With his two run homer last night, Derrek Lee is now hitting .390 and leads or is tied for the league lead in the three Triple Crown categories. There’s been a lot of talk about Lee possibly winning the Triple Crown for the first time since 1967, but I haven’t heard anybody mention the other magic number that Derrek is currently sniffing around; the .400 batting average. So I wanted to put forth a question to everyone who visits View from the Bleachers: which do you think is harder, winning the Triple Crown, or hitting .400 for a season?
At first glance, the Triple Crown looks tougher. It demands that a player be able to hit for both power and average and it also is heavily dependent on his teammates reaching base in front of him. And the .400 batting average has been accomplished 35 times to 16 for the Triple Crown, although to be fair, 11 men hit .400 or better during the 1887 season, when walks were counted as hits. But a player chasing the Triple Crown can also benefit from a weakened league, or a certain era; for example, Ty Cobb wasn’t a power hitter, but won the Crown in 1909 with a total of 9 home runs. .400 on the other hand, is simply the hitter vs. the pitcher every time, trying to grind out a hit 4 out of 10 times. And while the Triple Crown seems to be more demanding, then why, in this era of watered down pitching and the designated hitter, hasn’t anyone hit .400 or better since 1941?
I actually think that Lee has a good shot at hitting .400. In the past, most players that have chased that milestone in recent times have come with insane April and May numbers, and then petered out towards the end. While that may happen to Lee, his June numbers are actually much better than the ones he put up in the first two months, and Lee past statistics have shown him to be a tremendous 2nd half hitter. Combine this with Lee’s home run power, and if Dusty Baker wakes up and actually bats someone in front of him with an on base percentage of more than .300 and Derrek could accomplish the rarest of feats: hitting .400 AND winning the Triple Crown! Is it a long shot? Of course. But that’s what baseball’s regular season is about, the teams’ chase for the playoffs, and the individual’s chase for the magic numbers that most of us have known since we were kids. Whether Lee accomplishes both, either or neither, we’ll likely remember this summer for a long time.
And if Derrek hits .400 and wins the Triple Crown, he’ll stand atop the record books in the company of only 3 other men. Well, maybe two others, since Rogers Hornsby managed to do it TWICE.