My friend Bill Gilbert religiously tracks the top hitters and pitchers across MLB every season in the Triple Crown categories. There has not been a true Triple Crown winner in the American League since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967 and in the Senior Circuit for 73 years, since former Cardinal great Joe “Ducky” Medwick accomplished the feat in 1937.
As a measure of annual individual excellence short of the actual Triple Crown, Bill tracks what he has labeled “Triple Milestones”. They are predefined thresholds in the six Triple Crown categories, three for hitters and three more for hurlers in an unofficial pitching version. When a player achieves all three, he is deemed to be having a pretty darned good season.
Over time, MLB hitters have done very well in achieving their milestones of a .300 average, 30 home runs and 100 RBI. For example, Albert Pujols is among four players already there in 2009 with three others close. Prior to this season, the hitting mark had been reached 113 times this decade.
It is a much different story on the pitching side, however. In this age of five-man rotations, strict pitch counts and specialization, 20-game winners have become few and far between. Add to that an ERA under three and 200 strikeouts makes achieving the pitching triple milestones a very tall order.
Bill tipped me off that if Adam Wainwright earns a win in his final start this Friday, he will become the first National League pitcher to have 20 wins, 200 strikeouts and an ERA under 3.00 since his teammate Chris Carpenter did it during his Cy Young Award-winning campaign in 2005.
In fact, with a quick query using the invaluable Complete Baseball Encyclopedia, I learned that Wainwright’s pitching Triple Milestone will be just the ninth across MLB this decade, occurring at the rate of about one per year on average.
While Roy Halladay of Toronto did it last year, four of the prior eight triple milestones since 2000 occurred in 2001 and 2002. Randy Johnson was the only pitcher to do it twice.
In the table below, Wainwright’s numbers are a projection, assuming he hits his season average of six strikeouts in his final start, holds his ERA flat and of course, gets that twentieth win.
I further assigned each of the stats a relative ranking from one (best) to nine (worst). The lowest total of the three represents the best balanced Triple Milestone season this decade.
ERA 3.00 or less, wins 20 or more, strikeouts 200 or more, MLB season, 2000-2009
Wainwright’s 2009 season is projected to be seventh-best this decade, right behind Carpenter in 2005 at number six. Johnson’s two dominating seasons in 2001 and 2002 were the best of the best.
Oh yes, I also noted which pitchers took home the Cy Young Award for their respective Triple Milestone seasons.
Four made it while four did not, with Wainwright to tip the balance in one direction or the other. (Pedro Martinez and Halladay had previously each taken home the hardware as well, making a total of six former Cy Young Award winners among the eight.)
Update: The Cardinals manager and bullpen let Wainwright down on Friday. The pitcher ends with 19 wins, 212 strikeouts and a 2.63 ERA.