N. Crabcakes & the Triple Crown

March 22, 2011
 
We’re talking about two players, one active and one retired. We’ll use pseudonyms to protect their identities.
 
This article will be (mostly) looking at hitting statistics. Before we get to those statistics, I should mention that these two players have a great deal in common beyond numbers that are counted three decimal places down:
 
-Both players are/were corner outfielders, and good defensive players.
-Both players possess(ed) good speed. Good, not great.
-Both players hit left-handed.
-Both players were born on Long Island, New York.
-Both players are white, and of eastern European ancestry.
-Both players have names that suggest this.
 -Both men played in the same league, in the same division.
-Both men have played on one major league team for the entirety of their careers.
 
Getting to the numbers….to illustrate the close parallels between these two players, I’m breaking things down by age. We’ll start with Age 22:
 

 

Name
Age
Games
2B
HR
BA
OBP
SLG
WAR
C. Beaneater
22
160
43
19
.296
.363
.469
3.7
N.Crabcakes
22
147
25
16
.291
.351
.448
3.4

 

 
At age twenty-two, both men were full-time players. They had similar years: Beaneater showed a little more power, but Crabcakes posted a similar WAR, mostly because he rated as an superior defensive player.
 
Both men were quality players at twenty-two...if you’re hitting close to .300 at that age, you’re doing something right.
 
And the two men had another thing in common: they both played on losing baseball teams. Beaneater’s team won just 76 games, while Crabcakes’ team notched just 70 victories on the season.
 
Moving on to their Age-23 seasons:  
 

 

Name
Age
Games
2B
HR
BA
OBP
SLG
WAR
C. Beaneater
23
151
40
14
.321
.418
.475
6.2
N.Crabcakes
23
161
43
23
.300
.362
.485
3.5

 

 
The next year, both players improved on their previous season. Beaneater’s batting average spiked to an impressive .321 mark, and his on-base percentage jumped over .400. Crabcakes also crossed the .300 line, and while his on-base percentage was lower, he showed a bit more pop, hitting twenty-three homeruns to C.B.’s fourteen.
 
But…those individual improvements did nothing to help their teams. Beaneater’s team went from 76 wins to…76 win. Crabcakes’ team went from 70 to 69 wins. This pattern would continue.
 

 

Name
Age
Games
2B
HR
BA
OBP
SLG
WAR
C. Beaneater
24
151
29
15
.289
.374
.451
3.2
N.Crabcakes
24
157
48
20
.306
.406
.491
5.5

 

 
At age twenty-four, the players branched off a bit. Beaneater’s stellar batting average fell 32 points, and his on-base percentage dropped below .400.
 
But Crabcakes continued to build on his successes: his batting average improved to .306, and his on-base percentage topped .400 for the first time. He hit 20 homeruns and a staggering 48 doubles. 
 
Both men again played full seasons…and both of their team’s endured another losing year. Beaneater’s club 72 games…in the three years chronicled his team’s win totals have dropped from 76 to 76 to 72. Crabcakes’ team won 68: in his three seasons, his team has won 70, 69, and 68 games.
 

 

Name
Age
Games
2B
HR
BA
OBP
SLG
WAR
C. Beaneater
25
133
45
20
.312
.395
.536
4.1
N.Crabcakes
25
161
45
18
.293
.347
.453
2.7

 

 
At twenty-five, the two men switched roles: Beaneater bounced back from a disappointing year to again post a batting average over .300. More significantly, Beaneater topped 20 homeruns for the first time.
 
Crabcakes took a step back: his homerun dropped below 20 for the first time in three years, and his average took a dip south of .300. The one positive was the forty-five doubles that Crabcakes hit: a total matched by Beaneater.
 
Like clockwork, both men’s teams continued to play terrible baseball. Actually, both of their teams continued their trend of getting incrementally worse each year: for the first time, both players played on sub.400 teams: Beaneater’s team posted a .383 winning percentage, while Crabcakes’ team posted a .395 mark.
 
Let’s put that into a table….the total wins for each man’s teams, by age:
 

 

Age
Beaneater
Crabcakes
22
76
70
23
76
69
24
72
68
25
62
64

 

 
At this point, you could say that the shine was off the apple. Sure, Beaneater and Crabcakes were good young players. But neither of them had attained the greatness that their earlier years had hinted at: both players seemed to be in a kind of stasis: they weren’t improving. And: their teams weren’t winning anything. Their teams kept getting worse.
 
You know what started to happen: the conversation shifted. People stopped talking about the ‘promise’ of these young players, and they started talking about the losses they had endured. The fans started to doubt that these promising youngsters would bring salvation to their teams. The press started to wonder if maybe these youngsters were responsible for all of the losing.
 
