Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers is closing in on the American League triple crown. If he finishes things off today, he will be the first MLB player since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 to do it.
If he does, Cabrera will make it tough on the Angels' Mike Trout in the MVP race. Trout leads Cabrera in a bucketful of advanced metrics. And true, while his team will not make the playoffs while Cabrera's will, Trout's Angels will finish with a better record while playing against better AL West competition.
But this isn't an MVP argument. Rather, it's a quick look at just what it means to win the triple crown. Clearly it is not easy, or we wouldn't have gone 45 years since the last one. Combining batting average with home run power can be done, but often they are separated. Line drive hitters go for average; power hitters lift the ball and hit home runs but tend to make more outs. Even if you manage to do both, you still have to have enough RBI situations -- and capitalize -- to win that part of the battle.
Cabrera is a wonderful combination of all these things. He has been a triple crown threat for a while. That said, if he does hold on to his leads in batting average (.331), home runs (44) and RBI (139) through this last day -- and really, home runs are the only viable threat with Josh Hamilton lurking one behind -- what will it really mean?
Aside from the basic fact that he was the best in all three categories in one year, it will mean that, well, he picked a good year to put up those specific numbers. Manny Ramirez hit .333 with 44 homers and 165 RBI in 1999 and he didn't win it. He took home the RBI crown, but that was it. Sure, that was in the midst of the more intense PED era, but those are surely triple crown-worthy numbers.
We're not saying Cabrera's accomplishment would be purely circumstantial, but there is this: In the previous 10 years in the AL, 7 of the 10 batting champs hit better than .331, six of the home run leaders belted more than 44 and five of the RBI title holders had more than 139.
Like so many records and accomplishments, triple crowns are combinations of great performances and great timing. Celebrate as you see fit.