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How good is J.D. Martinez? Mickey Mantle last hitter to post numbers within Sox slugger's reach

John Tomase
August 10, 2018 - 1:04 pm

Mookie Betts may deny J.D. Martinez the American League triple crown, but that doesn't mean he can stop him from joining a select group of hitters.

If the season ended today, Martinez would lead the league in homers (35) and RBIs (99) and finish second to Betts in batting (.331). Since 1970, the same batter has led the AL in homers and RBIs 19 times (Alex Rodriguez, Cecil Fielder, and Red Sox Hall of Famer Jim Rice did it twice).

In those 19 seasons, only five times did that player also finish in the top 10 in batting. The most recent, of course, was Tigers star Miguel Cabrera, who became baseball's first Triple Crown winner in 45 years when his .330-44-139 led the AL across the board en route to an MVP in 2012.

With one surprising exception, the other four didn't come close to the batting title. Albert Belle hit .317 in 1995 to go along with his 50 homers and 126 RBIs, placing eighth in the batting race, well behind Seattle's Edgar Martinez (.356). Similarly, Jose Canseco in 1988 (.309-42-124) placed ninth behind Wade Boggs' .366.

Rice got a little closer in his MVP season of 1978, batting .315 (3rd) with 46 homers and 139 RBIs, but Rod Carew hit .333.

The surprising season belongs to 1972 AL MVP Dick Allen, who finished third in the batting race, just five hits shy of the Triple Crown, by hitting .308 with 37 homers and 113 RBIs. Carew won that one, too, at .318. Allen's near-miss remains one of baseball's great forgotten seasons.

In any event, Betts is currently hitting .347, with Martinez second at .331. Two-time defending batting champ Jose Altuve lurks at .329, but he's on the disabled list with a sore knee and won't return until next week at the earliest. Fourth-place hitter Manny Machado won't budge off .315, because he was traded to the Dodgers. Angels Andrelton Simmons (.310) and Mike Trout (.309) come next.

Martinez owns a comfortable lead in the RBI race over Oakland's Khris Davis (88) and Cleveland's Jose Ramirez (83), but each could challenge him for the home run title. Ramirez has 33 and Davis 32, with Trout and former home run champ Nelson Cruz at 30.

Also worth noting: Martinez's .331 average would be the highest for the AL home run and RBI leader since Mickey Mantle won the Triple Crown in 1956 with a .353-52-130 season, which should provide even more context into how special a Red Sox debut the veteran All-Star is producing.