of the things explaining why there are a lot more no hitters and perfect games these days too.  In 1955 you had 16 teams playing a total of 1,232 major league games each year. In 2012 you have 30 teams playing 2,430. When you increase the number of players you make leading those players in any category harder, but at the same time, as you increase the number of games being played, you increase the chances of a given phenomenon happening. People tend to ignore this and instead look for explanations involving steroids, magic pitches and the decline of some traditional value they hold near and dear or whatever.  It really doesn’t have to be that difficult.   

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.