How Likely Is a Triple Crown Winner This Season?

Paul Goldschmidt
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

There are far better ways to evaluate offensive performance than the Triple Crown stats or whether a player leads the league in all three categories or not. But winning a Triple Crown, though not a gold star evaluative measure, is a lot of fun, and following a Triple Crown run is a family-friendly good time. It’s a rare feat to accomplish in baseball history, and while increased competitiveness and larger leagues make pulling it off more difficult, it can be achieved in both high-offense and low-offense seasons. It also puts you in the company of a lot of baseball greats, with every AL/NL Triple Crown winner having a plaque in Cooperstown except for Miguel Cabrera, who will almost certainly have his own five years after he retires.

Both Aaron Judge and Paul Goldschmidt look to be in realistic scenarios to win the Triple Crown. To get the exact projections, let’s look at them individually, starting with Judge, who has the simpler scenario.

(To get the probabilities, ZiPS uses the rest-of-season projections for every player, sims out a million seasons, and sees whose lines result in Triple Crown wins, if any. To get a more accurate gauge of what the probabilities are, ZiPS does not assume that the rest-of-season projection is necessarily the underlying ability of every player. In the case of Judge, for example, ZiPS estimates his underlying ability to hit homers over a three-week period as a distribution rather than a point. The generalized model ZiPS uses effectively replicates the number of streaks and slumps in reality over a short period; there’s a reason we have more consecutive hit streaks, homer streaks, and scoreless inning streaks than one would expect from a simple exercise of binomial hijinks.)

Let’s start off with the easiest thing for Judge: finishing first in homers and RBIs. Here we have what may be the most predictable ZiPS projection that has ever been projected!

ZiPS Projection – AL HR and RBI Leaders
Player Home Run Leader RBI Leader
Aaron Judge >99.9% 98.9%
José Ramírez <0.1% 1.1%
Others <0.1% <0.1%

Judge leads the American League by 22 homers, so while the probability of someone catching him isn’t ever truly zero, it is effectively so, and nobody did so in a million runs. Kyle Schwarber had that run last year of 12 homers in 10 games, but anyone catching Judge would have to do basically that at least twice in a row, with Judge still needing to have an epic homer drought (by his standards) or a serious injury to make the numbers work.

Losing the RBI title is more likely, simply because there’s a single player in Ramírez who can at least get enough RBI to catch Judge if the latter’s total stands still.

Essentially, Judge’s Triple Crown probability comes down to the third jewel, the batting average title. And here’s where he faces stiff competition. Judge is only 10 points behind Luis Arraez, but he also has to leap over José Abreu and Xander Bogaerts as well, and Nathaniel Lowe is quietly right behind him by a point. Beating Arraez is the largest challenge, as he almost certainly has the best underlying BA ability of any player in baseball. He was pulled from Wednesday’s night game with hamstring tightness, but that doesn’t necessarily help Judge too much; Arraez sitting keeps his average from dropping, and he doesn’t have to play a single game from here on out to win the batting title.

ZiPS Projection – AL BA Leaders
Player BA Leader
Luis Arraez 74.1%
Xander Bogaerts 18.3%
Aaron Judge 4.1%
José Abreu 1.8%
Nathaniel Lowe 1.4%
Andrew Benintendi 0.1%
Others 0.2%

(Amusingly, Benintendi, currently injured, occasionally sits his way to a batting average title when there are enough slumps at the top of the league.)

ZiPS has Judge with a 4.1% chance to win the batting average, with an almost identical chance of winning the Triple Crown overall. In the scenarios in which he wins the batting title, he almost always staves off Ramírez in the RBI title. There’s a slim “almost” in there; Judge is seriously injured, the other players can slump their way to give him the BA victory, and Ramírez quietly swipes the RBI crown. This happened three times in a million sims. In all three scenarios, it was as described, as even Judge confusingly becoming Juan Pierre or Homer Bush for a month still would inevitably result in RBIs.

Over in the NL, Goldschmidt is in a competitive race in all three categories. First up: homers.

ZiPS Projection – NL HR Leaders
Player HR Leader
Kyle Schwarber 66.8%
Austin Riley 32.2%
Pete Alonso 17.4%
Paul Goldschmidt 11.2%
Mookie Betts 5.6%
Christian Walker 0.9%
Others <0.1%

The first thing you may notice, at least if you compulsively add percentages together any time you see them in a table, as I do, is that the leaderboard adds up to over 100%. There’s enough of a clustering of players at the top that ZiPS simmed out a lot of home run ties, with an average of 1.34 home run leaders per simulation. You don’t need to be the sole leader to get the Crown; for example, Carl Yastrzemski’s 1967 Triple Crown had him tying with Harmon Killebrew for homers. I assume Yaz had to give Killer a duchy or earldom to ensure a successful coronation without a civil war.

What about RBIs?

ZiPS Projection – NL RBI Leaders
Player RBI Leader
Pete Alonso 88.5%
Paul Goldschmidt 22.4%
Others <0.1%

This is a two-man race, though Trea Turner and Nolan Arenado nabbed an occasional RBI title over a million years. Alonso holds a slim lead, but ZiPS sees him as the better player in terms of isolated power, which is the biggest driver of RBI totals, along with opportunity, which is fairly similar for both. Naturally, home run and RBI success are highly correlated, and either player has a strong tendency to lead in one number if they also lead in the other.

Batting average is correlated, but less so, so let’s jump to Goldschmidt’s odds there.

ZiPS Projection – NL BA Leaders
Player BA Leader
Freddie Freeman 71.3%
Paul Goldschmidt 18.6%
Jeff McNeil 10.1%
Others <0.1%

Freeman is the firm favorite here, but Goldschmidt still gets a one-in-five chance. And since, again, all these numbers are correlated with each other to some degree, winning the batting average title makes him more likely to win the other two categories. The very rare “other” here is Turner again.

Sum it all up, and Goldschmidt wins the Triple Crown 3.4% of the time, with him winning two categories in 9.5% of sims, one category in 22.0%, and 65.1% shutouts.

So, at least according to ZiPS’ reckoning, there’s a 7.4% chance that someone will win a Triple Crown category. It’s far from the most sabermetric thing out there, but like bat flips, inside-the-park homers versus regular ones, and feeling really sick because you quickly ate two hot dogs and chugged two beers or maybe a Bourbon slushie before sneaking back to the press box, the Triple Crown is fun. We should always have as much fun as possible.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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cowdisciplemember
9 days ago

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