Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Triple

Back in 2007, Curtis Granderson, then of the Detroit Tigers and Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies did something very special. They both hit over 20 triples that season. And those two seasons were even more rare for reasons we'll get into later. What makes the 20 or more triples so special is that since 1901, it's only happened 64 times. Many of those seasons were in the dead ball era early in the 20th Century. To get a bigger grip on the feat, it's only been done seven times since 1951: Rollins and Granderson (2007), Willie Mays (1957), George Brett (1979), Lance Johnson (1996), Willie Wilson (1985) and Cristian Guzman (2000). Compare that with players getting 45 or more doubles. That's happened 88 times since 1901. A player has hit 50 or more homers only twelve less times than a player has hit 20 triples.

It may be a meaningless stat by itself. For example, Christian Guzman hit 20 triples in 2000 and batted in the .240s, which is probably the worst season ever for a player with that many triples. But on the other hand, a triple counts for three total bases, just one less than a homer. And that certainly helps a player's slugging percentage, a statistic that is deemed somewhat important. Plus, besides the inside-the-park homer, the triple is probably the most exciting play in baseball.

And to give you a further idea of how rare the 20-triple season is, only six players in history have done it more than once. All of the six, with the exception of Stan Musial, did it before 1931. And Musial performed his two 20-triple seasons in the mid-1940s.

Getting back to Granderson and Rollins' seasons in 2007, it was only the sixth and seventh time since 1901 that a player hit 20 or more triples, 20 or more doubles and 20 or more homers. And of those seven times, only Rollins, Willie Mays and an obscure Hall of Fame player, Jim Bottomley, did it with more than 30 homers. Mays had "only" 26 doubles in his season in 1957, so only Rollins and Bottomley had 20 or more triples, 30 or more homers and 30 or more doubles. In 110 seasons! And to further show how amazing a season 2007 was, only Rollins and Willie Mays have ever hit 20 homers, 20 triples, 20 doubles and stole more than 30 bases in a season.

"Wahoo" Sam Crawford, who played from 1899 to 1917 had the most triples in the National League Era (1876-2010) with 309. Of the top 20, only Stan Musial and Paul Waner played after 1930, so triples were much more prevalent in the dead ball era. To give you an example, Sam Crawford's 309 triples accounted for 21 percent of his career total bases. Ty Cobb, whose career leaked into the live ball era is second on the all time list in triples and his triples accounted for 15.5 percent of his total bases. Shoeless Joe Jackson, whose career was cut short by suspension* had 19.5 percent of total bases per the triple.

* Shameless Posnanski asterisk ripoff: Did you know that Jackson played the entire 1920 season? The perception is that those Black Sox players didn't play after the 1919 season, but Jackson played all of 1920 before he was suspended and he had one of his best seasons ever, batting over .380.

Since 1951, (and excluding Musial, whose career started well before 1950 and ended well after), Roberto Clemente hit the most triples with 166. The top five since 1950 are: Clemente, Willie Wilson (147), Lou Brock (141), Willie Mays (140) and Willie Davis (138). Only 7 percent of Willie Mays' total bases were from triples. Compare that to Willie Wilson whose triples account for 15.1 percent of his total bases. In fact, the year that Willie Wilson hit his 20 triples, those triples accounted for 21.5 percent of his total bases! Of active players, Carl Crawford is the leader with 105 triples. Johnny Damon has hit 100 of them and Rollins has 98. Crawford has an outside shot of catching Clemente.

The triple is among the rarest events in baseball. Only two percent of all base hits in 2010 were triples. To put that in perspective, for every 100 hits you'll see, only two will be triples. In fact, the percentage of runners thrown out trying to steal occurs more frequently per nine innings than a triple (.22 to .18). There is nearly double the chance every game that you will see a double play or a hit by pitch than you will see a triple. And there is more of a chance you'll see an intentional base on balls than you will of seeing a triple.

Just for fun, the Fan will leave you with a quiz. Among active players, who has the most and the least amount of triples among the following: Carlos Beltran, Ichiro Suzuki, Omar Vizquel, Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson? Omar Vizquel has the most of this group with 75 and Derek Jeter has the least with 61. Bet you wouldn't have guessed that.

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