Lou Gehrig famously won the Triple Crown in 1934 (but not the MPV) and even more famously in 1939 Lou stated that he considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” Miguel Cabrera has won the Triple Crown; he is the first winner since 1967. While it may be hyperbolic to say that Miguel Cabrera is the luckiest man on the face of the earth, it is in no way hyperbolic to suggest that luck factored significantly with him winning the Triple Crown. Baseball is a game of luck and skill, and whenever a player puts up fantastic numbers (like Cabrera did this year); despite how skilled the player might be there is usually some component of good luck contributing to those numbers.
There are numerous ways in which luck can contribute to Triple Crown stats (BA, RBI, and HR). RBIs for example are greatly dependent on the number of RBI opportunities that a player gets and a lot of the variance in BABIP is due to luck. I am not going to look at RBIs or batting average; although Miguel Cabrera actually had a lower BABIP than Mike Trout and fewer runners on base when he batted than Josh Willingham, I will look at the role of luck and home run totals. Greg Rybarczyk in collaboration with ESPN Stats & Information Group has done a fantastic job tracking MLB home runs over at hittrackeronline.com. Hit tracker does not just calculate how far a home run was hit; it also calculates what effect atmospheric conditions had on the ball. If a home run would have not cleared the fence in normal weather conditions (a 70-degree no wind day) it is classified as a lucky home run. Miguel Cabrera had 7 lucky home runs this season, the most of any player this season and the second highest single season lucky home run total since Hit tracker began tracking home runs in 2006. Without these 7 lucky home runs Cabrera would not have won the Triple Crown; he would not have even been that close. He would have finished with a batting average in the low .320s, good for second in the league, and a home run total of 37 which would be good for fifth in the league. Without those 7 home runs Miguel Cabrera’s season would look eerily similar to Adrian Beltre’s, except with worse defense (no more MVP contention). The fact that 7 of Cabrera’s home runs need a little luck to help them clear the fence should in no way be counted against him because those lucky home runs are just as valuable as the rest of his home runs.
Miguel Cabrera is hardly the only player to benefit from lucky home runs; there were 248 lucky home runs hit this season and 2232 hit in the regular season since 2006. While many players have benefitted from lucky home runs other may have gotten the short end of the stick and lost a few home runs due to weather conditions (this unfortunately is not tracked). Cabrera still did most of the work, hitting deep fly balls that the weather turned into lucky home runs. So I am going to look at what percent of potential lucky home runs actually clear the fence. I defined potential lucky home runs as all out field fly balls that did not clear the fence and all lucky home runs. The chart below shows the number of potential lucky home runs, lucky home runs and the percent of potential lucky home runs that actually cleared the fence (I used Fangraphs Fly ball split to find the number of outfield fly balls that were not home runs).
|year||AL lucky HR||NL lucky HR||total lucky HR||AL potential||NL potential||total potential||AL luck%||NL luck%||total luck%|
Now that we have an ideas of what amount of good luck is normal let’s look at Miguel Cabrera. The table below shows Miguel’s luck number for this year and his expected number based on league average levels of luck.
|hr||lucky||potential lucky||Luck%||relative luck|
Cabrera’s luck percentage% of 4.7% is pretty darn lucky; he was just more than 6 times as lucky as the average AL player this year, and even those lucky NL hitter in ‘06 aren’t close to Cabrera who had 4 times as much luck. So if Cabrera does win the MVP this year he should consider himself one of the luckiest men on the face of the earth.