Neither player did anything to stop that talk during their next season:
 

 

Name
Age
Games
2B
HR
BA
OBP
SLG
WAR
C. Beaneater
26
160
39
16
.278
.368
.431
4.6
N.Crabcakes
26
160
45
12
.297
.370
.436
3.2

 

 
Amid those creeping clouds of doubt, C. Beaneater and N. Crabcakes posted another disappointing season. Both men played the whole season - 160 of 162 games – and both men were disappointments.  Beaneater’s batting average dropped from .312 to .278, and his homeruns dropped below 20. Crabcakes hit the fewest homeruns of his career, and he failed to top a .300 batting average.
 
And: their teams continued to lose. Crabcakes’ club won just 66 games, while Beaneater’s team won 72. The two clubs combined to finish fifty-six games out of first place.
 
The Turning
 
Here’s a tally of their stats, Ages 22-26:
 

 

Name
Age
Games
2B
HR
BA
OBP
SLG
WAR
C. Beaneater
22-26
755
196
84
.299
.383
.471
21.8
N.Crabcakes
22-26
786
206
89
.298
.368
.463
18.3

 

 
Same player: lots of doubles, a few homers, a solid batting average, and a lot of games played. They were okay players: over five major league seasons, the two men revealed exactly what they were: good ballplayers. The consensus was that they would probably remain good…but people were no longer watching out for greatness.
 
And: they were losers. Every year their teams started spring training with the wild optimism of March season, and come October those same teams would be at the back of the pack, looking up twenty-five or thirty games. They had proved that, too.
 
Coming into his Age-27 season, C. Beaneater broke camp to start another year in the major leagues. If you had asked at the time, most people would have anticipated another good year. And most people would’ve expected his team to again finish at the bottom of the standings.
 
Here’s C. Beaneater did during his Age-27 season:
 

 

Name
Age
Games
2B
HR
BA
OBP
SLG
WAR
C. Beaneater
27
161
31
44
.326
.418
.622
12.2

 

 
Actually, that’s not right. Let’s fix it:
 

 

Name
Age
Games
2B
HR
BA
OBP
SLG
WAR
C. Beaneater
27
161
31
44
.326
.418
.622
12.2

 

 
C. Beaneater led the league in homeruns, runs batted in, and batting average, winning the Triple Crown, He also led the league in runs scored, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, total bases…just in about all the stats that existed back then. He led the league in WAR, Win Shares, and OPS+, too: he’s ahead in most of the stats that we’ve invented since.
 
He had a historically great season. He also turned around any talk about him being a loser: Over the final month of the season, with his team in a dogfight with four other clubs, C. Beaneater hit .417, with an on-base percentage of .507. During the last two games of the season, which his team had to win, C. Beaneater went 7-for-8 with six runs batted in, two runs scored, and a homerun. His team won both games and went to the World Series. Against the Cardinals, C. Beaneater hit .400, with a .500 on-base percentage, three homeruns, four walks, five runs batted in, and four runs scored. His team pushed a great team to a seventh game. When the season was over, C. Beaneater was awarded a Gold Glove and the American League MVP.
 
C. Beaneater is, of course, Carl Yastrzemski, the last major leaguer to win a Triple Crown.
 
And N. Crabcakes is Nick Markakis, the right fielder for the Baltimore Orioles.
 
The Future of N. Crabcakes
 
Nick Markakis is having a good spring: at this moment his batting average is a robust .378, and half of his hits have gone for extra bases. It’s not talked about, because it’s spring training and there’s so much to talk about with the Orioles, who have reengineered a big chunk of their lineup. There are plenty of new faces, and most of the talk is about those new faces. The attention, for once, isn’t on Markakis.
 
This has to be a good thing, right? The pressure being off, I mean.
 
I remember reading Carl Yastrzemski’s autobiography…he talked a lot about being the star of the Red Sox during all those losing seasons. He talked about taking over for Ted Williams, and not quite being Ted Williams. He was made the team captain, which (if I’m recalling things correctly) he absolutely didn’t want. He was the face of the ballclub, and he didn’t seem to want that kind of attention.
 
(Actually, he still doesn’t: guys like Tiant and Fisk and Dwight Evans and Jim Rice are always showing up to Fenway Park. But not Yastrzemski; I can’t remember the last time I saw him during a Red Sox broadcast. He’s almost certainly the best living Red Sox, but he seldom makes appearances or talks about it. He stays out of the limelight.)
 
When Dick Williams took over in 1967, he took away the ‘captain’ title from Yastrzemski. This is from memory, but I think that Yastrzemski was relieved about this: he didn’t want to be the center of attention. He didn’t want to tell others what to do. He just wanted to do his job.
 
