September 29, 2022

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The Sports Fanatics

Three things to know as Paul Goldschmidt aims to become NL’s first Triple Crown winner in 85 years

When it comes to individual accomplishments during the 2022 Major League Baseball season, our attention has mostly been trained on Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees and his pursuit of 61 home runs and Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals and his advance toward 700 career home runs. Now, though, it’s time to spend some bandwidth on Pujols’ teammate Paul Goldschmidt and his designs on winning the Triple Crown. 

1. It’s been a very long time since a National League player pulled it off

For the uninitiated, the batter’s Triple Crown is achieved when a player leads his league in batting average, home runs, and RBI in the same season. It’s an exceedingly rare feat, as you might expect. Here’s a look at who’s pulled it off: 

2012

Miguel Cabrera, Tigers

American

1967

Carl Yastrzemski, Red Sox

American

1966

Frank Robinson, Orioles

American

1956

Mickey Mantle, Yankees

American

1947

Ted Williams, Red Sox

American

1942

Ted Williams, Red Sox

American

1937

Joe Medwick, Cardinals

National

1934

Lou Gehrig, Yankees

American

1933

Jimmie Foxx, Athletics

American

1933

Chuck Klein, Phillies

National

1925

Rogers Hornsby, Cardinals

National

1922

Rogers Hornsby, Cardinals

National

As you can see, just 12 times across the sprawl of MLB history has a batter won the Triple Crown, and just 10 individual hitters have done it. The last was Miguel Cabrera in 2012, but in the National League it’s been much longer. The last to do it was Medwick, himself a Cardinal, 85 years ago. That’s a serious drought – significantly longer than the AL dry spell Cabrera ended in 2012. Goldschmidt’s bid comes 100 years after Hornsby authored the very first Triple Crown season in 1922. 

On a team level, the Cardinals are tied with the Red Sox for most Triple Crown seasons with three. If Goldbird is able to make good on his efforts, then the Cardinals will stand alone atop that particular heap with four TCs. 

As for what we’ll call the Ultimate Triple Crown – we’ll define that as leading both leagues, or all of MLB, in the three categories of note – only one player has done that. That was Mantle in ’56. Goldschmidt has almost no chance at joining him, thanks largely to Judge’s huge lead on the MLB home run leaderboard. 

And now back to Non-Ultimate Triple Crown considerations. 

2. Goldschmidt has work to do in one category

Here’s where Goldschmidt sits on the current NL leaderboards of the three Triple Crown categories: 

Batting average

  1. Goldschmidt: .333
  2. Freddie Freeman, Dodgers: .327
  3. Jeff McNeil, Mets: .321

RBI

  1. Goldschmidt and Pete Alonso, Mets: 105
  2. Nolan Arenado, Cardinals: 87

Home runs

  1. Kyle Schwarber, Phillies: 36
  2. Goldschmidt: 33
  3. Alonso; Mookie Betts, Dodgers; and Austin Riley, Braves: 31

Goldbird’s lead in batting average is sizable (but not insurmountable) for this time of year, and it’s going to come down to him and Alonso for the RBI lead. When it comes to home runs, however, he has a serious challenge. A three-homer deficit is quite significant at this level of output, and assuming both Goldschmidt and Schwarber stay healthy down the stretch it’s not likely that the necessary ground will be made up. 

For instance, over at FanGraphs the Zips and Steamer projection systems each tab Goldschmidt for six more home runs over the remainder of the 2022 regular season. Schwarber, meantime, is projected to hit eight more home runs the rest of the way by both systems. Obviously projection systems can be wrong, but these are reasonable assumptions. While Goldschmidt is quite strong when it comes to batted-ball metrics, Schwarber in 2022 has been even better – and among the very best in baseball – when it comes to things like average exit velocity, optimal launch angle for power production, and the rate at which he “barrels” pitches. All of those things matter a great deal when it comes to hitting home runs. As well, Citizens Bank Park boosts home run rates from left-handed batters like Schwarber, while Busch Stadium suppresses them from right-handed batters like Goldschmidt. 

Maybe it’s too much to call Goldbird a true longshot to overtake Schwarber in home runs, but the odds are squarely against him.

3. The Triple Crown would be an important career achievement for Goldschmidt 

While Goldschmidt is no doubt focused on team goals, particularly given that he plays on a team with legitimate designs on the World Series, winning the Triple Crown would all but ensure he wins the NL MVP award (he’s probably the frontrunner regardless). Both of those things, in turn, would significantly aid his eventual Hall of Fame case. Assuming a normal decline phase moving forward, the Triple Crown-MVP combo in 2022 might be enough to make Goldschmidt a “strongly likely” Hall of Famer. The Triple Crown is of course an impressive laurel for any hitter, but it could be particularly meaningful for Goldschmidt and his eventual Cooperstown dossier.