Prince Albert and the Crown

The other day, I opined in passing that, standing first in HR and RBI and (then) fourth in batting average, Albert Pujols had the best chance to win a Triple Crown that we’d seen in a good long while.

And, well, does he, really? I mean, it’s obviously still not likely (it never is), but what are the chances? You probably know by now that I’m not going to sit here and give you precise mathematical odds, but let’s look at the English major’s version of the question: can we envision it actually happening?

Albert went 1-for-4 on Monday, so this morning is batting .325. Leader Hanley Ramirez’s Fish didn’t play, and he’s been on fire lately and now stands at .356. Already not looking good. Pujols does have the HR lead by one over Mark Reynolds, though (39 to 38 after both hit one yesterday), and is just two behind Prince Fielder for the RBI lead, 105 to 107.

I’m going to commit a big no-no right off the bat and assume away HR and RBI. ZiPS calculated for the rest of the season thinks Albert ends up with 50 HR and 138 RBI, and that that will best Reynolds by two in the former and drop six behind Fielder in the latter. So even in the two categories he’s closest in, he’s only a favorite to hold one of them. But I’m going to assume he does get both; it just feels like the more likely result to me, and anyway, the bigger hurdle will obviously be the batting average. Also, if Pujols goes on the kind of hot streak he’ll need to in order to win the batting title, odds are he’ll be piling up the HR and RBI too. So in reality, I’m sure there’s not even a 50% chance that Pujols ends up leading in both HR and RBI, but let’s just say he does it.

Now. The Marlins have 44 games left, and Hanley has averaged 3.88 AB per game played. Say he starts every one of those 44 games; at that rate, he’s got 170 more AB. This season, he’s been BABIPing out of his head, with a .404 batting average on balls in play that’s unsustainable by anybody; his pre-’09 career BABIP was approximately .340. So say he reverts back to that, and maintains his current HR and strikeout rates. He strikes out in 18% of his ABs (31 times), homers in 4.2% (7), and gets a hit in 34% of the remaining 132 (45). That makes him 52 for 170, a .305 BA over the rest of the season (seems unrealistically low, doesn’t it? Wonder if I’m doing something wrong…oh well, pressing on). That still puts his overall 2009 batting average at a robust .340.

By the same AB/G * Games Remaining formula, Pujols ought to have 147 AB left in his season. He’ll need 57 hits in those 147 AB–a .388 batting average the rest of the way–to put him at 192/563 = .341 for the year.

Pujols has been a bit down on BABIP this year (.294), either because he’s been unlucky or because he’s hitting more flies and fewer liners. But let’s assume, again, that he gets back to his career BABIP (.321) and keeps the other rates the same. 11.4% Ks (16), 9.2% HRs (14), and 32.1% of the remaining 117 ABs are hits (38). That makes him 52 for 147 (.354), and puts him at just .332 for the year…but if just five more hits fall in (or leave the yard) somewhere in there, he’s right where he needs to be.

Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Not likely, sure, but with just five hits’ worth of better-than-average luck and with a slide back toward the mean by Hanley, it could happen! And just last year, from July 10 to August 31, Pujols played in 45 games and hit .392. So I’m not sure there’s anything Pujols can’t do, but if there is, hitting .388 in 43 games ain’t it.

So, sure, it can happen. If Hanley slips back to .340 or so (if he stays at .356, Albert has to put up a .450 average the rest of the way to catch him). And if the current #2 in average, Pablo Sandoval at .330, doesn’t finish just as strong as Pujols does. And if Pujols holds off Reynolds for the HR title and Prince for the RBI one.

So the odds of this actually happening are probably tiny. Not statistically insignificant, not one in a million, but small enough for most of us lay folk to write it off more or less completely. Still, though, it’s absolutely possible (certainly more likely than Mauer hitting .400, which we’re still hearing a lot about), and probably the “best” odds at this point in the season that anybody has had in many years. I think it’s something we should really keep an eye on for at least the next week or two (though if he goes 0-for-9 in the next two days or something, it’s basically all over).

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4 Responses to “Prince Albert and the Crown”

  1. Jorge Says No! Says:

    What would be more impressive: Pujols hitting the triple crown or Joe Mauer hitting .400?

  2. Bill Says:

    I'd have to go with Mauer, given that he'd be doing it against a park-adjusted league BA of .258 (Ted Williams' was .278 and Bill Terry's was .309[!]). But they'd obviously both be really freaking impressive. Wouldn't it be cool if they both happneed? (THAT is probably 1 in a million.)

  3. lar Says:

    Wow. You have no idea how excited I am at the prospect of both of those things happening this year. It would make 2009 rank up there with 1941, and I don't think there'd be any other competition. And, to top it off, it'd do a pretty good job of turning Mauer/Pujols into DiMaggio/Williams. And for two Midwest teams!

    Neither of these things are very likely, but they are both realistic enough to talk about. Each of them just needs to finish the season on a tear that they are more than capable of matching (Mauer's current tear is actually better than the one he needs to finish the season on), and their competitors just need to play a little below their current levels.

    Oh man, this is what I'm rooting for for the rest of the year.

  4. Jorge Says No! Says:

    Just because he's a catcher, I'd have to go with Mauer.

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