(Going really far afield here: that’s Lebron James, too. That’s why he went to the Heat: he didn’t want to be the biggest star. He just wanted to do his job. He wanted to be part of a team. I was watching the Heat play the Thunder last week, and it was strange to see Lebron ceed the starring role to Dwayne Wade. But: he’s okay with it. I suppose it’s time the rest of us got okay with it, too.)
 
I don’t know anything about Nick Markakis’s personality…I don’t know how much or how little he likes the spotlight, and I don’t know how difficult he’s found all of the losing years in Baltimore. What I doknow is that he’s been the guy on that team for a long time: the team’s most prominent player. And: he’s had to bear the burden of having a string of disappointing years, a string of years where he’s seemed to tread water.
 
I think that a lot of that has changed this year. For the first time in a long time, no one is talking about him. The fans, the press, the media; they’re all talking about Vlad and Lee and Hardy and Reynolds. They’re talking about Buck Showalter and last year’s hot finish. They’re talking about the young arms. They’re talking about Jason Fox’s insane spring. They’re not talking about Nick Markakis, and whether he’ll finally put it together this year. They’re not talking about the 60 RBI’s from last season, or the big contract.

It might help. I think that Buck Showalter absolutely will help: I think Showalter is one of those managers who is exceptionallygood at figuring out what is required to help his player succeed. Dick Williams made changes that helped Yastrzemski become the great player he was in 1967; I think Showalter could do the same for Markakis and Wieters and Matusz and some of the other Orioles players.
 
I think that the parallels Markakis and Yastrzemski are eerie: the stories are uncannily close…Markakis and Yastrzemski have endured the same early successes and the same mid-career struggles. They’re very similar players: by any metric, they overlap. Markakis has echoed Yastrzemski every step of the way, and now the Orioles have hired the current incarnation of Dick Williams to construct another impossible dream. The only question now is whether Markakis can continue to mirror Yaz.

Am I predicting that Nick Markakis will win the Triple Crown in 2011? No. Not will.
 
How about ‘might’?
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, suggestions, and Nick Markakis bobbleheads both here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.
 
 
 

COMMENTS (20 Comments, most recent shown first)

jsc1973
I realized it was Markakis right away; I recognized the "Crabcakes" reference and the numbers that looked like his. But I had no idea he was so closely paralleling the young Carl Yastrzemski. I do think Markakis is a huge talent who has been held back by the pressure of having to be the "star" on a team that hasn't had a chance to win no matter what he did. With a real manager in charge, he may indeed be set for a breakout season.
1:10 PM Mar 31st
 
contrarian
The point about Yaz shying from the limelight definitely still holds. Dan Shaughnessy, who for the most part has become a crotchety old man and whose writing I usually recommend avoiding, wrote a nice profile for the Boston Globe recently about Yaz's role in spring training for the current Sox. Good stuff, about a genuinely terrific guy.
8:20 AM Mar 29th
 
MarisFan61
To Dave: Yes indeed, it sure looks like you're right, even without invoking any factor like possible wear-and-tear from football.

At the time, the "age factor" was probably less appreciated, and that probably helped give the impression that he would have been great 'if only.' And in view of his fate, probably we shouldn't mind too much if he was felt to have been greater than he was.....
12:58 PM Mar 28th
 
DaveFleming
Harry Agganis...I don't know that Agganis would've had a great major league career. For one thing, he was a football player (and a very good one), and that does a significant amount of damage to a body...I don't know that he would've had a long career. And: he started late...he was a rookie at 25, and while he had a good batting average at 26, he was homerless on the (short) season. His home/road splits suggest that he (like all hitters) was aided by Fenway Park.

The records suggest that Agganis was a dynamic player, and the reports at the time do nothing to suggest otherwise...but I don't think that he would've had a career comparable to the careers of Karros or Markakis.
2:37 AM Mar 28th
 
MarisFan61
btw: HARRY Agganis

P.S. I agree about not considering Greece part of "Eastern Europe." That's what kept me from getting anywhere close to thinking of Markakis.

Although I have no excuse for not getting the "crabcakes" clue either. :-)
(Nor "beaneater," even when I knew it was about Yaz.)
11:26 PM Mar 27th
 
mskarpelos
I love these kind of mystery player articles too. I thought it might be Yaz and Musial because of the "eastern Euoropean" clue, so I wasn't surprised that Yaz was one of the two mystery players, but I always considered Greece part of Western Europe, so I wasn't thinking of Markakis at all. In retrospect, if I had thought about crab cakes as a clue, I would have zeroed in on Baltimore, but I missed that completely. My bad.

Markakis will, in all likelihood, never have a career as good as Yaz', but he's already put up the best hitting stats of any person of Greek heritage. Had Ted Aggianis not died so tragically young, Markakis might have had some more competition. Apologies to you Gus Triandos and Eric Karros fans.

