Rating Triple Crown Seasons Without Context

in sports •  last year 

As my favorite baseball writer, Bill James says, sabermetricians try to put baseball statistics in context.

However, as he has, in his "Bill James Gold Mine 2010," devised a way to rate pitchers without context -- a way of rating the stats themselves, rather than the pitchers who pitched them -- why in hell not do the same with Triple Crown stats?

In 1900, Elmer Flick had the 6th best CONTEXTUAL Triple Crown in history up to the 2008 season. He was, decade by decade, the 6th most likely person to win a Triple Crown given the conditions under which he played. Here are his stats:

Year HR RBI BA

1900__11__110__ .367

Here are the Triple Crown stats for Ted Williams in 1941, the year he hit over .400:

Year HR RBI BA

1941__37__120__.406

Flick's chance of winning a Triple Crown, according to James, ranges from 7% to 35%. Williams' chances were much lower, from 1% to 2%. Still, as James himself would say, every one of Williams HR, RBI, and BA totals were better than Flick's. How, then, do you figure out which Triple Crown Stats were the most impressive? In particular, how do you WEIGHT each of the stats? 120 RBI is a whole number. .406 is LESS than ONE. A point of BA, which is 1/1000th of ONE, has to be weighted, or BA will have much less effect on the Triple Crown score than a RBI.

James to the rescue, again! He devised Similarity Scores to try to find out which baseball seasons were the most similar to each other. He weighted the stats. Why not weight the Triple Crown stats according to their weights in Similarity Scores, to bring each of these into line with "natural" expectations?

According to Similarity Scores, you multiply HR by 2, divide RBI by 5, and multiply BA by 1000. Then you add all these together. Elmer Flick, with 11 home runs, 110 runs-batted-in, and a batting average of .367, ends up with a weighted total of 411.

I won't retype the Triple Crown stats of other players, because I'm lazy. Here are a bunch of Triple Crown seasons, complete with totals:

Flick___1900___411
Musial___1948___480.2
Mantle___1956___483
Bonds___2001___501.4
Williams___1941___504
Foxx___1932___513.8
Hornsby___1922___515.4
Ruth___1921___530.2

If you added Barry Bonds 73 home runs to Hack Wilson's 191 runs-batted-in to Hugh Duffy's .440 batting average --- the best Triple Crown stats in history --- you'd get a total of 624.2.

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