As has been mentioned more than a few times since the news of Melky Cabrera's 50-game suspension dropped on Wednesday, the disgraced San Francisco Giants star has a good shot at causing a much bigger controversy. Since he won't be eligible to play for the rest of the regular season, Cabrera ends his 2012 season with a .346 average over 501 plate appearances.
Ah, but doesn't a hitter need 502 plate appearances to qualify for his league's batting title? Why yes, he does.
But as was also mentioned many times on Wednesday, baseball's rules state that a non-qualifying player will have as many hitless at-bats added to his total as it takes to get him to the qualifying number. So Cabrera, who tested positive for high levels of testosterone, will have an 0-for-1 day added to his number and such a small correction will not affect his average at all — .346 is what will appear on the back of next year's baseball card.
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It could also appear at the top of the NL's leaderboard if Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen doesn't step in and save the day. While the Pirates star center fielder currently leads the league with a .359 average, he also has the disadvantage of having to play the rest of the season. It's not too hard to imagine McCutchen falling below that mark, especially as the late-season pressure takes its toll. (It should be noted that Cabrera's .346 would have been enough to win every NL batting title since 2005 except the .364 Chipper Jones posted in 2008.)
Could anyone else surpass Cabrera with a late-season surge? Cincinnati's Joey Votto is at .342 but might not even qualify depending how long it takes him to return from his current injury. After that it's San Francisco's Buster Posey at .330 and Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez at .323. SB Nation's Rob Neyer notes that Fangraphs ZIPS projection system predicts that McCutchen will finish at .342 average, Posey at .323 and CarGo at .317.
Before he was suspended, ZIPS had Cabrera finishing with a .336 mark. So it would appear the lone benefit of Cabrera's drug use will be the luxury of having his numbers unaffected by the final month and a half of the season's grind. That sure isn't worth the tradeoff of missing the Giants' race for the NL West title or the millions he could lose on the free agent market this winter, but it's enough to create an end-of-season firestorm should he walk away with the season's highest average.
As for whether PEDs actually put Cabrera into this position, that's an entirely different subject. While his career rates on things like walks, line drives and home runs/fly balls have stayed in line with his previous work, his doubles total has increased from 27 in 2010 to 44 in 2011 to 25 already this season. How much of his huge spike in batting average on balls in play (BABIP) — a stat that's often cited as a measure of a hitter's "luck" — was attributable to illegal drug use will remain up for debate.
What do you think? Should MLB count Cabrera's title if he ends up winning it?
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