Keep up the good work Dave. I really enjoy your columns.
4:52 PM Mar 27th
 
MarisFan61
Great piece!
Echoing some of the posts by others, I loved the format. I also knew right away that Yaz was one of them (although I didn't know WHICH one until we got to the 44 HR season), but I was totally stumped about "the other guy," even though we had the hint that it's an AL East guy (provided we knew that one was Yaz) and that it's another guy from L.I. (which I didn't realize Markakis was).

BTW: I don't think Dave meant us to put very much weight on the "Triple Crown" thing, notwithstanding the title of the piece. I think he was more just emphasizing the parallels and saying we shouldn't be surprised if Markakis has "merely" a TERRIFIC year, whether or not he wins the Triple Crown.
Which he won't :-) ....not because he's not capable, but because it's so much harder than it used to be, and so we can pretty well bet that nobody will.

But I'm on board for Markakis having a terrific year.

Great job!!!!
10:29 PM Mar 24th
 
DaveFleming
Thanks for writing, Jeff! Always good to have a new voice around here.
3:19 PM Mar 24th
 
DaveFleming
Shoot....I used Yaz's offensive WAR. It should be corrected now. Thanks for the catch. THis is the second time I've made that mistake. Thanks for the catch.
3:12 PM Mar 24th
 
Rwclayton7
Where are you getting your WAR numbers from? Yaz, from age 22-26, is credited with 21.8 WAR by Baseball Reference, and 30.4 by Fangraphs. Yaz was about 3 Wins better, through age 26, than Markakis, not about 3 Wins worse.
2:24 PM Mar 24th
 
interbang1
I've never commented on an article before, but that was just outstanding. Knew it was Yastrzemski right away, but got a genuine charge when Markakis was revealed. Years ago, my daughter and I had noticed what a good player he was, but you're right, it's become easy to forget about him. So now I'll pay attention. One more reason to look forward to the season.
11:11 AM Mar 24th
 
DaveFleming
Defense...Markakis had a much better defensive WAR than Yaz did that year.
11:52 PM Mar 23rd
 
youngc
Why is Beaneater at 22 better in every category except WAR?
10:11 PM Mar 23rd
 
DaveFleming
Ventboys...I actually spent a bit of time yesterday looking at Adrian's home/away numbers. Petco really lowered his numbers, and Adrian is exactly the type of hitter who thrives in Fenway. Lefties have historically lost power but gained batting average in Fenway (think Williams, Boggs, and Lynn). Adrian, who is an excellent opposite-field hitter, posted a .307 batting average away from Petco; he could go a lot higher in Fenway. I think Adrian has a good chance to win a Triple Crown in Fenway Park.
4:28 PM Mar 23rd
 
tigerlily
Nice artivle Dave. However, the use of WAR really misrepresents the relative values of these 2 players thru their age 26 seasons. Yaz's numbers are much more impressive than Markakis' when put in context. Yaz, although playing in a great hiiters park, was also playing in a run scarce environment. He led his league in a number of important categories in these years ( including 1 batting title, 2 OBP crowns, a SLG title, an OPS+ title and 3 doubles titles), while Markakis has yet to lead the league in anything although he has been in the top ten in a number of categories. Thru his age 26 season Yaz had a 125 OPS+, while NM is at 118+. Yaz leads in win shares 112-93 averaging 24.03 WS/162 vs 19.17 WS/162 for NM. WAR gices an advantage to Markakis which is not credible to me. That said, your comparision shows that Markakis is in the middle of a fine career and it is certainly possible that he will put up a better season or two in the future.
1:58 PM Mar 23rd
 
izzy24
Also, Bill's projections see Markakis having a bit of a resurgence with a .300/.377/.463 slash line with 17 HR and 87 driven in. Not a triple crown line, but not too shabby.
12:44 PM Mar 23rd
 
izzy24
I love these types of articles where the actual players aren't revealed until later. It removes bias and helps me look at a player in a new light. After reading the stat lines from their first years I was sure it was going to be Dwight Evans and Bobby Abreu. Thanks a lot for the article, Dave.
12:38 PM Mar 23rd
 
ventboys
I like the comparison (it can't be denied that it suits), and I do believe that someone might win a triple crown this year. Not a crabcake, though. A beaneater. A-Gone's baseline, with no improvememt, is .320-40-130. If he really takes to Fenway the sky is the limit.
12:31 PM Mar 23rd
 
Richie
Oh, and thanks again for the article, Dave!
11:31 AM Mar 23rd
 
Richie
What I recall about Yastrzemski's 1967 season is that he absolutely worked his tail off in preparation for it. Then never worked quite that hard at it again. When Fisk (source of the story) asked him why not a decade later, Yastrzemski replied that he just didn't want to work that hard at it ever again. It was just a bit too much effort.
11:30 AM Mar 23rd
 
 
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